Quote It! Robin Williams

RobinWilliams“You’re only given a little spark of madness, you mustn’t lose it.”

– Robin Williams, Academy Award-winning actor (Best Supporting Actor, Good Will Hunting, 1997) and multiple Grammy-winning performer

Regardless what you think of Robin Williams’ body of work (I think it is mostly hilarious), it can’t be argued that he ever lost his “spark of madness.” From the early days of his fame, appearing as the alien Mork in a multiple-story arc on the television show Happy Days, through Mrs. Doubtfire and Awakenings, he has consistently sparked.

That spark, which he urges us to never lose, is what makes him–and more important, his work–memorable. He isn’t afraid to push beyond merely funny to borderline manic (remember the Genie in the Walt Disney flick Aladdin?).

A creative person’s “spark of madness” doesn’t have to be comedic. Stephen King’s spark may be his ability to see, and imagine, scary things within the perfectly mundane. Patsy Cline’s spark may have been her talent for inhabiting the songs she sang.

I’m not sure what mine is. It may be seeing gold where others see only tin. Regardless, our “spark”, I think, is where we are most fully using our gifts–with abandon!

What’s your “spark of madness”?

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

Michael Ehret loves to play with words and as editor of the ACFW Journal, he is enjoying his playground. He also plays with words as a freelance editor right here at WritingOnTheFineLine.com, where he often takes a writer Into The Edit, pulling back the veil on the editing process. He has edited several nonfiction books, played with words as a corporate communicator, and reported for The Indianapolis Star.

Believable character change

For Christmas, I love making sugar cookies with cookie cutters. It’s fun to slather colored powdered-sugar frosting for that extra layer of sweetness over those recognizable holiday shapes.

ChristmasCookie2Even though frosted differently, those cookies all look the same. There’s not a lot of difference between my cookies and the ones my kids create. And they taste exactly the same—sweet perfection.

One of the challenges we face as writers is creating characters who don’t look like all the others. Characters who aren’t stamped out of the same dough everyone else is using.

God changes lives—just not mine

I was reminded of this during a recent sermon. Our pastor at Springs Community Church, Eric Carpenter, had just begun a series called “Practical Atheist,” focusing on Christians who believe in God, but live as if He doesn’t exist. (Based on Craig Groeschel’s book, Christian Atheist.)

At the beginning of the sermon Carpenter said, “It’s like when we say we believe in a God who forgives, but refuse to accept His forgiveness personally or refuse to forgive others. We believe in a God who changes lives, but don’t believe we can change in meaningful, deep, abiding ways.”

That’s when I thought of the characters in my current manuscript.

Are they cookie-cutter Christians, cruising through life with a few bumps and scratches that are easily covered by a new layer of “holiness” frosting? Or are they authentic Christians even while living real, flawed lives?

And if they aren’t, what would my book be like if they were?

Creating misery

My characters—and yours—need to suffer, and not just a little. I need to find each one’s core weakness and exploit it. Then exploit it again and again and again.

ChristmasCookie1We need to find the point in each character where they’re a practical atheist—where they don’t fully trust God or haven’t completely made Jesus their Lord, even though they outwardly claim otherwise. And then we need to make them miserable in that exact area.

When we do that, we can help the character—and the reader—find their way back to God or more fully turn their weakness over to His strength.

And that’s when our characters step out of the cookie cutter and start to live and breathe. That’s when the story we’re telling becomes transformational—for the author and for the reader.

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

Michael Ehret loves to play with words and as editor of the ACFW Journal, he is enjoying his playground. He also plays with words as a freelance editor right here at WritingOnTheFineLine.com, where he often takes a writer Into The Edit, pulling back the veil on the editing process. He has edited several nonfiction books, played with words as a corporate communicator, and reported for The Indianapolis Star.

Boost Your Creativity!

Creativity comes in all shapes and sizes.

For instance, I dabble in color and graphic design. I love to cook, but hate to clean up. I write a little. But what really gets my creative juices going is helping other writers discover the beauty in their writing through the editing process.

One of the things I’ll often suggest to authors is to engage their creativity through various writing prompts. Feel up to trying one? Then follow the link to read more at my post today on Novel Rocket!

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

The Glow

Recently, I attended the American Christian Fiction Writers annual conference in Dallas TX. I always come away from these gatherings with renewed creativity and an appreciation for just how tough this business is.

But I also come away with a glow.

If you’ve been to a writer’s conference, you probably understand. If not, and if you consider yourself a writer, you need to get to a conference and experience it. The ACFW conference is one I highly recommend, whether you’re new to writing fiction or a multi-published author.

