This week I’m continuing a previous post on how to create amazing content.
In these posts, I’m attempting to be helpful by sharing my creative process.
If you missed part one, you can check it out here.
A quick summary of where we have been: My creative process begins with focused research and white space.
For the next phase, I need people.
We may be different in this regard, but I am not a mad scientist type that hides away in my secret lab and comes up with amazing content all on my own.
I am actually more of an assimilator and less of a creator.
What I mean is that I steal good ideas from everywhere and assimilate them into a content that has my own design, spin and flair.
Most of the time, this assimilation process happens through collaboration with other people.
Here’s how collaboration works in my world.
When I am preaching a sermon, I always connect with a good friend of mine who serves as an unofficial preaching coach for me.
We meet up after work at a local restaurant and I share what I’ve pulled together through research and creative thinking.
As I talk through ideas, crafted language and details that interest me, he often gets excited and says,
…and then launches into an idea for the sermon.
Sometimes these ideas are crazy and unworkable but other times they are brilliant.
I have yet to preach a sermon that has not included a few of his brilliant ideas.
Here’s something else that happens in these conversations.
Sometimes as I talk through an idea I have for a specific point or illustration, I see a total lack of connection in my friend’s face and then he says, “Yeah…that isn’t grabbing me.”
Then, I know that my idea is either terrible or needs some serious refinement.
Over the course of the development of a sermon, I usually meet with my friend several times and each meeting yields a few gems.
Of course, multiple collaborative conversations require that I begin my research a month or more out from the date a sermon is due to be preached.
What I am getting at here is one of my core beliefs as a creative person.
What we create together will always be better than what I create alone.
It’s called collaboration.
The beauty of collaboration is that if you do it well, it always leads to a better product – whatever that product is for you.
The downside of collaboration is that it seriously slows down the process and it can be painful.
Sometimes, as the writer Stephen King says, you have to “Kill your darlings.”
By this he means ideas that you love that will not help the final product.
Collaboration often helps reveal what is not essential, confusing or unhelpful – what darlings you need to kill.
Collaboration. I love you and I hate you.
At the end of the day if you are interested in creating amazing content, I highly recommend finding a few people who you trust, who can collaborate with you because what we create together will always be better than what I create alone.
The next step in the process for me is refinement. It’s time to take this creative product – in my case a sermon, and boil it down to what is absolutely essential.
My process for doing this is twofold.
I write and rewrite my notes and I practice out loud.
Let’s start with my notes.
Here, I take my research notes and use them to create a sermon outline and then over the course of several weeks I write and rewrite these notes.
By the end of the process, I often have five or six iterations.
Each is an improvement on the last…at least I hope that it is.
Side note – if you’re wondering, sometimes this requires that I have several sets of notes going at the same time for several different sermons that are in process.
Here is an image that shows what I’m talking about.
First off, yes I’m weird.
I use huge graph paper and I look very odd at the coffee shops I use for study.
But something else that is important here…I always use the exact same paper, same outline format, same sermon structure, same pen…same, same, same!
Personally, I believe there is wisdom in using the same structure repeatedly because it leads to efficiency, speed and expertise. It’s called refinement.
My model might not be the best out there but I know exactly what it is that I’m doing and why I do it.
I’m becoming a master craftsman in the way that I approach creating content.
My suggestion would be for you to choose your exact form and structure and stick with your process so that you can fully capitalize on the process of refinement.
The second aspect of refinement in my process is verbal practice.
Here’s my schedule the week of preaching.
1. Rewrite my notes in the morning.
2. Write up an outline for our devotional writing team in the afternoon.
1. Talk through my sermon with our devotional writing team.
2. Talk through slides and visual with our creative department.
1. In the morning: Go for a walk and practice the sermon out loud…looking like a crazy person to anyone else on that trail.
2. In the afternoon: Practice the sermon in the auditorium with slides, mic’d up and everything with only my preaching coach and the devotional writing team in the audience.
1. In the morning, go for a walk and talk through the sermon.
2. In the afternoon, refine the slides and visuals.
1. On the way to and from my men’s group, talk through the sermon as I drive.
1. Go for a walk and practice the sermon out loud.
2. Go to one of our campuses and practice the sermon as if I am delivering it in an empty room.
3. Practice the sermon as I drive to the campus where I will preach live.
4. Talk through the slides transitions with the person operating ProPresenter.
5. Preach the sermon live.
1. Preach the sermon.
2. Preach the sermon again.
3. Take a nap.
Ok, that was a lot.
The point I’m trying to make is that I practice and I practice a lot and I use this process to refine the content.
By the time I actually preach the sermon to the congregation, I know the content inside and out and have (hopefully) refined the final product to what is absolutely essential and crystal clear.
Now, you don’t have to practice 900 times like me. But I would suggest developing a rhythm of refinement for whatever it is that you are creating.
One thing that is for sure: Your 10th attempt will always be far better than your 1st attempt.
5. Reflective Reps
Alright, one last idea to share here.
It’s what Scott Cormode from Fuller Seminary (check out his stuff online!) calls reflective reps.
The idea behind reflective reps is not just to do something over and over and over again so that you can get better at it, but rather to do something once, listen to feedback, make adjustments and do that same thing again, listen to feedback, make adjustments, and do that same thing again.
You see the difference.
You see, practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes habit.
Practice with feedback and adjustments makes perfect.
Here’s how this works for me.
After practicing my sermon on Wednesday afternoon, I listen to feedback from a few trustworthy sources and make adjustments.
Then after our Saturday night service, I listen to feedback from a few trusted sources and make adjustments.
After preaching Sunday morning I listen to feedback and watch myself on video and make adjustments for the next time I preach.
So, if you are interested in creating amazing content, take the long view and find a way to practice reflective reps.
Find a few people who are ahead of you in whatever skill you are developing and invite them to critique your work.
Yes, it is vulnerable and at times painful but it is the path the growth and mastery.
I hope these past two posts have been helpful.
I am confident that my creative process is not the exact creative process you should adopt as you attempt to create amazing content.
However, I’m hopeful that something in here has been helpful.
I’d love to hear your ideas or feedback in the comments below. Perhaps you’d like to gift me with a reflective rep in blogging.