Most of my articles, sermon ideas, and Bible classes come from conversations I have, books I read, and experiences. I’ll talk to a friend around a fire, read something in a book, or pick up on some pattern or insight I see in the world around me. I might even see something on a hike, hear something in a podcast, or get inspiration from some train of thought I have in the shower.
The point is that ideas are everywhere, and if you want to turn those ideas into blog posts, books, or sermons, you will need a way to capture them. First, you have to learn to see and listen. Second, you will need to capture those ideas in a way that you can recall them easily when needed. Third, you will want to let the idea tell you what it is: a private journal entry, a blog post, a podcast, or a sermon. Finally, it’s time to turn that idea into whatever it was meant to be.
Look and Listen
Who knows how many experiences and conversations I’ve had that could have inspired an article or sermon that I just let slip by because I hadn’t learned to look and listen.
But once you realize that everything in your life has the potential to be an idea, then you will learn to constantly be on the alert.
Pay attention to what provokes a strong emotional response from you. Maybe it’s something that makes you angry, confused, overjoyed, or anxious. If it stirs up something within you, then it might do the same for others. It might work as a lesson, warning, or cautionary tell for them. It could also inspire or transform their lives in a positive way!
Regardless if the person, experience, or situation is positive or negative, begin asking of everything and everyone around you, “What lesson is here? What can God teach me in this moment or through this person?”
This can transform the negative interactions you have with people into something at least potentially positive, especially if you can take that experience and use it to enrich the lives of you, your family, and those who may read or listen to you.
You may be a paper and pencil kind of guy. You may be a napkin kind of girl (I put this here because of a friend – everything is an idea). Or you may have moved into the digital age and depend on your phone for everything like myself.
Whatever your preference is, you have to get into the habit of recording everything. I personally have a note for “notable quotes,” a note for “sermon starters,” and a couple of sets of reminders for ideas and a wishlist for books that I want!
I even have a photo album for funny misspellings on signs and billboards. I have no idea what that will be, but it will turn into something eventually (more on that later).
The point is that you need to capture everything! Take pictures, jot things down, consolidate it all into a Pages document, text or e-mail yourself, call a friend and tell them to write something down for you (sorry Laura), record memos on your phone or purchase a voice recorder, or any other thing you could possibly do to refer back to later!
No, you will probably not remember it later. Remember that item that never quite made it to the shopping list? So write it down!
What is It?
Sometimes I think an idea is a sermon, but it turns out to be an article. Other times something seems like it would be an article, but it really is a podcast or YouTube video.
I can’t really explain this process, but I basically just let an idea hang around in my mind by constantly referring to my lists of ideas. Eventually an idea will turn into a pages document, blog draft, or a PowerPoint slide where I’ll start adding things to the original idea such as illustrations, examples, passages, quotes, and other things to supplement the original idea. Sometimes I take a large index card and draw a flowchart if what I’m working on is a sermon!
As I add to the original thought, it will start to the the shape of whatever it was meant to be. Sometimes the process is fairly instant; other times it stirs around up there until it combines itself with other ideas or maybe just becomes a footnote to a footnote.
Don’t rush this! Once you know, you will know. I have things I wrote down several years ago that I still don’t know what to do with, but I know that whatever it is supposed to be it will become, even if that’s nothing. Some things I try to work on prematurely or revisit, but they aren’t quite ready to be anything yet. Maybe they’re a bit ahead of my time or my audience isn’t quite ready for it yet! Who knows!
But pay attention to your surroundings, capture what stands out to you, and let it tell you what it’s meant to be, even it’s just a private entry between you and God.
Your aunt said that whacky thing at Thanksgiving that just keeps coming back to you, so you jot it down. A few months later something similar happens that reminds you of it, so you go to your note taking app on your phone and write, draw, or record a few thoughts. Those thoughts morph into paragraphs, and before you know it you have a short blog post on your hands. So you edit it, make sure it flows, and send it to the world! Congratulations!
I’ve found that once the snowball starts rolling, there’s not much that can stop it, so it’s best to just let it flow. Some days I’ll write two thousand words, while other days I barely feel like posting a quote, so when my juices are flowing, I just let it go until Laura needs me or I crash.
The important thing is getting something down. If you hyper focus on grammar and syntax, then you will never write anything, and your writing may seem too… mechanical? So work on getting something down and go back later to work on the grammar and flow.
One thing that helps me is reading it out loud. For some of these posts, I’ll just read it out loud into a microphone to help those who maybe don’t have time to read but can listen in the car. But this is really a way to help me check my articles. When I’m reading I’m looking for a few things: (1) words that were autocorrected to the wrong word, (2) other spelling and grammatical errors, and (3) the flow of the paper.
The flow is probably more important than the other two options because most people’s brains can fix those errors on the fly if the paper flows well. At the least, the context will clue them in on to what you’re trying to say. By flow I mean both the logic of your arguments and the ease of read. You arguments need to be sound and your paper should be conversational and easy to read.
I try to type like I speak. In fact, I typically have an inner monologue going as I write as if I am teaching a class or talking to a friend.
Remember, done is better than perfect. I almost always find a grammatical error right after I hit publish. You will never publish anything if you expect it to be perfect. Just roll with the punches!
Finally, if you are using ideas you get from conversations, phone calls, or experiences, be sure to protect the people in your life. Sometimes a conversation I have with a preaching friend who is in a tough situation will become an idea for an article, but I would never want to hurt his ministry by putting revealing personal details in the post. You have to use wisdom when writing. That conversation is probably relevant and helpful to a lot of your readers, but it isn’t worth hurting your friend, so keep them anonymous unless they are okay with you mentioning them directly.
This post isn’t universal. Maybe you can get something from it, but it is ultimately written from my perspective and my own experiences. If another system works for you, then perhaps you can adapt something from this to help you out, but please don’t read this as a magical system that will definitely work from you. Make it your own.
I love to write, to teach, to preach, and I hope this series inspires you to exercise your gifts as well!