Thursday, 2 February 2017

The Plan, The Thing and The Other Things

by Mazzy Adams.

I like a plan that comes together, don’t you? We all have them. Nicely thought out, supported by research, relevant consultation and wise advice, organised and actioned consecutively in a timely manner, success celebrated with circumspect consideration for all the answered prayers, amazing people that came alongside to help, all those wonderful coincidences whereby everything fell into place in the nick of time, followed by moments of thankfulness and modest recognition for your own personal diligence in achieving such a positive outcome. Does that describe your usual experience?  Yes? No? Sometimes?

If you answered ‘Yes’, please, oh please, tell me do, how do you do it? I am keen to know because, after a year (at the least) of having one plan after another hijacked by circumstances beyond my control, I think I have lost that plot! Unexpected obstacles thwarted my every move; nothing happened ‘in a timely manner’, wise advice eluded me when I needed it most, my prayers appeared to ricochet. I thank God I was able to enjoy some precious moments with some amazing people in Katoomba and Sydney during the 2016 Omega Writers Conference. Without them, I’d be a mouldering heap of blithering self-pity right now (as opposed to the tongue-in-cheek purveyor of philosophical rhetoric on how life really works that I’m trying to pull off here).

I have felt like the protagonist in an experimental first draft; the arc of my character development pushed to and fro by an unruly pendulum. Who on earth is writing me into such a frustrating story? I mean, just because a good writer drives their precious, bookish creations to the brink of insanity if not destruction so that truth will be revealed and meaning or purpose discovered, it doesn’t mean … It doesn’t mean … Oh. Yeah. It does. I get it. Now.

I get it because I know the Author:

 ‘Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.’ Psalm 139:16 (NIV)

I get it because I know He knows the plot:

‘“For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

I get it because I know He has a purpose:

‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.’ Romans 8:28 (NIV)

Thankfully, His story ends well:

‘He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade … you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.’ 1 Peter 1:3-4, 8-9 (NIV)

Are you frustrated by a similar period of thwarted plans and a confusing life script? I encourage you to hang in there (that’s what I’m trying to do) and trust that God has both the process and the outcome covered. After all, given the longevity and ongoing sales record of His written word, He is clearly an excellent author with a proven track record.

So here’s the thing: Although my plans may go awry, my life still has purpose and meaning because God created me with His purpose in mind. 

Here’s another thing: Discovering His purpose, then walking in it, is proving to be a very grand adventure, with high stakes and unexpected twists and turns, but it promises an awesome outcome. Bring it on!

And here's another thing: I’d like to share a concept I learned while attending a recent Queensland Writers Centre Express Year of the Novel Course led by Veny Armanno. I found the concept useful for analysing plot and simplifying or distilling a story into a synopsis. The theory, posited by Tony Earley, says stories need two pieces: The Thing and The Other Thing.

As I understand it, ‘The Thing’ is your story’s central idea or premise which, on its own, may be interesting or relatively mundane, even familiar. For example: Girl meets boy and falls for him.

‘The Other Thing’ is the approach, the twist, the extraordinary thing that gives your story zing, and takes it to another level. For example: The boy is a righteous alien from Krypton and way too busy saving the world from evil to court a brash, female journalist who is forever getting into trouble, but court her, he does. (Yeah, I'm a fan of Superman. And feel free to jump in on the allegory.)

Not wishing to trample any copyright toes, I tried (unsuccessfully) to find a link to the originator, Tony Earley. What I found instead was a post by Sharon Pelletier of Dystel, Goderich & Bourret LLC. Sharon explains Earley’s premise in words more-or-less identical to those in the course notes I received. So I’ve included her link here for anyone who would like to read more about ‘The Thing and The Other Thing’.

Have any interesting things (or 'Other Things') rocked your world recently?

Mazzy Adams is an Australian wife, mother, grandmother, creative and academic writing tutor and published author with a passion for words, pictures and the positive potential in people.



  1. What a lovely post Mazzy. You had me both chuckling and nodding. Most of my life has veered off the PLAN! And in the recent past, I too have found that God seems to often send me off on detours ... much of the time. I'm so sorry about your tough year with your plans being hijacked. I'm currently listening to "Living Forward" by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy. They seem to be sold on making a 'Life Plan' (they are Christians) and are positive it makes a difference. While I agree with some of their sentiments, I've also been a tad sceptical. I know that life is rarely predictable and all too often sends curve balls our way. And then there's the God factor which is most important!

    I'm planning to plan today - for my life as well as my writing. And there you go reminding me that our plans rarely go the way we expect. So thank you for that vote of confidence in my planning! :) Just kidding. Thank you for the reminder which is vital since being flexible is so important.

