Month: October 2017

055 – Stop Settling for Superficial Writing

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Karen Ball and Erin Taylor Young Write from the Deep Podcast, Stop Settling for Superficial WritingAre you just skimming the surface of the story God’s given you to write? If so, you’re doing your readers a disservice. Unless your writing comes from the depths of who you are, of your own journey, it’ll lack power and resonance. Dig deep when you write, and your words will not just entertain, but change lives.

Last week we talked about how we need to stop settling for a superficial life. If you haven’t heard that episode, we encourage you to go listen. We live in a superficial world, and our brains are even getting re-wired for superficiality rather than depth of thought, and we’re drawn more and more into superficial online relationships. This is a perfect setup for superficial writing, because there’s no way to write well when you don’t even know who you are.

What is writing from the deep? 

It’s about our character steeped in God:

  • as we navigate the trials and joys of the publishing industry
  • as we follow God in obedience
  • as we create with God, not FOR God. (Because He doesn’t need us to accomplish His purposes.) Acts 17:24-25 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything. Rather, He Himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.”
  • as we serve our readers whoever they may be and no matter how many

Through all that, our character matters. We need to honor God and reflect Him in everything we do. That takes constantly, intentionally going deep with God and laying our foundation on His truth.

It’s also about how we dig deep into the topics and themes that we choose to write about.

How do we dig deep in our writing?

It starts with not being superficial ourselves. If we’re not avoiding superficiality in life, how can we avoid it in our writing?

Mine the depths of who you are:

Bob Hostetler quoted NY Times and USA Today bestselling author Rachel Hauck in a blog post, “Write who you are. You can never stop mining the depths of your heart, what you love and believe, your values and passions. I discover something new about myself with each book when I write who I am.”

Mining the depths of who you are happens by asking the hard questions, wrestling with God for the answers, and writing about what you discover through it.

  • Deep questions expose universal truths that touch readers because those truths apply to them as well.
  • In nonfiction, this kind of wrestling over questions is vital. People are asking hard questions, and we can’t give them pat answers.

Mine the depths of emotions on the page:

  • Writing with depth doesn’t shy away from the emotions.
  • Write authentically from your experiences. Don’t hold back!
  • Readers of both fiction and nonfiction want to feel, to experience. Not just the grief, or despair, but the triumph as well.

Practical tips for putting emotions into writing:

  • You are the first measuring stick as you’re writing. If you’re not feeling it, your reader won’t either.
  • If you’re writing nonfiction, don’t let yourself write from a “teacher” perspective, where you hold yourself back from the emotions. It’s not just your words readers need, but your heart.
  • In fiction, this is one area where it’s important to show, rather than tell. Don’t tell us your character is angry. That’s superficial. Paint a picture. SHOW the emotion and how it impacts those around them. Be an observer in your own life and in the lives of those around you. Draw on that to flesh out the emotions and relationships on the page. One specific example of this is with romance novels. You know how it just doesn’t ring true when you have the hero think the heroine is beautiful, and she thinks he’s gorgeous, and then suddenly they’re and love? There has to be more to it than just the physical attributes. What is it in a person that will draw your character? Is it their behavior, their laugh, the way they are with children or animals or the elderly? Dig deep so that it comes out as multi-faceted as love is in real life.
  • With nonfiction, if you realize you’re skimming the surface of how the topic or issue affects you, then dig deeper. Make a list of interactions or events, the things that not only made you aware of the topic but spurred you to write about it. Let your readers know your own struggle and your heart.

In fiction, let your characters either be or become deep, not superficial:

  • This means taking what we should be doing in real life—fostering deep relationships—and putting it into practice in our writing. You need to know your characters deeply.
  • Avoid stereotypes by knowing more than just the basics about your characters. Think of your characters as jewels with a lot of different facets to explore.
  • Let your characters do or think or feel the unexpected. So your villain is a serial killer, but what if he’s also a guy who loves kittens? And the way he chooses his victims is that he sees them being cruel to animals.
  • Nonfiction writers, you need to make sure you know your target readers. You need to know and understand them as well as we in fiction need to know and understand our characters.

In fiction, just as emotion and truths and characters in your books need to be deep, so does the conflict:

  • The driving force of conflict can’t be some misunderstanding that can be cleared up over a cup of coffee.
  • You must be willing to torture your characters. The harder, deeper, and more painful the journey for your characters, the more heroic they are when they conquer.
  • Donald Maas tells writers to make things bad, then make them worse, then make them even worse. Build on the conflict, deepen it as the story advances. Reveal it with the story, being strategic in how you unpack it so the reader will understand it and connect with the character.
  • Require sacrifice. The conflict has to cost something for your character. What hits them where they live? Put your characters in the position of having to make hard choices where they don’t have a good option. Make them have to give up things or people they care about.
  • Nonfiction writers, you can use all of this as well. Use strategic examples/illustrations that will draw emotion from your readers. Stories of you or those you know (or those who’ve shared their stories with you) written with fiction tools, so that you show emotion and impact.

