This post is by Kem Roper.
Over the course of my career, I’ve seen my fair share of struggling writers, and one thing I’ve noticed is that their struggles with writing are similar to my struggles with planning!
Our educational system prioritizes the perfect finished product over the process that it takes to get there, so that’s what students focus on. Likewise, all I can think about is my finished product—a perfect daily routine that begins with an early morning, a perfectly brewed cup, and a full hour (or more) of intense Bible study followed by a vigorous workout, a hot shower, and another hour (or more) of writing. Sounds good, right? Only problem is, I would either have to quit my day job or arise at 3am! In other words, my perfect routine is never going to happen!
So, herein lies the problem—with my students and me. We’re defeated before we begin! “I’m no good at writing,” they say. “I’m no good at planning,” I say.
My first task, then, is to shift their focus from the impossible, to the feasible: “just write,” I tell them. Don’t worry about the rules, don’t fret over the grammar, don’t even think about the topic right now. Just get into the rhythm of writing. Let your thoughts flow freely and see where they take you. Eventually writers relax and, before we know it, the light comes on as the pages fill up.
And me? Well, if I shift my focus from the towering image of perfection and tell myself to “just start,” I may set my clock for ten minutes earlier, spend ten minutes each on my devotion, my workout, and my writing. By doing something consistently, I see what’s working—and not working. By doing first, planning is easier.
Focus on what?
Some professors are better than others about giving clear instructions; so, when all of the instructions run together, students “home in” on the easiest thing to understand: format. They figure if the APA is correct, everything else will fall into place. Their reasoning is understandable, but form is no cover for shallow thinking and writing. Instead, I help students identify the purpose of the assignment and show them how to hold purpose up like the North Star so that it guides every subsequent choice.
But, what is my purpose? How do I replace the steps in my plan for the purpose of planning? At first, all my priorities run together—my projects, my job, my kids—so many activities seem necessary and important! I’ll start working on one, then get distracted by the other, and when the day comes to an end, I’m exhausted with little to show for the effort!
The problem is that I’ve lost sight of my purpose. I’ve inserted “my” where “His” should be and without God as my North Star, all my plans are in disarray! But, instead of trying to impose order over my chaos with my own structured plan, my first task is to get quiet and listen for His instructions. When I close my eyes and turn away from everything “out there” to what’s in here, His direction becomes more clear.
Once my students start moving in a direction, they can determine how well that movement is aligned with their professor’s requirement, and once they read over their messy drafts, they’re able to see what needs to be cut, moved or re-worded. The task that was, at first, impossible, now feels doable, and the path to completion is clear. As I consider God’s direction I, too, course-correct and re-work my daily plan; this time, not according to my great ideas, but His big idea for me.
“I know, Lord, that our lives are not our own. We are not able to plan our own course, so correct me, Lord, but please be gentle.” (Jeremiah 10:23, NLT)
I don’t think there’s one way to plan and I don’t think there’s one plan that works for everyone. I do believe that a successful plan begins with movement, with the proper focus, and with openness to God’s direction; then, by His grace—not our will—everything comes together as it should.
Kem Roper is the host of a Facebook live talk show called “HeyGirl!” which airs Saturdays at 5p CST @K.Roper. A freelance writer and blogger, Kem’s passion for writing compelled her to pursue graduate degrees in English and she currently works as Writing Center Director at AAMU in Huntsville, AL. Wife and mother of two, Kem thanks God every day for her husband, Everett, and her teenage daughters Eryn and Edyn.
Jumpstart your mornings with my free workshop and the 3-Minute Morning Kit.