How to write a book in four steps (According to Genesis 1)

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I am writing a book. In my optimism and naivety, I thought it might be just like writing several blog posts, then binding them together. My method in writing blog posts is as follows: have a shower, have an idea, write it down flat-out, pause, consider, tweak – and voila! Chapter finished, onto the next chapter.


Turns out, the rumours are all true – writing a book is HARD. It’s not like blogging. You can’t just have an idea and go, you have to take a step back. You have the giant idea, but you need to untangle it, separate it, pick at it until it is in more manageable chunks. You move the chunks around a bit, consider them, give them names. Only then do you fill them with words.


In other words, it is a giant administration project: untangling, sorting, naming. It is the verbal equivalent of sitting in a supermarket with a truckload of recently-delivered stock, and sifting through it, sticking labels on each part, sending it off to the appropriate aisle. It sounds decidedly uncreative. Was I getting it wrong?


I picked up my Bible for inspiration, and pondered to myself, ‘How did God go about the work of creating something?’. I didn’t have to look far.


It begins with emptiness


In the beginning…the earth was formless and empty, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. (Gen 1:1-2)


I hear the potential in these words, the excitement of what the triune God was about to create; the Spirit of God inhabiting the emptiness, poised, hovering over the timelessness and potential of pre-creation. Usually, when I look at a blank screen, I do as all true writers do – I panic.


But on a good day, I feel that same excitement, the hovering of an idea. And sometimes I even have that sense of God’s Spirit hovering with me.


Separate, then name


The first day, God separates light from darkness, and calls them ‘day’ and ‘night’.
The second day, God separates the two bodies of water, one from the other, above and below, and calls the dividing line ‘sky’.
The third day, God concentrates on the waters below. He gathers the water in one place, so that dry land appears: land separated from water. He names them ‘land’ and ‘seas’.

He’s spent three days on creation, and all He’s done is separate and name, separate and name. God is a secret administrator. Before He gets creative, He gets organised.


I think of my boy, playing with his toys. He does the same: gathers the Lego characters together: ‘This is the house. This is the mummy and this is the little boy.’ It’s intuitive. He separates and names them. This naming is the necessary precursor to the play.


In sermon-writing it’s the same process: separate the passage, name the sections, fill with explanation, illustration, application. I find it when I do pastoral counselling: we have to untangle first, separate out the emotions, give them names – then the words flow and the healing comes. Even with baking, we separate the ingredients and measure them before we combine them and fill the container.



On the fourth day, God makes the sun, moon and stars. (He makes lights to fill the darkness.)
On the fifth day, God creates fish and sea creatures, and birds. (He fills the sea and sky.)
On the sixth day, God creates animals and humans. (He fills the land.)


I think of an artist, finishing the outline in pencil, and taking up the paintbrush and swooshing it all over the canvas, filling the shapes with an abundance of colour and texture. This is the fun part, the spilling over of words onto page, colour onto canvas, flesh onto skeleton.


See that it is good


I love that God is a poet, and that Genesis 1 is written as a poem, not as a science manual. I love that He sees His work and pauses at each stage and says that it is good; and at the end He says it is very good. It is so tempting to look at our work and be shy, and ashamed to call it good. Even though we are fallen, it is still possible for us to create things that are good, and we can call them good.


And I love that it takes time: God didn’t wave a magic wand and zap the earth into being, God the Trinity did it in stages, over a period of time. They rested at the end, celebrating all their work of creation.


This is the whole creative process: and it’s right there, in Genesis 1.

  1. The emptiness, the Spirit of God hovering;
  2. the separating and naming; and only then
  3. the filling; and finally
  4. the rest and celebration, seeing it it good.

We go through this same process every day, every time we create something.


I stare at the words, absorbing my discovery. My creative process mirrors God’s.


I don’t know why this should surprise me. After all, God is creator, painter of life, writer of redemption story. We are created in His image, and we are imprinted with that same desire to create.


I turn back to the blank screen, and feel the emptiness of it all, the fear of not having a good idea, the right words. I close my eyes, and remember that the same Spirit of God who hovered over the empty waters now hovers in my soul. The same God who made the hummingbird and humpback whale now dwells in me, and He loves to create whole worlds out of nothingness.


I take a breath. I will do this. I will gather my thoughts and have the courage to speak them. I will write this book. I raise my hands over the keyboard, and begin again.

Christianity and Creativity thumbnail - image Darren Johnson (Creative Commons License)
I have been thinking about creativity a lot lately, and I am delighted to announce that on Tuesdays and Thursdays all July some amazing guests will be writing their experiences of Christianity and Creativity, and how the two blend. This is not just on writing, but a wide variety of creative outlets, so I am hoping that it will encourage many. These people are seriously talented in their fields, and I am SO excited to have them here on my blog. Please do interact with these posts and share them far and wide!