The bottom line:

This is all just scratching the surface of deeper writing, not because we’re being superficial, but because this podcast would be hours long if we explored all the elements of it! What we wanted to do was just get you pointed in the right direction. Dig deep. Be vulnerable. Write from who you are and the real-life joys, delights, struggles, and trials. Remember the old saying, “Nothing is wasted in a writer’s life.” It’s all fodder for going deep in your writing. All you have to do is be willing to open up.

We want to hear from you!

How do you go deep in your own writing?


Writers, be warned! You can’t afford to be superficial.

054 – Stop Settling for a Superficial Life

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Karen Ball and Erin Taylor Young Write from the Deep Podcast - Stop Settling for a Superficial LifeuperficialHave you noticed the trend toward superficiality in our world today? We’re easily bored, our attention spans keep shrinking, and we have a steady stream of superficial input from media. It’s a mile wide and an inch deep. We’re more apt to react to what we see on social media and type off a quick response, or click a thumbs up button and move on to the next video flashing at us. Before we know it, an hour, or two, or more, has passed, and all we’ve been doing is wading in the shallows.

Why is superficiality a problem? For one thing, it creates isolation (we talked about that in episode #50, The Danger of Isolation). We’ve been made in the image of God. He gave us a brain with the ability to think, to enjoy beauty, to appreciate the wonder of God. He created us for relationship, for fellowship. We’re selling ourselves short of what God intends us to be and what He intends for His body.

Why is superficiality so common?

1. It takes time to go deep – time we don’t feel we have

  • We live busy lives with many expectations. We’re constantly in a rush
  • We live in an increasingly instant society where there is no patience for delay
  • We’re constantly forced to multitask, which weakens our ability to process deeply
  • We increasingly engage and depend on online relationships, which promotes weak ties rather than strong ties that better foster support and emotional development

2. Our digital world is changing our brains

  • The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to our Brains by Nicholas Carr says, “A search engine often draws our attention to a particular snippet of text, a few words or sentences that have strong relevance to whatever we are searching for at the moment, while providing little incentive for taking in the work as a whole. We don’t see the forest when we search the web. We don’t even see the trees. We see twigs and leaves.”
  • Reading a book uses visual processing, memory, and language. Internet surfing uses those, but adds decision-making and problem-solving areas. You’re always faced with hyperlinks that make it easy to flit from one topic to the next. It forces you to multitask, and Carr says that impedes comprehension and retention. Bottom line: You have to work really hard to read and retain something on the Internet. When we don’t have time to process what we’re reading, it doesn’t stick.
  • Mind Change: How Digital Technologies Are Leaving Their Mark on our Brains by Susan Greenfield says about the effects of digital technology, “…our attention spans shrink, deeper thinking declines and interpersonal bonds wither.” She also says, “The digital revolution exploits our biological propensity for mindlessness.”

3. We don’t go deep because there is a cost

  • Dropping masks is counter cultural in our world where appearances count, where you’re supposed to act like you have all the answers. But we’re not meant to hide our true selves in the dark. God’s Word tells us in 1 John 1:5-8 “This is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
  • Going deep requires vulnerability. It makes us uncomfortable and opens us up to rejection.
  • Going deep can be extremely painful, not just because of rejection but because we may need to go deep into our own pain in order to heal from wounds we’ve concealed rather than healed from.

4. Going deep forces us to ask some hard questions of ourselves

    • What if I don’t like who I am deep down? What if I’m really a lousy person?
    • What if I discover I don’t truly care about things I SHOULD care about?
    • What if, deep down, I start to wonder if I really even believe in God? Or don’t trust Him, or don’t know Him?
    • These things ARE true in our flesh, but God is in the business of transforming us through His Spirit, not in our own power. It’s a transformation from the inside out.
    • Jesus had some harsh words for those who ignore the deep down issues, or pretend they’re something they’re not when He was addressing the Pharisees. Matthew 23:27 “…Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity.” But God wants us to explore what’s deep inside us so He can clean us from the inside out.

Practical Solutions

  1. Pray for a willingness and ability to get out of the shallows, to escape the trivial. Pray that we can set our minds on deeper things, on things that please God, on how He sees us and the people around us.
  2. Schedule distraction-free time to go deep, both with God and with people. Commit to that time. Make it intentional.
    • Evaluate your friendships. Which ones can you cultivate to be deep? Which ones lead you into superficiality?
    • Evaluate your activities. Which ones cultivate deeper thinking, deeper relationships?
  3. Schedule time with yourself. Time for reflection. Time to evaluate your day, your life. Time to reflect on the sermon at church, or your Bible study, or the Scripture you’re memorizing. Don’t skim the surface.
  4. Be the one to take the risk. To drop the mask. To be vulnerable. It’s so freeing. Don’t miss out on that freedom!
  5. Brave the pain of going deeper yourself. We want to avoid that pain, but often true healing is found at the other end.
  6. Brave the pain of others’. Be with them. You don’t have to have all the answers. You have to be willing to listen. To give them a safe place to be real and vulnerable.
We Want to hear from you!

What helps you fight against superficiality in your life?


Are you living a superficial life? It’s time to stop!