Never Kick A Sleeping Skunk

By Michael Ehret

 

Would you kick this sleeping skunk?

“Never kick a sleeping skunk.”

— Kelly Long’s Mom

 

Here on Novel Rocket, we give a lot of advice, much of it writing related. Makes sense, right?
Sometimes we may even sound like a “Mom,” telling you the things you already know but are, ahem, choosing to ignore. 
And 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 be in a car 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 some time ago. Is there a writing application? What do you think?
What is your “sleeping skunk” in writing that you’re afraid to kick? What do you fear will happen if you do kick it? 

What is a sleeping skunk?

It’s that thing in your life that is holding you back. You’re afraid of what might happen if you kick it—if you wake it up. 

 For me, it’s “You’re not really good enough.” I’m afraid if I kick that skunk, it’ll jump up and spray me—and that fear keeps me paralyzed. For a person who deals in “What Ifs,” why am I so afraid of my own unknown?

You know, I could kick that skunk and it gets so startled that it stands up and runs away. It could happen. After all, it’s sleeping, not actively menacing me.
My foot’s getting itchy.

Enter your writing related advice about kicking sleeping skunks below.

____________________________________


Michael Ehret has accepted God’s invitation and is a freelance editor at WritingOnTheFineLine.com. In addition, he’s worked as editor-in-chief of the ACFW Journal at American Christian
Fiction Writers. He pays the bills as a
marketing communications writer and sharpened his writing and editing skills as a reporter for
The Indianapolis
News and The Indianapolis Star.

Why Can’t I Go To A Conference?

By Michael Ehret

After a solid decade (almost) of regularly attending writer’s conferences, this year I’m not able to. Let me correct that: I’m probably able to, but the door to attend one has not opened for me this year.

My conference of choice, American Christian Fiction Writers, is even meeting within driving distance of my home and the keynoter is one of my favorite authors: Ted Dekker. But it’s not happening this year and I vacillate between being OK about it and being pretty ticked off, truth be known. Can you relate?

At last year’s conference, I got what I considered a pretty clear message from God about my writing. (See the details here and here.) “I’m inviting you into a new season of writing.”

Surely that would include attending my favorite writing conference? Seeing my favorite writing friends? Surely? Apparently not—and don’t call me Shirley.

Feel like this guy because you can’t attend
a writer’s conference?

Despite my efforts to pry that door open—or to find that ‘promised’ open window God provides when He closes a door (you know that’s not biblical, right?)—there’s no conference in my year.

Are you there too? Are you feeling left out? On the outside looking in? Not one of the cool kids? Bring your pocket-protector self over and have a seat. OK, you’ve got three minutes to cry and fuss and whine. I’m setting a timer. 3-2-1 Go!

Feeling better? No? Well, me either, but here are three things you can do if you’re not attending a writer’s conference:

1. Buy yourself a much-needed or long-desired writing resource.

One of my favorite
fiction craft books

One of my reasons for not being able to go this year is monetary. That may be a reason for you, too. And it’s a valid reason. Even though we’re writers, we still have responsibilities that we can’t just toss away. Am I right?

So, instead of buying a conference (easily upwards of $1,500 with registration, hotel, plane ticket, etc.), treat yourself to some resource you’ve been wanting and putting off. Maybe that’s a craft book. Maybe that’s a writing assist program like Grammarly or Scrivener. Maybe it’s a framed inspirational quote to display in your writing corner.

Just buy it. Feel guilty later if you must, but console yourself that (whatever it is) it’s far less than the cost of the conference you’re not going to.

2. Consider, oh, I don’t know, writing?

Wilma Rudolph, an American Olympic track and field sprinter who won three gold medals in 1960, once said: “Believe me, the reward is not so great without the struggle.”

You get that, right? The struggle is what makes the reward, when it comes, so sweet. So persevere in your writing. Take the time you’re not going to spend at your preferred writing conference, put your butt in your chair, and write.

Honor your gift and your calling—and, for your own sake, get lost in your fictional world. Bring life where there is no life. And if your sadness is overwhelming, choose to write the scenes where your hero and heroine face their Black Moments—and all seems lost.

All is not lost for them. You know it, as the creator, but they don’t. They are just living the day-to-day lives you, their creator, wrote for them … You’re getting the point right? You don’t need a hammer on the head, right?

3. If you can’t write, then pray for your writer friends who are attending conferences.

No, I’m not kidding. When you’re locked in a pity party, the best way to break free is to do something nice for someone else. So, if you can’t be there…then be there for your friends who are there.

Hold them up before the Lord. Pray for encouragement. Bravery. Their emotions. The editors and agents they’ll meet with.

