Renewing the Writer’s Soul

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If you started the year with grand claims: “New Year, New Me!” and now find yourself returning to the same struggles that held you in 2021, there is something important you must know. You cannot make yourself new. There are times when we crave a renewal, a fresh start, but it’s impossible to create one from within, when all we have to do it are our same old selves. Just as a child cannot grow itself apart from it’s mother, becoming new is a process that must take place from without.

One of my favorite verses on renewal, Romans 12:2, reveals this. “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.” Now, I’ve always thought of that as an active thing, but the fact is, “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” is a passive phrase. It is not active. It does not command “renew your mind,” it commands “be transformed” and the renewing is done separately. It is done in waiting. 

I find this true in other verses as well:

“God, create a clean heart for me and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10
“He renews my life; he leads me along the right paths for his name’s sake.” Psalm 23:3
“But those who trust in the Lord will renew their strength; they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not become weary, they will walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31
“Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day.” 2 Corinthians 4:16
“He saved us—not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy—through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” Titus 3:5

But if I cannot renew myself, then how can I, let’s just say, coax God into doing it? I’m a tired writer and mom of two toddlers. We’ve been sick this year too many times to count. My husband worked overtime for three months straight. It became impossible to gather an ounce of creativity. So what do I do? How can I be renewed, if I am not in charge of the process?

I can present myself for renewal. I turn to the sources that can renew. This is more than self-care, this is trusting that God will be faithful to provide a soul-deep renewal. And He does. Here are a few ways I present myself for renewal, that tend to reignite inspiration.

Ways God Renews the Writer’s Soul

The Bible
It’s the ultimate story, and I don’t say that to be trite. It really is the guidebook on writing. It is the world’s bestseller and it weaves hundreds of smaller stories into dozens of larger stories into one magnificent story in the most artistic way. Not only does it have spiritual value for the religious writer, but it has its own creative rites as the book of all books.

The ultimate creative expression is all around and nothing refreshes me more than time in nature. Walking away from the screens for a bit reconnects me to the real world all around, begging for me to slow down and watch a butterfly flit around the yard, or blow dandelions with my daughter. It renews.

I could divide this into so many sub-sections. From the family that encourages me, to the church that feeds my spiritual life, to the strangers I overhear at the coffee shop who give me a perfect idea for a conversation bit in a story (oh yes, that happens). I believe every unique personality out there is a reflection of a God so endless we cannot fathom it. Spending time with those various people can reveal tidbits of that God, spurring new ideas and refreshing my writing tank. Sure, as an introvert, it can get a bit tiresome, but life as a hermit wouldn’t be very inspirational. (Or would it…)

I’m convinced God loves music and he wrote it into our DNA. Music can transport me to another world. It can be encouraging, turning me to worship. It can be relaxing. It can be sad, when I need to let some feelings out. Music can turn the noise and chaos around me into something with rhythm and movement.

Reading quality Christian fiction is like hearing an elaborate parable. It can point me to spiritual truths in a new and relatable way. Good Christian novels often inspire me to go back to my own writing and reignite my desire to share truth in parable as well. Jesus loved parables for a reason.

Rest can come in many forms and it is not purely physical. While, yes, sleep is absolutely essential, rest can come to the body in a half hour in a hammock, a bubble bath and glass of wine, or an afternoon cuddle with a child. But rest can be mental too—and for me, that often means a body in motion. Because when my body rests, my mind wanders. When my body moves, my mind rests. I find running to be particularly meditative, though as I’ve written here before, washing dishes seems to be as well.

Throughout the years, God has renewed me in other ways too. There have been inspirational travels, surprise letters in the mail, even through help from counselors at times. Certainly, there are many ways to be renewed, and often we may feel like the initiators as we seek them out. But ultimately, nothing will truly make the soul new again unless the One that made the soul is involved.

Go and be renewed.

Inspiration Comes at the Kitchen Sink

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I’ve traveled by train through the Alps of Switzerland. I’ve sipped coffee under the first snowfall of the Canadian Rockies. I’ve ziplined through the cloud forest of the Guanacaste mountains in Costa Rica. When I think of inspiration, my mind takes me back to these mountains. They were places of absolute beauty, where I felt my heart soar, and my mind immediately wanted to create something beautiful in response. So, on that train through Switzerland, I grabbed pen and paper, and I wrote absolutely nothing.

I could hardly think of a single word. The beauty around me was so stunning and overwhelming, all I could do was sit in wonder. Nothing I could create could even compare.

Photo taken by my husband in Costa Rica, circa 2016

As it turns out, my fantasy of a writing retreat in the mountains is a terrible idea. Because my very best ideas have come to me when my mind wants to wander away. When I’m stuck in traffic listening to “Old MacDonald” on repeat with two toddlers or folding the third load of laundry that day. My mind begins to wander and suddenly I find myself in another world, as another person, living another life. You could call it plain old escapism, but as a writer, I get to call it inspiration.

And I’m not alone. Plenty of authors online tout the magic of washing dishes, Agatha Christie most famously.

“The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.”

Agatha Christie

Another version of this quote, often credited to her, is: “The best crimes for my novels have occurred to me washing dishes.”

The repetitiveness of these simple chores is mind-numbing and dulling—not words usually used to describe artistic inspiration. Yet, that’s exactly when it happens. When the mind can drift, when it isn’t being spurred on by newness and it must create its own. Whether for the meditative benefits or creative spark, apparently Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos are two guys who love doing dishes for similar reasons, according to Insider.

“[Washing dishes] can also be a chance to relax and daydream. And creativity experts say it’s just this sort of loose mind-wandering that allows the brain to make some of its most innovate and unexpected leaps (which is why so many good ideas come to us in the shower).”


Don’t even get me started on shower thoughts. Do they make waterproof journals? I could really use a waterproof journal.

The Magic Spark

The Hope Writers prompt that inspired this post asked about a specific time I felt a creative spark, though. And that’s harder for me to pinpoint.

Ideas seem to form in a fog, slowly revealing themselves until they’re standing there introducing themselves with a crooked grin and a freckle under their left eye. I can’t say exactly when I realized the idea was there, because there were moments early on when I squinted into the fog, wondering if I had seen something, doubting myself, letting it go, looking again, catching sight of a form, still unsure if it was a person or a telephone pole.

Outside of Grace began as a single scene in my mind while I was writing my first novel (the one that lives under the bed, never to see the light of day). It was an ending, a happily-ever-after type of scene that never even remotely fit into the finished product, and I’m not sure when it came to me.

Most inspiration seems to happen while driving, for me. I live on I-35, so I have the luck of spending large amounts of time in traffic. I keep a note on my phone with the latest bits of conversation or description. When a scene floods my mind so desperately it cannot be tapped out at a red light, it becomes a voice memo, like I’m some 1980s detective.

So, as dreamy as the mountainous retreat I plan to retire in sounds, I realize there’s actually great value to living the daily life of a stay-at-home mom. There’s great value in cooking macaroni and cheese yet again, washing the three outfits that were worn that day alone, and scrubbing the floors after potty training. Because in the moments that feel like drudgery, I create.

“One wants a room with no view, so imagination can meet memory in the dark.”

Annie Dillard, The Writing life