What is Your Catalyst?


I loved reading your responses about your catalyst for writing. So may wonderful motivations and stories in the making. Now what I want you to do, is take a look at what you listed as your catalyst and go deeper. And then deeper. Peel back the layers until you find the heartbeat of what is driving you to write. Sometimes its what drives you to write one particular book. Sometimes you’ll find that the core catalyst within will resonate through all the books you write.

So how do you do that? Have a conversation with a trusted friend. Someone who knows you well and isn’t afraid to ask the hard questions. Who isn’t afraid to push you. But it needs to be someone without an agenda of their own. Someone who will take part in this to serve you. Don’t try to do this alone, because it’s too easy to stop before you should. But be prepared. Finding your catalyst is often hard work and it demands you be gut-level honest.

Following is an example of a catalyst conversation based on several that I’ve had different writer friends. This gives you an example without revealing one person’s details, because, friends, digging for your catalyst can be emotional. (Boldfaced lines are the author’s.)


“My novel centers on suicide.”

“Okay, why?”

“Because so many people are affected by it.”

“Okay, but why does that matter to you?”

“Because someone I loved committed suicide. My mother.”


“And it changed my life.”


“Because my loved one was gone.”


“And that makes me sad.”


“Regretful… Angry.”

“Angry with…?”

“My mom.”


“Because she gave up. She left me.”

“So you feel she abandoned you?”

“Yes. She’s the one who brought me to Christ. She taught me to trust Him.”

“And yet…”

Arms cross over his chest. “She didn’t trust Him. If she did, she never would have killed herself.”

“So how does that make you feel?”

“Sad. Angry.”


“Well, if she couldn’t trust God…”

“Then how can you?”

Lips thin. Looks away. “I trust God.”

“But what she did…it makes you wonder. If you can. If He’s really there.”

No response.

“Because He could have stopped your loved one, and He didn’t.”

Eyes come back to me. “No, He didn’t.”

“But He could have.”

“Well, He’s God, isn’t He?”

“Is He?”


“So He let you down. And He let your loved one down.”

“Yes. Okay, yes. He let us down. I mean, He’s God, so why didn’t He stop it?”

“So you wonder now how you can trust a God who lets something like this happen? If He wasn’t enough to keep your mom from doing this, how can He be enough for you when things get bad.”

Shakes his head. “He’s enough. I know He’s enough.

I smile. “How do you know that?”

“Because He got me through mom’s death. That was the worst thing I’ve ever faced.”


Eyes lift, and understanding stirs. “And I saw for myself that no matter how bad things get, how abandoned you feel, you can’t base your trust on feelings. That God is there, even when you don’t feel Him. Especially when you don’t feel Him.”

“So how does that relate to your catalyst?”

Nods. “I want people to know. That it’s okay to be angry. With situations. Even with God. And that it’s okay to doubt. To wonder if He’s really there. That He wants all of us. Even the ugly, angry parts of us.”


“And He still loves us, even when we’re not sure about Him. And He’s there.” Tears start. “He’s there, with us, even if we don’t feel Him.”

“So your book isn’t really about suicide.”

Shakes head. Smiles. “No, it’s about God. His character. His love.”

“And your catalyst…”

“Is that we can trust him, even when we can’t feel Him. We can be honest with Him. And that He’s more than any darkness we face. And His love for us is stronger and deeper than any doubt we feel.”


As you can see, catalyst conversations aren’t easy. They often aren’t comfortable. But friends, we need to keep digging. To find the real burn inside, the core reason we write. Because when we know that, it fuels and supports us in the writing. It infuses the story with honest and authenticity.

And that’s what we need to give our readers in every book. Not pat or easy answers, but gut-level honesty about what it is to follow a God who isn’t tame, and who often doesn’t make sense to us. Whether you’re writing suspense or romance, historical or speculative, there is, deep inside, a catalyst that spurs you to put pen to paper. I encourage you to dig ever deeper, to find that inner fire…

And then let it dance on the page.

10 Responses to What is Your Catalyst?

  1. Connie Almony August 29, 2012 at 5:26 am #

    Wow, Karen! Were you trained as a counselor??? That sounded like a very productive counseling session. In a way I guess it is. It’s getting to the heart of what drives us … good or bad.