Pray for the casual, unplanned for meetings around meal tables. The overwhelming feeling of the introvert writer who just can’t face another class or another “thank you, but this isn’t right for our house” appointment.

Be Aaron to their Moses.

If you do these three things, you’ll find the time goes much quicker, you’ll feel more productive, and you’ll be a blessing. And isn’t that better for everyone, including you?

____________________________________


Michael Ehret has accepted God’s invitation and is a freelance editor at WritingOnTheFineLine.com. In addition, he’s worked as editor-in-chief of the ACFW Journal at American Christian
Fiction Writers. He pays the bills as a
marketing communications writer and sharpened his writing and editing skills as a reporter for
The Indianapolis
News and The Indianapolis Star.

Create. Create. Just Create.

By Michael Ehret

I haven’t learned a lot, comparatively, in my walk with God. Sometimes it seems like I’ve learned more, sometimes less. But there are a few things I’ve learned (and these aren’t all of them) over the years:

How do you create?

1. God loves me the way I am and wants me to allow Him to show me how I can become more like Him. (Sort of like how I loved my infant son when he was born but, man, am I glad I’m not still changing that almost 32-year-old’s diaper.)

2. The more I learn the less I seem to know about God and how He works. (This is OK, because it fuels my hunger for Him. By the time I die, I have high hopes of being a complete idiot about God.)

Then there’s this:

3. God won’t show you a truth in your life until you’re ready to see it. (Because, if you won’t see it, why show you?)

Recently a blog post by Esther de Charon de Saint Germain made its way around Facebook. The post, “Why Art Is Important for Highly Sensitive Persons,” opened a previously shut door into my personality for me.

In it, Esther wrote:

We (highly sensitive people) are the ones who remain seated in the movie theatre. Long after the move has ended. Because we need to compose ourselves before re-entering the world.

We are the ones unable to speak after that gloriously beautiful concert. It’s not because we don’t like you. Give us some time. We’re processing. There are no words yet. … We still are the music. We’re still living in the world of feelings, emotions.

Wait, hang on. I’m still in the moment.

She goes on to talk in detail about how being highly sensitive might look in real life—how it looks for her—how it might look if you are also one. Through it all, I’m nodding, nodding, nodding. Agreeing, experiencing the post.

Then, while reading, I see:

BUT

And that’s when I get that feeling in my gut I’ve come to identify as a nudge from the Holy Spirit: “Hey, if you pay attention here, you might learn something.”

Esther writes:

But … creating our own art is scary. We sensitive peeps have set some pretty high standards for (ourselves). We fear we are not good enough at it.

How can we get the multitude of ideas in our head on a sheet of paper? All we can see is how flawed it will be…

If you are a highly sensitive person—and not all writers are, by far—can I suggest that you try harder to silence the self-talk Esther writes about that is convincing you, even more than any negative outside voices you might encounter, that you’re just not good enough? Don’t work so hard to convince yourself you’re not good enough, creative enough, talented enough.

Create to live. Live to create.

She writes:

Because if that’s the kind of chatter that goes on in your head, it means you Most Definitely need to make art. Find a course, get those pencils out of the drawer. Use your trait.

If you’re an HSP, like me, sometimes you just need to create. You need to write without your internal editor. You need to garden giving no thought to practicality. You need to color outside the lines of your adult coloring book because that’s your creativity—your art.

Write your prayers. Sing them. Dance them. Read your daily devotional out loud in your best Donald Duck voice—do what your muse (or your whim) tells you to do. Open your mind to the possibilities. Just create.

Just create.

Question: Other than write in your latest WIP, what do you do to be creative? How do you feed your creativity?

____________________________________

Michael Ehret has accepted God’s invitation and is a freelance editor at WritingOnTheFineLine.com. In addition, he’s worked as editor-in-chief of the ACFW Journal at American Christian
Fiction Writers. He pays the bills as a
marketing communications writer and sharpened his writing and editing skills as a reporter for
The Indianapolis
News and The Indianapolis Star.

Filling Your Well of Ideas

By Michael Ehret

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.

What’s in your Well of Ideas?
Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net and cbenjasuwan

Can you relate?

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 are the costs of living together?
Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net and Ambro

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 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 this story, but the story has changed since that day and my idea seed is no longer in it.

My idea seed from that story: The scene was “believed to be secure” police said in a tweet issued at about 12:36 p.m.

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 from—how you fill your Well of Ideas—leave a comment.

Michael Ehret loves to play with words as a Marketing Communications Writer for CHEFS Catalog and as a freelance editor at WritingOnTheFineLine.com. Ehret is the former editor of the ACFW Journal and has edited several nonfiction books, proofedited for Abingdon Press, and reported for The Indianapolis Star.