Thinking Outside of the Box

I’m fascinated by mother’s, when asked about the early signs of pregnancy, who say “You kinda know there’s a baby in there somewhere.” This sensation is, of course, always going to remain alien to me due to my lack of a womb but it’s interesting because a friend of mine said the same thing about writing books; “You just know you have a book in you.”

I love writing. I love to think through concepts and play with words and try and communicate the jumble of ideas going on in my head but I have to ask myself the question: “Do I have a book in me?”

I have tried, on a number of occasions to try and write books. When I was about 7, I remember sitting at my Nan’s typewriter writing out the title, centering and underlining it. Increase the font size, change the font, setting in place the right format to save me a job later. The title? Simple: The Vikings. I had done an ounce of research for a school project and read an article in National Geographic magazine my Mum collected. I was an expert! I was going to write a book on the subject and so I started. I had done this a number of times; The Aztecs, Incas, Egyptians, Victorians, Tudors. Gravity, Volcanoes, Earthquakes, Oceans. Foxes, Voles, Whales, Sharks, Tortoises. Fiction, Non Fiction, Encyclopaedias (yes I was that ambitious!)

At school, each Monday, we would have ‘creative writing’ which consisted of us writing an acount of our weekends. I would begin with waking up on Saturday morning, an exciting time, the faint scent of anticipation, maybe touched with a tinge of frustration. The familiar smells and sensations of my surroundings all needed to be captured in this piece. My teacher’s began to get frustrated with me.

“He never gets out of bed in his creative writing, Mrs. Lunn. Look here.” My creative writing book, a small 30 page A5 notebook, was brought out. “He has filled this book with his contemplations while lying in bed on a Saturday morning! he spent an hour and a half writing about five minutes!”

The truth is I am a prolific writer already; I just can’t seem to finish them.

I’ve tried in recent years to split a book up into several smaller chunks. So, before I start writing, I think about what I’m passionate about and then split it off into sub categories. This has failed also to produce any finished work. I currently have three books two not even half way through waiting to be finished. Why don’t I finish them? Because by the time I’m two or three months into writing I’ve moved on. My brain is onto something else or I’ve changed my views on a subject that I stated at the beginning.

Do I have a book in me?

I have hundreds but I can’t write them quick enough!

I’m currently working my way through economic theory books on Capitalism and it has made me reflect on how I’m approaching this need of mine to write a book. I love the process of writing, I love the wrestling and coming up with ways of expression but I very quickly begin to turn my attention to the final product. I ask questions like: “What will the cover look like?” “What clever titles can I come up with for chapter headings?” “HOw will it look on the page?” “How many words do I need?” All valid questions but all of them stop me from actually fully participating in the writing process.

Blogs are much easier. Blogs can be written in half an hour and published. A complete packaged item with no stress. I write for as long as I want and then I finish when I finish. I can come back to an idea and develop it but I equally don’t have to.

I hate writing books because of the pressure to finish the product on time and packaged…sellable.

Do you have to produce art to be an artist?

Do you have to have a creation to be called creative?

These questions have plagued me for months. I have come to loathe the need to produce because it’s suffocating. People’s nice requests of, “Ned, can you come up with something creative?” I want to shout, “Not now that you’ve asked!” Don’t ask me to create something because the pressure stops me being creative.

To be nice I say ‘yes’ and go away. I struggle and wrestle; “What am I going to do that’ll be ‘creative’?” I end up just regurgitating some old piece of rubbish and updating it or changing it.

Take two recent examples:

I was asked to ‘do something creative’ for a conference. A set of responses to help people into worship. I sat and I prayed and I thought. I had nothing. I asked the key questions; “Why are we doing this?” “What are we doing?” “What does God want us to do?”. I came up with one answer which, in itself is a question: “Is just doing it normally not good enough?”

I guess what I’m trying to say is; is the need to be ‘creative’ actually just another way of saying “I want to be different because I need to be different.” The truth is when you’re being ‘creative’, ‘innovative’ for the sake of being ‘creative’ and ‘innovative’ then you end up doing nothing of the sort.

