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

Writing Lessons from Dogs

Sometimes when I’m goofing with my two dogs, Baxter and Taffy, God will snap his fingers, hold his hand over my nose, and tell me to “Sit. Stay. Listen.” And when I do, I learn valuable lessons.

Almost every morning I have the same breakfast—two slices of peanut butter toast. I love peanut butter. At one point in my (much younger) life, I was going to marry peanut butter. My siblings still make fun of me for this—I do not care.

However, during the year I was working from home as a freelance editor, every morning Baxter and Taffy would come and sit attentively near the table, convinced I would either give them some toast or drop a bite accidentally. Their faith in my generosity (or sloppiness) never wavered.

Image

Taffy, the trusting one

  • Lesson 1: Faith looks a lot like perseverance. If I would sit at God’s feet every morning and believe He’s going to give me something good—even if he hasn’t for a while—then I’m right where I need to be just in case he does. This lesson also applies to prayer requests.

Eventually, the dogs’ faithful attentiveness prompted me—not out of guilt, but out of a desire to share with my faithful companions—to reward their faith with one bite of crust each from both pieces of toast. Every morning.

  • Lesson 2: God does not share his bounty with me (not defined as anything related to money) because I beg, but because I am his child and he loves me.

The first time I offered the dogs their pieces of crust, Taffy came to me immediately, without question, and took the bite from my hand. Baxter held back. He looked at what I offered, sniffed it, and finally took it from my hand, hesitantly, as if he expected me to take it back.

Let me be clear. I am a softhearted man. I have never given my dogs reason to fear me or to wonder if the good I give them will be taken away. We have had Baxter five years and Taffy eight. They know what to expect.

So, they are not reacting to me with trust or hesitation. It is their nature. It’s the way they were made. One trusts completely and has since Day 1. One holds back, assessing and analyzing, and has since Day 1.

Baxter, the hesitant one

Baxter, the hesitant one

(Insert photo of Baxter)

  • Lesson 3: If I immediately take up God’s blessings and run with them in joy—or if I hesitate to accept the good things he has for me, it is not a reflection on God. It is the way I am. The way I was created. My nature.

Yes, I can (with God’s help) change my nature somewhat. For instance, I can train myself not to lie. But my nature—my default position, if you will—is what it is. Without the sacrifice of Christ, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit, I would remain largely unchanged until the day I die.

“What do these lessons mean to me, as a writer?” I wondered one day as God held his hand over my nose.

  • My characters don’t have to show a strong, unwavering faith. Few people are gifted with that. But, when they face doubts and have questions, perseverance—moving forward from the last place they heard God—is a form of faith. Taking action based on what they know to be true of God is faith, even if he is silent.
  • Regardless of how much my characters pray for a certain outcome, God is under no obligation to provide it. I do not have to give my dogs crusts—I could give them carrots instead, or nothing. Our prayers do not obligate God; our prayers bring us into alignment with his will.

This one may be controversial, but I think it’s true.

  • My characters should not change by leaps and bounds, but by small incremental, sometimes nearly invisible, steps. Each one’s basic nature is their basic nature.

Can God do deathbed conversions of atheists? Of course. But the more likely outcome is that a lifelong, militant atheist will go to his or her death an atheist. Can an abusive husband experience a turnaround, repent, and abuse no more? Certainly, but the more likely—the more realistic—outcome is that he won’t. People who have been abused or know someone who has been abused recognize this truth.

Redemption is still redemption even in (and sometimes especially in) those smaller life changes that pull our characters not in a new direction, but just slightly off the course they were on. Even a tiny course correction, over time, will significantly alter a character’s destination.

Resist tying up all the loose ends and ending your books with everyone happy and in harmony with God. The Word tells us the world won’t end that way. Why should our books?

Your turn: What writing lessons have you learned from your pets?

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

Quote It! Writing and Editing

maugham460“If you can tell stories, create characters, devise incidents, and have sincerity and passion, it doesn’t matter a damn how you write.”

