When the enneagram “Eight” song released in February, a woman that I follow on Instagram shared that Sleeping at Last had an entire podcast episode discussing the making of the song. I listened and was captivated by how much the vision for the song changed as he worked.
I’ve become obsessed with process. I watched the director’s commentary on the extended edition of Moana. I listened to Andrew Peterson and Ben Shive talk about making “Maybe Next Year.” I’ve been reading books and articles about writing by people who are writing well.
Google may define the word process as “a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end” but all of these people started with an idea that changed drastically once they started working. They had no idea what the work would come to, but they had a tiny thought that they started chasing.
When we develop ideas- books, companies, songs, ministries- we start with tiny ideas. We start working on the tiny ideas and they are shaped by the changes we make, the influences we exert. We’re not sure what’s going to come from them, if anything. It’s not just Andrew Peterson and the superb job that he and his team did with Resurrection Letters, Vol 1. (Although, friends, it’s almost Easter. This is your time to go listen it. Spoiler: I like it so much that I listen to it year round. It’s a favorite. It makes me feel simultaneously hopeful and homesick.) This is about making anything: a life of significance, a marriage, grounded community, knowledge of the Bible, a book, a song, a dinner event.
I have the most basic idea for a novel. I don’t have a plot or characters, just this idea that popped into my mind a few weeks ago. I also have a long-term dream for my life that is not writing this novel. They are both tiny flames flickering in my heart. I’m leaving them there, feeding them with the creativity of my life and prayer and the work of my days.
God gives us light and direction for today, for this next step; rarely does He lay out the next ten years or every step to finish a work He’s called us too. We are in process. He created the world and left it in process for His image-bearers to continue the work. His redemption narrative is in process. God is in the process.
God works in processes; He’s not snapping His fingers and making people and places what He has in mind. He takes us through an often unappreciated journey. I would like to snap my fingers and skip the process of a lot of work that He has given me. I’d like to see the culmination of that dream. I’d like to hold that book in my hands. I’d like to see my children grown and maybe not punching one another when they have the chance. But I would miss the process and what’s the product on its own?
Maybe you’re nose down in the work and aren’t seeing places where God is sparking little, tiny lights to point the way. Start looking. Ask Him. Ask your friends. Listen to what you talk about. What makes you angry or frustrated? What brings you so much joy that you want to share it with others?
Masterpieces aren’t crafted overnight. God could but rarely seems to. He takes His time; He values the actual work being done and not just the work that’s finished. It’s a lot more effort and angst, but there is so much more depth. It’s treasure, not an assembly line product.
As I’ve studied process and listened to others talk about theirs, here are a few things I’ve learned. These aren’t just concepts for writing novels. These are for raising kids, building businesses, making disciples, crafting words about your life, getting to know God for yourself.
It’s always 10x the work that you expect.
You have an idea and get down to the work and then you run into a wall. You have to dig under the wall or knock it down or find a way to vault over. It’s never a smooth, level path to the finish. A disciplined work ethic is necessary to make anything. Show up. Work hard. Repeat. Practice sticking with it even when you’d like to quit.
The work never just needs you; it takes a team.
You’ll need people who have strengths you don’t have. You’ll need people to give advice. You’ll need editors or producers or directors. You’ll need people older than you, people with a different perspective than you. You don’t hole yourself away from community to make something worthwhile; the work is done in community. That writer’s cabin sounds great, but I haven’t found any writer who actually uses one.
You get better as you go along.
Get comfortable with being a beginner. You don’t know what you’re doing yet and that’s ok. Carry some humility about yourself and some confidence in God’s calling. You will get better every time you work at it. So keep working. Keep learning to parent. Write and edit more words. Stand up for someone more vulnerable for you.
Constantly stretch yourself.
Do that thing you don’t think you can do or that scares you. Get uncomfortable. Stay uncomfortable. Reach a little farther than you did last time. A life well-lived is not lived in your comfort zone.
Even if no one else sees it, make some guidelines for yourself. You’ll change them as you go along, but they will point you in a certain direction and keep you from wandering in circles. Maybe you develop certain Bible reading habits. Maybe you schedule regular date nights. Maybe you outline your blog posts before you start writing or plan your ball practices in an app on your phone. Make a structure and then be flexible with it.
Be willing to do the work, even if it ends up not working.
You can’t wait on a sure thing. There are no guarantees about having children, accepting a job, developing a craft. You have to be all in on the work without the promise of a certain result.
We are in process and all our work is in process. Even if we received an automated arrival of results it wouldn’t fulfill us. We are made for process. Get in there and get your hands dirty. Fall in love with the process; it’s where we spend most of our lives.