I’m asked all the time to ‘be creative’ and I’m getting to the stage where I want to say; “I am.”

I just ended up bringing out some old ideas and re-branding them. Is that creative? It didn’t feel creative. It felt like hard work.

In a Pioneer Ministry module this year we talk a lot about ‘being creative’ or ‘thinking outside the box’; “We need to be innovative, entrepreneurial, creative.”. It feels like, as new ministers, we’re being asked to ‘do something creative’. but what do we actually mean by this? What is creative? The big question is:

‘What is the box that you want me to think out of?”

This is a fundamental issue with the current ‘creative’ conversation. Lots of people sit around tables and say; “We need to think differently. We need something new.”


To fill the awkward silence someone says those dreaded words; “I once saw… that seemed to work.”

And the ball is rolling…

Stop! Then it’s not new. Someone has done something like it before. “No but we’ll change the name.” “No. Instead of doing it for old aged pensioners we’ll do it for mum’s. It’s totally different”

Let’s back up a little more. If we’re sitting around and asking ourselves to be creative and new with the church then what about church isn’t working? What is the box that we need to think out of?

So we end up bringing out some old ideas and re-branding them. Is that creative? It doesn’t feel creative. It feels like hard work!

Two quotes have haunted me during this struggle:

If your life is centred on yourself, on your own desires and ambitions, then asserting those desires and ambitions is the way you try to be true to yourself. So self-assertion becomes the only way of self expression. If you simply assert your own desires, you may have the illusion of being true to yourself. But in fact all your efforts to make yourself more real and more yourself have the opposite effect: they create a more and more false self… people cannot simply assert their true self; they need to pray for the strength to find that self beyond their desires. (Finding Sanctuary – Abbot Christopher Jamison)


Many poets are not poets for the same reason many religious men are not saints: they never succeed in being themselves. They never get round to being the particular poet or the particular monk that they are intended to be by God. There can be an intense egoism in following everybody else. People are in a hurry to magnify themselves by imitating what is popular – and too lazy to think of anything better. Hurry ruins saints as well as artists. They want quick success and they are in such haste to get it that they cannot take time to be true to themselves. And when the madness is upon them they argue that their very haste is a species of integrity. In order to become myself I must cease to be what I always thought I wanted to be. (Seeds of Contemplation – Thomas Merton)

And so back to my issue of writing a book.

I haven’t written in weeks; due to essays, work, illness… the list goes on. I think I don’t want to write this book anymore because it’s not creative. I’ve put too much pressure to write a book. I want to write. If it becomes a book, then great. If I set out to write a book I’ll never write a book because that’s not creative it’s just feels like hard work.

You see, for me, the life, the excitement comes from writing, not writing a book. The process and not the product. I’m not suggesting we don’t produce but that our products come from our process and we relish and love and get life from the process.

Do I have a book in me? Possibly… I don’t want to push the comparison between conceiving child and a book too much but what happens to a process if you just focus on producing a product?


  1. This is a fascinating blog for me as I’m currently struggling with this very issue.
    Creativity is very similar to birth. You have to nuture the idea in your head before it’s ready to take in the world. ‘in’ being important here, not ‘on’. That would be like sending your defenceless liver out Into every pub in the world. Sooner or later it’s going to get smashed.
    I’m currently Reading 2 books, one
    called Artists Way which I’m sure you’ve come across, which is very practical in unhooking our desire for our creative passion to become ‘saleable’, or placed in the box. The other is a series of work by Caroline Myss. I was reminded of her by the Abbots quote. Her work on the ego an destruction of self i always found illuminating.

    1. Firstly, I’ve not read your suggestions so ‘thank you’.

      Secondly, thank you for your honest in your struggles. The birth analogy becomes particularly important when you consider the fragility and danger of the activity of pregnancy and birth; any complications and one could lose it. If you take a look at An Idea (appendix i) in my Archive page to watch a Youtube clip that is also helpful.

      Thanks again and may God bless your creative activity, that you may know that it is in creativity we experience God.

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