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Mind Games Writers Play

March 25, 2008

I love my job, and my favorite part of my job is preparing sermons.  So don’t hear me complaining in this post, I’m not.  But as a preacher who writes manuscript sermons, I do have the equivalent of a 12 page college thesis paper due every Sunday.  So I have acquired a whole host of little games I play that more or less help to keep me writing, and I am always looking for new ones.

When I first started preaching 14 years ago, I worked all day Saturday.  But when the kids started school, I realized that Saturday should be a family day and I needed to finish on Friday night.  After a year or so of trying, I finally got into the habit of finishing on Fridays.  I observe a “Friday phone fast”—no calls.  I also make plans to meet someone for a scotch for happy hour Friday and that’s the carrot that keeps me pressing for the finish line. 

That worked for many years, but then I started giving myself the carrot whether I had finished Friday or not.  But this actually has been good, for I write better from 8-10am Saturday than from 4-6pm Friday.   So now I don’t mind finishing Saturday morning.

I also can’t write sitting still.  I’m a pacer.  I was part of a team walking challenge a couple of years ago and I wore a pedometer for a month.  I always had the most steps on Fridays.  One Friday I had 10,000 steps before noon without leaving the office.

I used to play darts.  This helped me for a while because I would just throw darts between paragraphs rather than walk a lap around the fourth floor of the office building.  The dart board kept me tethered closer to the keyboard so writing actually went faster. 

I have trouble working in the office now.  Even though the phone doesn’t ring, there’s still too many reminders of other things to be done besides the sermon.  So I go out to restaurants and coffee shops.  The trick is to find a coffee shop that doesn’t have free wireless access to the worldwide waste of time.  I also have to case out restaurants to see if there is plenty of room for me to pace without getting dirty looks from the management or suspicious looks from other diners. 

There’s a restaurant in downtown Champaign called Guido’s that I don’t even like that much.  But for some reason I am highly productive in there.  So if I’m lagging behind on Friday afternoon I’ll go to “the magic booth” and pray for that elusive hour of efficiency.   Sometimes I get more done in an hour than I do all week.  But it takes a lot of mental game playing and manipulation of circumstances to create the perfect conditions, to prepare the way for the Muse.

But I need some new tricks.  Any of you writers out there want to share yours?

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Mothergrace permalink
    March 25, 2008 2:56 pm

    I am glad to hear that you keep most of Saturday for your family.

    I am not a writer, but, have you thought of doing 6 pages and adopting a southern drawl? Or an Irish brogue? lol

    I love the idea of Scotch as a carrot! The promise of a tall, somewhat warm one got me through simultaneous birthday parties for my twins last week!

  2. egana permalink
    March 25, 2008 4:01 pm

    Maybe you can throw in a jig or two while you’re at it?!

    I’d buy you some Scotch just to watch!

  3. reepicheep permalink
    March 26, 2008 10:23 am

    I had this question come up in head on Sunday. Does writing your sermon help you to be more concise and communicate with greater clarity?
    When did you start doing it?

    Whatever you are doing, keep it up

  4. Paul permalink
    March 26, 2008 10:32 am

    When writing or doing required (boring) reading, I set a timer. I don’t allow myself to do anything but work for 50 minutes or so.

  5. March 26, 2008 10:57 am


    Thanks. For the first year or two I was here I did not write out manuscripts but preached from notecards. This actually took me longer to prepare because I had to write it out in my head first, then condense it to cards, then practice the delivery at least once.

    So it was to save time one Sunday that I just composed on the computer and read the manuscript. I was worried that my delivery would sound stilted since I was reading. But no one even noticed the difference. So I can’t say it’s made me more clear, but it certainly has the advantage of saving me time and making it easier to reuse sermons when I get invited to speak at other events.

  6. March 26, 2008 12:01 pm

    I guess I am a freak.
    Having to preach a sermon some time later is easier with a manuscript. I was trying to decide on a sermon to preach for a preliminary visit and found I couldn’t remember some illustrations I used.
    I preach from a 1 page sheet of paper. That way I have the structure, some well-worded phrases and key words to remind me of illustrations. This gives me some flexibility that my personality seems to need. Occasionally I’ll spiritualize it and think I’m leaving room for the Spirit to prompt (sometimes those ideas didn’t work so well, so I guess it was just my foolish pride).
    Here’s my schedule:
    Tues: Exegetical work, identifying the Big Idea, Fallen Condition Focus and So What?.
    Wed. Basic outline, commentaries and other pertinent reading, adjusting said outline as I go.
    Thurs. More reading, thinking, and completing my outline.
    Friday & Saturday: let it stew…..
    Sunday morning: do the final edit making any good changes that occured to me Friday & Saturday.

    Like you I am finding it harder to work in my office. I am easily distracted by the Worldwide Waste of time. A mild case of adult-ADD doesn’t help. I need to wean myself off the computer, or buy a new laptop to head out to a quiet place more often. If the place is busy, I am too easily distracted.
    I can’t think of any games, but I do know that sometimes I need to be distracted. I’m at a mental roadblock and I need to do something else for awhile. I used to play pinball on my computer but found I had to put a limit on that so I punted altogether.
    Sometimes I will go for a walk, or pace through the building like you- trying to pray & meditate.

  7. April 8, 2008 3:28 pm

    No tips… but I’ll tempt you with that Scotch “carrot” sometime, if you want!

  8. May 16, 2008 9:32 am

    I’ve found a new place. The food court at a mostly abandoned mall. I can pace all over the place, and the wifi network is such that I have to move to a different table to get online. Therefore I’m not always interrupted when one of my online opponents makes a chess move.

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