–Somerset Maugham, 1874-1965, British playwright, novelist (Of Human Bondage) and short story writer.

Cherryh_CJ“It is perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly.”

–C.J. Cherryh, a United States science fiction and fantasy author who has written more than 60 books since the mid-1970s, including the Hugo Award winning novels Downbelow Station (1981) and Cyteen (1988).

This is one of the things I love the most about writing and editing–the complementary nature of the two skills. As an editor, I never think, How can I change this piece of writing?

No, it’s more a question of How can I polish the gems already here to help them sparkle as brightly as they can? As a team, writers and editors don’t work for each other, they work for the reader–without whom, the best writing and editing is for naught.

Your turn: How do you prefer to work with an editor?

__________________________________________

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

Mike-9Michael 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.

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! James Scott Bell

“Every hour you spend writing is an hour you don’t spend worrying about your writing.”

–James Scott Bell, at the 2009 Christian Writers Seminar, as quoted by Beth Thompson here. Bell is the No. 1 bestselling author of Plot & Structure, and thrillers like Deceived, Try Dying, and One More Lie. Under the pen name K. Bennett he is also the author of the Mallory Caine zombie legal thriller series, which begins with Pay Me in Flesh.

Do you worry about your writing? Isn’t that like asking a Mom if she worries about her kid? I know I sure do.

I worry I’m not writing enough (almost certainly true). That I’m writing too much (though I don’t worry about that often). I worry if it’s good enough (it’s not), if my characters are likeable (some are), and if I’m totally wasting my time (please, God, tell me ‘no’).

Sometimes my worrying is paralyzing. And that’s where I fall back on the sentiment in this quote. But you have to make a conscious decision to set aside worrying in favor of writing. If you don’t, or can’t, your success will be limited.

As a writer, what is your biggest worry? How do you set it aside?

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

Feeling Like Stretch Armstrong

The Web is full of admonitions to stretch before working out or engaging in any kind of exercise. Why? The plusses are many:

  • Stretching helps prevent injuries.
  • It keeps your muscles in good working order.
  • Tight muscles are less capable.
  • It just makes you feel good.

Plus, if you stretch first you’re less likely to have to listen to your wife laugh (under her breath, of course) while you’re on the chiropractor’s table.

And who hasn’t enjoyed a good shoulder stretch after hours of hammering away at the keyboard?

Writing stretches

Lately, I’ve been doing some serious stretching in my writing/editing life. For just over a year, I’ve served as the editor for a new print magazine for American Christian Fiction Writers, the ACFW Journal.

We have a great team pulling this together (and we’re having a great time, too), but I am being stretched, particularly in the areas of organization and time management. As we enter our second year, even more stretching will be required.

Which, since I’ve also launched a freelance editing business (right here at WritingOnTheFineLine.com) and have just started doing some editing for one of my favorite publishing houses, is adding to my feeling like Stretch Armstrong.

I have to plan, write, and schedule three posts a week for this blog, under a set of (self-imposed) guidelines—stretching me, again, in the area of organization.

Since organization is definitely a weakness of mine (I don’t really even know how to use Excel, but I’m learning), this has all been a great experience. It will definitely lead to me learning how to better use my time.

Strength in weakness

In II Corinthians, Paul writes about how he had asked the Lord to remove his thorn in the flesh, only to have Jesus tell him, “My grace is enough to cover and sustain you. My power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul then says to his readers, “So ask me about my thorn, inquire about my weaknesses, and I will gladly go on and on–I would rather stake my claim in these and have the power of the Anointed One at home within me. I am at peace and even take pleasure in any weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and afflictions for the sake of the Anointed because when I am at my weakest, He makes me strong” (II Corinthians 12:9-10, The Voice).

What about you? In what areas are you being stretched this year? What weaknesses are you being forced to face? And how will that both benefit you and further the cause of Christ?

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

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