Thursday, March 24, 2011

Not yoga....but close

A couple of months back, I was invited to guest post on agent Weronika Jancuzk's blog. This is the post I wrote for that. I thought it may be of interest, so without any further ado...



As a writer, it’s easy to sink into a comfort zone.

“I write paranormal romance,” or “I’m a spec fiction writer”. But is that all you can write? Break away from what you think you write best, and you might be surprised by the result. Doing something different is also a fantastic way to break through writers’ block. I always have at least 3 projects on the go at one time, so if I get stuck on one, I can work on another. Nine times out of ten, by the time I get stuck on project number 2 or 3, the problem in project 1 has resolved itself.

Maybe you always write in third person. Challenge yourself to write in first person. I always hated present tense writing. If I opened a book on the library shelf and saw it was written in the present tense, even if I loved the blurb on the cover, I’d stick it right back. So I forced myself to write in present tense, and now I love it. Most of my recent work, including my latest novel is written in present tense.

If you’re a novelist, try writing something short. Flash fiction is usually under 1000 words. See if you can write a story with a beginning, middle and end in 1000 words or less. Not so hard? See if you can do it in 500. Try writing a story in 100 words, without repeating a single one. Not even ‘a’ or ‘I’ or ‘and’. These exercises are fantastic if you tend toward wordiness in your prose. There’s nothing like a word limit to force you to tighten and trim.

Switching genres can be liberating too. In my writing group we challenged each other to write and publish outside the genres we usually write in, and the results have often been spectacular. My first published story in 2010 was fantasy, a genre I’ve always loathed and never thought I’d ever write. But doing it was exciting, thrilling even, like negotiating darkness without a flashlight.

The second round of this challenge threw two randomly generated genres at me: sports and western. I’m not at all interested in sports, and I don’t think I’ve ever read a western, so these genres had me scratching my head raw at first. But in the end, not one, but two wildly different pieces came to me. One is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi about an alcoholic ex-champion racer left behind on an abandoned Earth. The other turned into a novel I’m still working on, Prayer and Prey, a romance set against the tail end of the Victorian gold rush.

I’m lucky to have a wonderful group of writers to push me out of my comfort zone, but you don’t need other people to challenge you. It can be as simple as pulling a headline out of your local paper at random, and writing a piece based on that. Or throwing genres into a hat and pulling one out each week or month. Trawl the deadline calendar on Duotrope and challenge yourself to submit a story to a themed publication. Even if it doesn’t get published, you will have done something different, something that stretches your imagination to places you may not have thought it could go.

The stories may not always work. They may never see anything but the inside of your hard-drive, but the process of writing something new and probably difficult, will extend you as a writer. Perhaps when you crawl back into that comfort zone, something from the outside will creep in with you and make that knotty spot in your MS a little less knotty.

So I’m challenging you. This week, this month, step away from what you usually write, and try something you’ve never tried before. And let me know how it goes, okay?

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