The case of the missing ferret

Reading time: About 3 minutes

It’s sometimes surprising how much we can learn about writing from our animal friends…

My husband was in our back yard last week doing some gardening when he spotted a cat-sized, big-eyed mammal. It spotted him, too, and it quickly dived under our deck.

“Whoa,” my husband said. “That isn’t a native species.”

That’s, in fact, the way my husband talks. His undergrad degree in zoology from many decades ago leaks out of him with the least provocation.

He ran inside to grab one of his reference books and decided that what he’d seen was a ferret. “That’s someone’s pet,” he declared, asking me what I thought we should do.

I pondered for a couple of minutes and then suggested we call our neighbour, K____ to see if she knew any ferret owners.

I was serious.

K____ is extremely sociable and has a dog that she takes for long walks. She’s one of the warmest, friendliest people you could ever hope to meet. It’s just an unexpected bonus she knows exactly what’s going on with the animals in most households within a 10-block radius. (She’s also exceptionally well informed on real estate.)

Sure enough, in less time than it takes to say Mustela furo (the scientific name for the animal) K____ reported that there was a ferret owner just three blocks west. And within a few minutes, she’d marched off to the home in question to check.

The resident seemed to be out, she reported to us a few minutes later, but there was an open window, increasing the odds that our visiting ferret belonged to this person. K____ left her a message.

Then, within the hour, the ferret owner arrived at our door clutching a blanket that belonged to the animal. We shepherded her through our house, asking if the ferret would respond to her voice. “Oh, yes,” she declared.

Apparently, the ferret’s name was Harley. (No word on whether she was a motorcycle enthusiast.)

Moments later, another stranger appeared at our gate. “Are you one of the ferret family?” I asked, not recognizing how silly I sounded. Yes, he was the owner’s brother. And he had the family dog. At last, I understood the point of the blanket. This was going to be an exercise in tracking by scent.

We left the family to their business in our back yard, but we could hear no squeals of delight or hissing, barking (yes, ferrets bark like dogs although it sounds more like a chirp), squeaking (another favourite ferret sound) or dooking (the sound a ferret makes when it laughs). We thought perhaps the ferret had run away for good or, more disturbingly, had become a tasty entrée for one of the many aggressive coyotes in our neighborhood.

The next morning, however, we received a text with good news from K____. Harley had returned home, on her own, overnight. The owners found her in her basket on the back porch the next morning.

I tell you this story not because I’m obsessed with animals, although I felt relieved that Harley’s adventure had a happy ending. I tell it to you because I think it offers three lessons for writers:

1-Make better decisions at the front end

Our friendly ferret owners had made a mistake when they left the animal home alone with an open window. Ferrets don’t climb, they told us. But this one clearly did. And it had made a break for it and bolted from the big house.

For writers, the problem is distinct. Many people start writing without a clear enough plan for what they want to achieve. Some don’t even know the word count they’re aiming at. Others haven’t done adequate research. Still others haven’t figured out their ideal audience.

Trying to write before you’ve done adequate preparation is like trying to bake a cake without enough ingredients or trying to garden without earth, water or seedlings.

2-Use tools to help yourself

We did well by this measure for our ferret. We called a knowledgeable neighbour who responded faster and more helpfully than we’d ever dreamed possible. And then the ferret owners arrived with tools of their own — a blanket and a (friendly) dog.

For writers, there are a multitude of tools to make writing easier. The one I suggest most often is mindmapping. This fun and easy way to brainstorm will make you FEEL like writing. I describe it as a way of scheduling inspiration for yourself. If you’ve never learned how to do it, watch the video here. I mindmap before writing, every time, every day.

And when you get to the editing stage of writing, be sure to get some help from software. I highly recommend ProWritingAid (and I’m not a reseller, so I won’t make any money if you decide to buy it). And there’s also a free version you can use for 500 words at a time.

3-Don’t give up

Patience and persistence need to be the watchwords of both ferret-hunters and writers. Sometimes things go wrong. We reach nothing but dead ends. We can’t achieve our goals. We don’t know what to write next.

If that happens to you, do something different. Go for a walk. Read a book. Take a nap.

When you return to work, the solution may be right there, staring you in the face.

Just like Harley was sitting in her basket, staring at our neighbours.


My video podcast last week addressed how to write a better bio. Go here to see the video or read the transcript, and you can also subscribe to my YouTube channel.


Need some help developing a better writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. There is turn-over each month, and priority will go to those who have applied first. You can go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours.


Have you ever had any writing epiphanies inspired by an animal friend? We can all learn from each other, so please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. If you comment on today’s post (or any others) by April 30/24, I’ll put you in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To enter, please scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!


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