  2. Dana McNeely August 29, 2012 at 6:14 am #

    As I was reading this, Karen, I was thinking…almost the exact thing as Connie. Thinking, wow! Then thinking, how many people could I find with whom to have this catalyst conversation. Umm, zero. Thinking, how good would I be at asking someone, even myself, these questions, at thinking them up? Umm, horrible. I think I’m a good listener, when people want to talk, and they often do, but I don’t ask the deep, personal questions. But about my book, I do ask the questions. What would it have been like, to come back from the dead, from that other world? How would that have affected the rest of his life? Who was the widow? What was her great sin? So I guess next is, why do I want to write about idolatry, sin, and magic? Idolatry is deceptive, stealing people away from true life. Sin is attractive, offering pleasures, camaraderie, popular acceptance. Magic is impersonal, demands only “Oooh, ahhh!” Miracles are personal, demanding “By whose power do you say I do these things?”

  3. Lindsay Harrel August 29, 2012 at 7:51 am #

    What an amazing conversation…and really, most of it just kept asking someone to keep taking their thoughts one step deeper. This would be a great exercise to use on our characters too, to figure out their motivations for what they do.

  4. Jeanne August 29, 2012 at 8:49 am #

    Karen, thanks for the insight today. Simply beautiful. I trust two people I could have this convo with, but I’m not sure they would want to. 🙂 I’ll have to pray on that one. I can definitely see the value of getting to the core of why I write and letting it shine through my stories.
    Thank you.

  5. Lorraine August 29, 2012 at 10:36 am #

    Great post, Karen! I believe that our writing should come from deep within, unmining the treasures from past experiences. With those treasures we are able to offer people hope. Lovely interview. Truth is often buried below many layers of pain. Your interview peeled back those layers. Bless you for all you do.

  6. Karen Ball August 29, 2012 at 10:49 am #

    Ha! No, I’m not a counselor. Really, the key to these catalyst conversations is simply, as Lindsay said, digging deeper. You don’t have to be a counselor, you just need someone who can help you keep going. And YOU have to be willing to go beyond the surface, the easy places. Few of us WANT to go to those deep places, but I promise you, doing so will make your writing deeper and richer.

    Here are some keys that I keep in mind when I have these conversations with writers:

    * Listen! Always listen to what the person is–and isn’t–saying.
    * Watch expressions and body language. They’ll tell you when you’re on the right track long before a person’s words will.
    * Be empathetic to the emotions that come up, but don’t let them distract you. During one such conversation a writer had suffered so many losses in her life that I was stunned. I let myself come out of “catalyst” mode, but only for a moment. I hugged her, told her how brave I thought she was, and then stepped back. That brief connection helped her to regroup so we could go on.
    * Always remember, the goal is to serve the writer.


  7. Beth August 29, 2012 at 1:03 pm #

    I have my writers group meeting at my house next month and can’t wait to use this to get those juices flowing!

  8. Becky Doughty August 29, 2012 at 1:28 pm #


    Reading this post reminded me of your book, Breaking Point, and how you took Renee and Gabe through this process. I think so many believers forget what it means to believe – REALLY believe – and work THROUGH things rather than working OUT of things altogether. I often find when people give their testimonies that it’s about where they’ve BEEN, rather than where they’re GOING (redemption) – this makes the story about THEM and not necessarily about God.

    I’m seeing it in inspirational fiction now, too, as the “regulations” are being lifted and the edgy gets edgier and edgier. I love reading about real-life issues, but if it’s inspirational, specifically if it’s Christian, then rather than spending 9/10ths of the book talking about the darkness (“my book is about suicide”) and 1/10th bringing the characters to happily-ever-after-in-Christ (which isn’t reality anyway and the reader walks away with a fairy-tale 2-dimensional version of God’s grace), shouldn’t it be a little more balanced, maybe the first HALF showing the tumble into the pit, then the second HALF showing the long and arduous climb back out and into the arms of Jesus? THAT’S real life, isn’t it? I’m rambling, I know, but your conversation above really high-lighted the deeper – and at the beginning of the conversation, untapped – aspects of the the theme of the book.

    Thanks for a though-provoking post today.


  9. Jennifer Major @Jjumping August 29, 2012 at 6:20 pm #

    As much as I want to tell a story, I want to take my readers through the fire. Then when I’ve brought them to their knees, I want them to stand up and yell “that is NOT fair!”

    My catalyst is injustice and the desire for power. Stripped down and bare, it is about power spurring cruelty. About what happens when bad men get worse, and who are the few who rise up to seek out the victims and restore them to wholeness.

  10. Sara Baysinger August 30, 2012 at 9:48 am #

    I teared up reading that. It’s amazing, the depth you can go when you scratch the surface for reasons behind a book to find the true heart of the story. Thanks for sharing.

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