I—intentionally—did not pitch a writing project in Dallas. Instead, I focused on promoting this website and my services as a freelance editor. This freed me to mostly relax and enjoy the conference.

When I did, I realized a few things:

  • I like the company of writers, editors, and agents. In an informal lobby gathering one night we had a laugh-fest—as creatives, yes, but also as people.
  • You can inhale creativity. I had more new ideas—for my business, my novel, the ACFW Journal—in those few days than I had in the previous three months. Not all are gems, but I think some of them are.
  • You can be alone in a room with hundreds of people. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing because you’re really in the world of your novel and everyone there understands.

What’s next?

Now I’m back home, back at work trying to build this business, back in my everyday world—and I’m enjoying the glow.

The keynote speaker for this conference was Michael Hyatt (left), former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing, and the author of Platform: Get Noticed In A Noisy World. He said many things worth remembering, but two pieces of advice stuck with me:

First:

Do not ask, “Where have all the good times gone?” Wisdom knows better than to ask such a thing (Ecclesiastes 7:10, The Voice).

“We often get stuck in a version of how things were and we pine for the old days. But they aren’t coming back. In the future you will look back on this day and think of it as the good ol’ days. You are living in the good ol’ days. God is doing a new work today and you have the privilege of being a part of it.”

Second:

“One of the reasons your role (as a writer) is so important is we live in chaotic times. People desperately need stories to sort out the meaning of what they’re experiencing. (They need) a way of thinking about the world to help them make sense of it.

“What do you choose to do with the gift—the future—you’ve been given? Will you lean into it and believe that God is with you?”



What is your response? Share—or simply ponder it in your heart.


Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

Man in glow image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Quote It! Anton Chekhov

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.

– Anton Chekhov, a Russian physician, dramatist, and author


Ah, the old “show, don’t tell” advice. Good advice never gets old, however. (Though some continue to rail against it.)

As is often the case, Grammar Girl makes the distinctions clear–including when writers should tell and not show.

What tips do you keep nearby to help you remember to show in your writing?


Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

Quote It! Ernest Hemingway



“I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.”

–Ernest Hemingway



From what I understand, Hemingway always chose his words carefully. He “learned” to never empty his well, means that he probably emptied his well a time or two before he learned that, hmmm, that’s not such a great idea.

How do you keep your writing well full? Or, when it gets low, what do you do to prime the pump and get the water flowing again? I could use your suggestions.


Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

Goal Setting for the Organizationally Challenged

C’mon in. It’s safe here. Sit anywhere.

Believe me, I understand how difficult it is to submit your freewheeling creative side to the strictures of goal setting, accountability, and—shudder—planning. I fought that fight for years, and still strain against the leash.

You want to be successful and accomplish something meaningful, but setting goals is difficult and takes energy away from being creative. What to do?

S.M.A.R.T

Even the most unorganized creative has heard about the value of setting goals. Most even understand that goals work best when they are S.M.A.R.T.

On some level, we organizationally challenged understand that. But … but … oh crud, it’s drudgery.

So, how do we gain the benefits of setting goals while retaining the belief that we can sashay through life, taking it as it comes?

Broaden your horizons

Who says goals have to be set a year at a time? Just because the rest of the goal-setting world focuses on January 1 doesn’t mean you have to kowtow to tradition and set your goals then. What’s wrong with setting a goal on June 21? Or June 22?

Also, I suggest staying away from grandiose resolutions/goals such as bringing about world peace. I’d even suggest foregoing “Finally finishing this blasted novel after 22 years.”

Instead why not aim for something you know you can achieve? “I will eat chocolate at least once a day,” for instance. It is—arguably—writing related.

What’s wrong with bite-sized chunks?

Sometimes smaller is good. Is it better to proclaim your intention to finish your novel in 90 days or that you’re going to finish Chapter 13 (which is half done anyway) by the end of the month?

Is it better to vow to spend three hours a night, butt-in-chair every night for the first quarter of the year, or to choose Thursday nights (and sometimes Tuesdays if American Idol has jumped the shark ) as your writing night?

Small successes build confidence

When you see that you can write more consistently by piecing together small chunks of time, maybe you’ll decide to write on Tuesdays also—after all, Wednesday is Idol results night. And results are what matter, not how you get there, right?

Do goals inspire or stifle you? How do you work with goals? What is one goal you can set today?

Is one of your goals to improve an existing manuscript or get an entry ready for a contest? Maybe I can help. See my Editorial Services page or contact me at michael.ehret (at) inbox(dot)com.

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net