Tough feedback isn’t an attack—it’s an opportunity to grow in the craft of writing, to consider different perspectives that maybe I hadn’t considered, and to make the story better.
Lindsay Bixby is in her first year of serving on Story Team, and she has quickly become a key part of the team. Lindsay wrote this week’s story, The Strength to Forgive, and was kind enough to answer a few questions about her process. You can follow Lindsay on Twitter, Instagram, and at lindsaybixby.com.
Story Team: What is the first thing you do when you receive a story assignment?
Lindsay Bixby: When I first receive a story assignment, I’ll spend some time reading over the background and begin to pray for the Holy Spirit to move and to give me words to tell the story that God wants to be told. It’s easy for me to get caught up in the physical act of “just writing a story” and forget that telling this story goes deeper than that. Ultimately, it’s not about me writing a good story. It’s about allowing God to use me to tell his story—the one that he wants to tell, and that will give him the most glory. Beginning the story process with prayer reminds me of that. It’s not about me, and it’s ultimately not even about the subject of my story. It’s about God.
With Kasey’s story, this was even more true for me. As soon as I read the background, I got excited to write her story because I could relate. We share similar family stories, and I could already empathize with her on a deep level. This drove me to prayer even more so during the process—prayer for an open heart to hear and write the story he wanted me to tell, not the one I had already experienced in my own life.
How do you respond to tough feedback or edits from an editor?
During my first year on the Story Team, God has used my experiences to teach me about humility. It’s hard to receive tough feedback from an editor, and my tendency as a human is to immediately take it personally. What I’ve learned to do this year is to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. My editor is on my team, no matter how hard their feedback is to take. We’re on the same team, and we’re all working to tell the most excellent story that will bring God the most glory. Tough feedback isn’t an attack—it’s an opportunity to grow in the craft of writing, to consider different perspectives that maybe I hadn’t considered, and to make the story better. So, when I receive the hard feedback, I try to respond with humility and apply the feedback I’ve received to that end. There have been a couple stories this year where the second edit ended up being more of a re-write. While it’s hard to swallow in the moment, when the story is finished, I’ve been so thankful for the feedback and direction I received from the editors. The stories ended up undoubtedly better because of it.
How do you encourage and engage your subjects to be open and vulnerable with you?
The people that I feel the most comfortable being open and vulnerable around are the people who are open themselves, and great listeners. This is the approach I try to take with subjects. The first time we meet, I’ll be intentional to ask them questions and learn about parts of their lives that might not have much bearing on the topic of their story. I listen, and share parts of my life as well. Because Kasey and I shared similar experiences, I was open about my story and my own experience of dealing with brokenness in my family. I want my subject to know that I consider them a friend, and I care about them outside of this story. We all have stories, we’ve all experienced hard trials, and that should make us a safe place for each other. In my experience, listening goes a long way. I feel loved when I know I’m truly being heard. I want to make my subjects feel cared for in the same way.
How do you typically go about crafting the story after the interview? Do you write immediately or let thoughts sit for a few days first?
After the interview, I like to let the story sit for a few days before going back to it. During those few days, I spend time praying that God would lead me, and help me write the story he wants to tell. A few days after the interview, I’ll transcribe my interview so I have every word that was said. From there, there is a lot more prayer as I begin working through the transcription to create an outline. I’ll try to pick out a key theme or themes to focus the story around, and begin to pray, “What is this story truly about?” God answered that prayer clearly for Kasey’s story: It’s about the power of forgiveness. From the outline, I’ll start working through writing the story. For me, this is the hardest and most rewarding part of the process. With Kasey’s story, I loved spending time working through the most relatable way to describe her emotions and what she was going through because I think this story applies to all of us at some point. We’ve all experienced trying to forgive someone who we didn’t think deserved our forgiveness, so I wanted to capture that tone. The narrative ended up coming out a little more conversational than I’ve written before, and I really enjoyed writing it.
What tips would you give someone who is learning to write gospel-centered stories?
First, begin and end with prayer. Ultimately, these stories are God’s—not ours. There’s no way I can tell a story that’s glorifying to him if I’m not centering my process around prayer. It will become about me and my writing too quickly. Surrender yourself to God—to the story he wants to tell, how he wants to tell it—and ask him to use you and the story for his glory. Lastly, let yourself personally engage with the story. Allow yourself to feel, and really put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Pray for empathy. Be open to God using the story to move your own heart and to teach you, because that’s when you’ll be able to write on the deepest level.
What is your biggest challenge as a writer, and how do you overcome that challenge?
My biggest challenge as a writer has been learning how to keep a story focused. Our stories are complex. There are a lot of details, and when someone tells me their story, it’s all meaningful. The challenge is discerning the details and moments that help tell the gospel story in the most honest and clear way. I definitely am still growing in this area, but have grown by trying to do a few things. As I mentioned before, I like to spend time praying and thinking through what the story is really about. If I had to focus on one idea, one theme to carry through the story, what would it be? After praying through this for Kasey’s story, I settled on this theme: Forgiveness is possible through God’s power alone. I’m a visual person, so I will typically type the theme at the top of the page while I’m outlining and writing. As I’m working through the story, I’ll stop every few paragraphs to see if I’m still on track. For me, this helps focus my story, and ultimately helps the gospel be clearly portrayed.