Tue 2 Jul – Beth Morey (artist)
Thu 4 Jul – Sara Schumacher of Transpositions (academic)
Tue 9 Jul – Clive Parnell (musician)
Thu 11 Jul – Leanne Penny (on redemptive creativity – making beautiful things out of old junk)
Tue 16 Jul – Ed Cyzewski (writer)
Thu 18 Jul – Esther Emery (on creativity and creation)
Tue 23 Jul – Alice Buckley (on creativity and play)
Thu 25 Jul – John Blase (poet and writer)
(And did I mention I am SO excited about this?)

Over to you:

  • How do you exercise your creativity? (Through writing, baking, gardening, playing with children etc.?)
  • Do you see these different processes/stages in your creative work? How does it feel that God did them too?

Liked this post? Do stay in touch – subscribe by email or like my Facebook page.

Photo on Christianity and Creativity button by Darren Johnson.

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30 Responses to How to write a book in four steps (According to Genesis 1)

  1. Shona 27th January, 2016 at 9:37 am #

    So I came back to this today. thanks for reminding me of the divinity of the process. and the artistry inherent in truth telling. I will get on with separating and naming.

    • Tanya 24th February, 2016 at 12:28 pm #

      So sorry for my delay in replying. Thanks for reading this! Separate and name, separate and name. You can do this!

  2. Janice 15th August, 2013 at 4:57 am #

    Did I seriously NOT comment on this post already? Impossible, because I loved it. This post makes me love Genesis 1 more. (Hmmm – Does that sound strangely heretical or something?) I know people often talk about how our creation of anything mirrors God as the Creator, but this post is so good because it makes me realize just how true that is. And it makes me grateful that God shared his creative work in a way we can relate to . Because:

    a) I love that feeling of emptiness because it feels like my mind is sitting on the edge of its seat and *something* good is going to come

    b) I would like to separate and name the entire world! All the untangling and identifying the true name of things is so soulfully freeing. How can you possibly move on without separating and naming?

    c) the filling is the work, but the fun part too. And the part that is sort of mysterious, huh? I don’t have any idea what the difference is from the days I can fill with beauty and the days that just nothing comes out that is ever going to make it through the editing process….

    d) it is good, isn’t it?

    Well done, friend.

    • Tanya 15th August, 2013 at 7:39 pm #

      Janice – I LOVE this comment! You always make me feel so uplifted! Thank you, lovely lady. πŸ™‚

  3. Darlene Collazo @ {In Pursuit} 28th June, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    Thank you for putting words to the process I go through. I made it seem so much easier. And what an awesome reminder of how we’re made like our Creator!!! Great post!

    • Tanya 4th July, 2013 at 10:17 am #

      Thanks so much for stopping by and taking the time to comment! I’m so pleased it resonated with you. Great to meet you!

  4. Joy Lenton 28th June, 2013 at 9:04 pm #

    Love this, Tanya! Probably my favourite post so far. Creativity has also been on my mind a lot recently as I’ve been considering what it means to be a writer and whether (or not) I dare call myself one, with no book written/published yet. Therefore, to see the whole creative process explained so beautifully here has really awakened my desire to create through poetry and prose; for even if nobody wants to read the finished product (excuse me while I go off for a little cry…) it is still worth doing ‘anyway’, isn’t it? I’m also of the school of thought that wants to write it all out before offering to those who may be interested. Creative work can be hard indeed, but it answers something fundamental in our souls to participate in the creative process. And thanks to this lovely post, now I know why! Many blessing of health and strength to you, my friend as you continue on your creative journey. Love, Joy πŸ™‚ xx

    • Tanya 4th July, 2013 at 10:16 am #

      It always surprises me which pieces people say ‘this is my favourite!’ to – I’m so glad though, because this was a real light-bulb moment for me, and I love it when people feel that too.

      And it IS still worth doing, anyway. Keep writing, friend. And thank you, as always for your encouragement.

  5. Addie Zierman 27th June, 2013 at 3:38 pm #

    Love this Tanya.

    • Tanya 27th June, 2013 at 3:45 pm #

      Thank you, thank you, lovely Addie!

  6. Cathy 27th June, 2013 at 2:07 am #

    Beautiful! Maybe my favorite of all I’ve read that you’ve written…

    • Tanya 27th June, 2013 at 11:11 am #

      Oo! Thank you! What a great compliment!


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