Filling Your Well of Ideas

Sometimes I think my idea well has run dry. The plots I dredge up are so spare they couldn’t even flesh out a flash fiction story.

Can you relate?

The Well of Ideas

The Well of Ideas

Usually what this means is I need to switch from “creative” mode to “ingestion” mode—I need more raw material to draw from. Some writers can create a story idea from nothing except their own imagination.

That is not me. And if that’s not you, too, maybe this trick will help you fill your well.

Feed Me, Seymour!

Much like the carnivorous plant in “The Little Shop of Horrors,” I need constant feeding. Often I chow down on a great novel; less frequently nonfiction fills my gullet.

Maybe it’s my background as a newspaper reporter, but some of the best food for my imagination comes from the news—including quasi news sources like blogs. Because, as Mark Twain said, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”

When I read news, online or print (broadcast doesn’t work for me), invariably I read an article that sparks an idea or two. Now, I freely admit not all of them will produce even a flash fiction piece, let alone a full-blown novel, but the important thing is I’m filling my imagination. At the appropriate time, several of the ideas will likely congeal together and produce something workable.

But I can guarantee that nothing workable will be produced if raw material isn’t imported into the processor.

Is he talking about you?

What is the cost of living together?

What is the cost of living together?

For instance, I read this commentary from Regis Nicoll the other day called “The High Costs of Living Together.” It included this gem:

In 1969, although the vast majority of people, 82 percent, reported having had sex before marriage by age 30, only 21 percent felt that was morally acceptable.

… Over the next 40 years, as public acceptance grew three-fold (to 63 percent) and (more) people (94 percent) admitted to having “done it,” there was far less social pressure to restrain it or keep quiet about it.

This sea change in attitudes and practices can be attributed to two things: “no-consequence” sex and a morally-compromised Church.

… With roughly 80 percent of the U.S. populace Christian and 94 percent admitting to pre-marital sex, that means that a lot of Christians—very likely the majority—are guilty of sexual sin.

Woah … right? I know a lot of people who will take offense at a study like this. But that’s what makes great fiction!

Is that giving you ideas? (Story ideas, guys, story ideas.) It sure did me. My oeuvre, the framework within which I write, includes marriage, fidelity, trust—and all the antonyms of those, of course. I took the entirety of Nicoll’s piece and fed my imagination with it. Who knows where it may lead, but now that information has been uploaded and is available. (And also stored electronically.)

Fill your well

The point is there are ideas for fiction everywhere if you open your eyes, your heart, and your mind to them. If you read something that sticks with you—good or bad—file that away in your Well of Ideas. Maybe you’ll use it, maybe you won’t. But you for sure won’t use it if you don’t have it stored away.

Obviously our world is ever in need of the transformative power of story—and of Story. What ideas have you picked up from news sources and used in your stories?

Want to play?

Screenshot from Jan. 25, 2014, FOXNews.com home page

Screenshot from Jan. 25, 2014, FOXNews.com home page

Go to the front page of your local paper (or to the home page of CNN or Fox News or your favorite online news source) and read the main story—no cherry picking. Choose one fact or one quote or one idea from that story as your idea seed and freewrite a paragraph or two in the comments.

Here’s my example. I wrote this on Jan. 25 based on a story found on FOXNews.com. The story has changed since that day and my idea seed is no longer in it, but it’s still a good example.

My idea seed: The scene was “believed to be secure” police said in a tweet issued at about 12:36 p.m. Here’s what I came up with:

Ethan was dead. True. He’d been an effective triggerman. Also true. But there were others. Many others.

Captain White’s tweet that the mall was “secure” made Gaston—almost—laugh out loud, but he did not “LOL. When he laughed, and it was rare, it was real not some fake social construct. But that “out loud” part was a luxury he couldn’t allow himself right now. Later? Most definitely.

Stupid twerkers. Ethan got a few, but they’d be back prancing through the mall in their tight clothes and loose morals soon enough. It was “secure,” after all. White said so. Truth. 

So not true.

And then he did chuckle—but quietly. After all, the shoppers trapped in his store from the lockdown were still shook up and hyper aware—no sense in giving them something odd to remember if the police did questioned them.

They’d soon enough embrace again the fragile cloak of security they thought protected them. True, always true.