    Love your mention of 'The Other Thing' which our real life stories abound in. And which adds a great deal to a novel. For the past few years, God's been asking me to live by Isaiah 30:21 ""Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying 'This is the way, walk in it." I believe He was increasing my trust and initiating a closer walk with me by making me depend on Him for direction one day at a time.

    Praying that 2017 would be a great year for you where all your plans are brought to fruition! Every blessing to you Mazzy! And thanks for a great post.

    1. Thanks Anusha. I'm sure you will approach your planning with wisdom, and its execution with grace, patience and tolerance. You are so right in saying flexibility is so important. I love the way The Living Bible renders the first three verses of Proverbs 16: '1 We can make our plans, but the final outcome is in God’s hands. 2 We can always “prove” that we are right, but is the Lord convinced? 3 Commit your work to the Lord, then it will succeed.' Seems like a good starting point, doesn't it?

  2. Great post! I frequently wish God would share his plans with us. I think it would make things easier sometimes. :-)

    1. Oh, so do I, Lynne! Although I do acknowledge God has faithfully shown us the big picture issues of His plans through His word so I've no excuse for pleading ignorance of those things. However, when it comes to His unique plans for me, I admit greater faith in His plans and timely implementation than I do in my ability to discern them ahead of time. Perhaps that's why I have recently drawn great comfort from the words of this beautiful hymn:

      When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word,
      What a glory He sheds on our way!
      While we do His good will, He abides with us still,
      And with all who will trust and obey.

      Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
      To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

      Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies,
      But His smile quickly drives it away;
      Not a doubt or a fear, not a sigh or a tear,
      Can abide while we trust and obey.

      Not a burden we bear, not a sorrow we share,
      But our toil He doth richly repay;
      Not a grief or a loss, not a frown or a cross,
      But is blessed if we trust and obey.

      But we never can prove the delights of His love
      Until all on the altar we lay;
      For the favour He shows, for the joy He bestows,
      Are for them who will trust and obey.

      Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet,
      Or we’ll walk by His side in the way;
      What He says we will do, where He sends we will go;
      Never fear, only trust and obey.

  3. Fantastic post, Mazzy. Sorry hear that your year has been so frustrating but, agree, that God has it sorted even when it doesn't look that way.

    I particularly love this paragraph:

    I have felt like the protagonist in an experimental first draft; the arc of my character development pushed to and fro by an unruly pendulum. Who on earth is writing me into such a frustrating story? I mean, just because a good writer drives their precious, bookish creations to the brink of insanity if not destruction so that truth will be revealed and meaning or purpose discovered, it doesn’t mean … It doesn’t mean … Oh. Yeah. It does. I get it. Now.

    Hoping and praying that for resolutions, sage advice and some success for you this year. xx

    1. Thanks Jenny. Insights and light-bulb moments - gotta love 'em!

  4. Thank you, Mazzy. I needed this today. It's so good to remember when things go awry we can recognise it as a plot twist and know we are in the hands of an author who is never 'safe' but always 'good'. I like the the thing and the other thing idea too (thanks for the link).

    1. I am so glad you found it helpful, Sue. Thank YOU for adding another layer of purpose and meaning to my mixed up year. :)

  5. Thanks for the big picture reminders, Mazzy. We all need these for those inevitable desert patches. Hope the seeds you've sown and nurtured sprout and thrive this year.

  6. That's a great way of looking at all those frustrating circumstances, Mazzy. There have certainly been times when I've asked God if he knew what he was doing. But all of those circumstances certainly do work together for good even if we can't see it at the time. (I'm still working on a couple of those). So good on you for hanging in there. I'm sure it will all add an interesting twist to your writing for many years to come.

    And I like the thing and the other thing idea too. Not too hard to do in a novel, but I think that's why some short stories fail (probably some of mine included). It's easy to forget that even in a tight word limit, there has to be that extra thing that lifts your story above the usual.

    Thanks for sharing and I hope this next year holds more smooth sailing than you can handle :)

  7. Oh, there are SO many 'things' and 'other things' that haven't gone according to plan. Thankfully, as you say, there is a Master Planner who has it under control. (Phew.) But we still can't help chafing now and then, true? I think when we're further down the road and some of the threads in our knotted paths have untangled, it will be interesting to reflect on the journey.

    BTW looking forward to see that long planned project find its wings.

  8. Ah yes the best laid plans of mice and women! The accepted methods don't work for everyone do they? Especially when the enemy is on the lookout at all times to destroy. Good scriptures and honesty.