You've heard this before: great writers take risks.
Queen of the vampiric novel Anne Rice once said, "To write something, you have to risk making a fool of yourself.” Whether they write about blood-sucking legions of the undead or a fun-sucking mother-in-law inspired by real life, all great writers are risk takers.
The act of sharing stories is itself inherently risky. It opens us up to critique and the possibility of rejection. When others read our work, we worry: “Will they like it? Will they like me?” Every time we put words on the page, we put ourselves on the line.
But what about our words themselves? Well, safe writing is boring—for both the writer and reader. When you break through your preconceived, self-imposed boundaries to explore a new genre, confront a difficult emotion or use language in an surprisingly original way, your work ends up being far more rewarding. In writing, as in many areas of life, it’s when you step outside your comfort zone that you discover the true depths of your potential. Keep these four tips in mind as you bravely go where you’ve never gone before.
Don't be afraid to experiment.
First step: throw that imaginary rulebook away. Beyond grammar mechanics and storytelling fundamentals, there are no rules in writing—so make your own. You could write a story from the point of view of a robot ladybug, or a novel in which every other chapter is a poem. Instead of letting the conventions of writing constrain you, push them, and don’t worry about what others will think. The brainstorming and first draft stage is a fabulous time to let your imagination run wild!
Tell your story—the good, bad and the ugly
For most of us, writing a story about a girl that turns into a unicorn would be easier than writing a story about a personally challenging experience we had growing up. Not only is truth often stranger than fiction, it’s also more demanding to write, because emotional writing depends on vulnerability. Get in touch with your inner self first, and then find a way to share that to deepen your connection with the reader.
Write what you know??? - Don't!
Write what you don’t know
At the same time, while I encourage you to open a figurative artery onto the page, don’t feel obliged to stay completely within the realm of personal experience. There’s a common piece of advice to “write what you know,” but you should write what you don’t know too. Unless you’re immortal and lived in eighteenth-century Paris, using that as a storyworld isn’t going to be as easy as your modern-day hometown. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth pursuing. Get familiar with the unfamiliar!
All elements of a story—character, plot, conflict, theme and world—are ripe for risk-taking. So are the point of view and form, and practically anything else you can think of. You can even play around with the nuts and bolts of our craft: language. Years ago I read an entire book without the letter E, and I doubt I’d still be thinking about that story if the author had played it safe. You don’t have to go quite that far, but you could stretch your imagination to come up with a particularly novel use of a literary device.
One of the greatest benefits of writing is that it frees us to take chances. The only limits are self-imposed (unless you have a deadline, that is). How often in life do we have such freedom? Sometimes, the risks are worth it.
Try this: Take time today to think about how you might move beyond your comfort zone as you write. Make a list of a few specific ways you can take more risks, whether it’s a new theme you want to tackle or an unconventional point of view you want to try.
Important: When you’re done, please share a favorite idea with us! We’ll be using some responses next time.