One of the greatest killers in the world of writing is complacency. It is a contagious “disease” of the mind, a cancer that grows from the tiniest seed of self-satisfaction. Wow. Did I write that?
So, look, I don’t mean to say that being proud of a story, an essay, a poem or a novel you wrote makes you a bad person. Not in and of itself, at least. But know this, if you are resting on your laurels, your laurels are in the wrong spot.
We know that there are writers out there who manage to discover a formula and never leave the shelter of what they know… and who make a decent money doing it. These are writers who will, over their lifetimes, make a good deal of money, and it is hard to fault someone who has “made it” in the eyes of the world.
See, the problem is that much like Rock Bands, the fans don’t really like change. When a band that has made its name with a particular sound tries something new, the fans revolt. Certainly the managers, or in the case of writing, editors and publishers, would rather count on you producing the same book over and over with small variations as long as the public is willing to buy it.
Some readers will want to stop me here and ask, “…well, why not? I’m writing for a living. What’s wrong with that?”
Today’s topic will confuse some UhW readers who have heard me go on and on about writing for your audience rather than for yourself (or words to that effect), and I still stand by the idea that a person who writes ONLY for him- or herself has no right to ask anyone for a critique… but, I think we owe it to our readers to push ourselves daily. To continue to work on our craft, to expand, to explore, to get out of that damn silly little pond that we may have become a big frog in, and go looking for a larger venue.
Getting out of your comfort level, is a personal thing, and by its very nature difficult in the extreme. Most people, when they claim to have escaped their comfort zone have only put new labels on old practices, and then, smugly gone on to recreate themselves in their own, tired image.
What defines your comfort level? Is it your genre? Is it use of dialogue? Are you stuck in a single narrative mode? Are you weak in description? Is action your thing? Are you into (r afraid of) controversy?
Growing up we had a rule at my house. If a new food was brought before us (fairly picky eaters) we had to try it. Whatever it was. Give it a shot, see if it was something we would like. We were never allowed to say no to a new taste just because we didn’t like the way it looked.
…and that’s today’s challenge.
Step up, step out. Write a poem if prose is your thing. Do a short story if you are a poet. If you write adventure, try romance, or something deeply cognitive. Look for a new taste, try it out.
You may, in the long run, choose to stay with the style, the genre that you’ve grown used to, but having tried others things you’ll better know that the place you’ve settles is the place where you belong.
Just note, when you graduate to a bigger pond, you have room to grow.