So, if you want to play leave a comment. Or, if you want to talk about where you get your ideas fromhow you fill your Well of Ideasleave a comment.

Well image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net and cbenjasuwan.
Couple image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net and Ambro.

Mike-9Michael Ehret loves to play with words and as the editor of CHEFS Mix Blog for CHEFS Catalog he is enjoying his playground. Previous playgrounds include being the Managing Editor of the magazine ACFW Journal and the ezine Afictionado for seven years. He also plays with words as a freelance editor and has edited several nonfiction books, proofedited for Abingdon Press, worked in corporate communications, and reported for The Indianapolis Star.

Originally posted on Novel Rocket

Spring Cleaning? 10 Tips for Writers

I know it’s only February, but in my office that’s when I start thinking about Spring Cleaning. Why so early? Because I hate the process, even though it is vital to the smooth operation of my freelance editing business. If I don’t start early to think and plan for it, procrastination will win the day. So, maybe you’re like me? Here are 10 tips to clean out the cobwebs in your writing:

10. Keep it Simple You have many ongoing writing projects. Prioritize and be realistic.

9. Break it Down Do you need to brainstorm a new story? Have you left a protagonist dangling? Do you have a percolating editing project? Break your tasks into chunks. One week, brainstorm. The next week, rescue your protag. Then edit.

See the other eight tips at Novel Rocket!

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 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.

Quote It! Meg Cabot

“Write the kind of story you would like to read. People will give you all sorts of advice about writing, but if you are not writing something you like, no one else will like it either.”

–Meg Cabot, American author of romantic and paranormal fiction for teens and adults. Best known for The Princess Diaries.


This is an interesting variation on the standard writing advice to “write what you know.” It made me think about what I write. Am I writing what I’d like to read? I think I am.

I write stories about people on the cusp of some sort of emotional disaster—people who are walking a fine line between who they are and who God wants them to be.

What are your stories about? Are they written for you or for someone—or something—else?

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

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

Pitch to Win!

If you’re a writer who is serious about writing, you know that in order to be successful you have to be able to pitch your book—and no, I don’t mean throw it across the room in exasperation because “it’s just not working!” (Though that will likely happen, too.)

Since I was rejected—actually laughed at—in a pitch appointment once, I’ve let that experience keep me from pitching again. And it even has kept me from working on my writing as much as I should.

Don’t let this happen to you!

Aside from the fact that the person I pitched to was having a bad (and insensitive) day, why did my pitch fail? Simple. Because I didn’t know what I was doing and I didn’t practice, practice, practice. So, today let’s practice–at my post on Novel Rocket!

Enter your pitch there (or here) for a chance to win the book of your choice (details on Novel Rocket).

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Quote It! Kelly Long’s Mom

Never kick a sleeping skunk.

— Kelly Long’s Mom




Mom’s have a lot of great advice. I’m sure we’ve all heard:

  • Money does not grow on trees.
  • Don’t make that face or it’ll freeze in that position.
  • Always change your underwear; you never know when you’ll have an accident.
  • Be careful or you’ll put your eye out.
  • If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.
  • Be careful what you wish for, it might come true.

We could go on–obviously.

But, I was intrigued by this bit of advice when Kelly shared it with me a couple weeks ago. Is there a writing application? What do you think?

Enter your writing related advice about kicking sleeping skunks below.



Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

Quote It! F. Scott Fitzgerald / Neil Gaiman

Cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own joke.

– F. Scott Fitzgerald, an American author of novels and short stories



Laugh at your own jokes.

– Neil Gaiman, an English author of short fiction, novels, comic books, and graphic novels


Wow. Sometimes writing advice is so contradictory. What’s an aspiring author to do?

When advice seemingly contradicts, I find it helpful to approach it from a ‘Yes, and’ perspective. First of all, Gaiman is likely not referencing exclamation points–context is everything.

But, that doesn’t negate the benefit of ‘Yes, and’. Fitzgerald and Gaiman are both right–even if talking about exclamation points. In my writing (and editing), I favor eschewing exclamation points for the most part. However, in the right circumstance, they are positively necessary! But only in those rare circumstances.

What do you think? About exclamation points and contradictory writing advice?


Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line