This week’s video is about theme! Determining a theme, figuring out how to work a study based on one, and finding resources to support. I want to talk here about actually determining your theme.
How do you go about actually deciding on a theme and then building a study on it?
This may seem really simple and/or obvious, but it must be stated. In order to figure out your theme, you need to know what you want to talk about. Do you want to talk about God? Do you want to talk about women in the Bible? Do you want to talk about Abraham? Do you want to study a particular book of the Bible? What do you want to talk about?
Once you have that, then you need to figure out your focus.
If you decide to talk about God, do you want to talk about creation? His character? Is there a particular characteristic you want to focus on? If you want to study a book of the Bible, how do you want to do that? Find thematic material within the book? Start at verse 1 and end at verse done? What major points do you find along the way?
Once you have your overall theme, then it’s time to move on to generating some major points or chapter titles. These points are going to build the road on which you will be driving your study (to borrow the lame example again from my video, ha!).
Here is where things get different depending on your position on the plotter/pantser scale. From here, I just began writing. I started with my blank document, chapter title on top, and wrote. The further along I got in my chapters, the more I refined exactly how I wanted my study to sound, to feel, and to look. If you are a plotter, this is where you’d start your outline – write down your major points within your chapter. Find your resources. Then start writing.
I mentioned this in my video, but I also want to talk about it here: wandering in your chapters. It’s easy to think that you need to stick very closely to your chapter’s theme, but this isn’t entirely true. You do have a lot of freedom to incorporate RELATED points (they need to be related – I cannot emphasize that enough) as long as you are able to bring it back to your chapter theme by the end. Think of your wandering as a circle. You can wander away for a bit, but then you have to start wandering back to your original point and wrap it up in a nice bow. Novels are great places for cliffhangers at the end of chapters. Bible studies aren’t.
Every chapter needs to be its own piece within the larger study. Every chapter needs to be wrapped up. Every chapter needs a nice, tidy bow on it. If you don’t achieve that on your first draft, that’s okay. Friends, that’s why we edit. If you find you’re completely stuck in trying to wrap up your chapter, move on. Go to the next chapter. This isn’t your final version. I promise, things will change about it. Sometimes major things will change, sometimes only minor things if you’ve planned it out thoroughly.
It is important to remember that the amount of editing required after finishing the first draft is in no way an indicator of your ability. You aren’t a worse writer if you need to do more editing. You aren’t a better writer if you need less editing. Think of it more in terms of refining your idea. Perhaps as you wrote, you decided you wanted to go a different direction. This is going to require a lot more editing than someone who stuck with the same plan the entire way. Neither writer is better than the other, just different. Find your own process, stick to your idea even as it evolves, and push on to the finish.
Your theme and all of your chapters should also wrap up into a nice box with a tidy bow. When your last chapter has been written, it should feel finished, if that makes sense. If your last chapter leaves you wanting (or even needing) to say or study more on this particular topic, then it’s not actually done. The ending should be satisfying. Conversely, if you finish your penultimate chapter and feel like you’re dragging it out to try to include your last chapter, cut it. Don’t feel you need to stick rigidly to keeping chapters that just aren’t working. A study is an entity all its own that changes and evolves over time. Be willing to let it.
Flexibility and adaptability are key here, especially as pantsers. It took me about six (of 11!) chapters to finally figure out what I wanted to do. When I went back to edit, I spent a LOT of time editing those first six chapters, but the last five, I edited in two days because they had simply become exactly what I wanted. Edit as many times as you need in order to feel satisfied with the end result. It should always feel satisfying to finish up.
What do you find is the most challenging part of writing? How do you work through it?