I spent NaNoWriMo trying to write a story that was entirely within my comfort zone, and I wasn’t feeling it. It felt boring and trite, and I couldn’t seem to shake the feeling that I wasn’t challenging myself. I wasn’t even feeling my own voice coming through the writing.
I didn’t care about it.
My characters were lifeless. My setting was undeveloped. My conflict was muddled and unclear. But it was fantasy. It was the first genre I had ever loved writing; the first feeling that I actually loved a craft as more than just a hobby. Fantasy was once what defined my writing.
This last novel wasn’t something I felt in my soul anymore, and it broke my heart. Today, I want you do what I didn’t have the foresight to do!
I want you to step out of your comfort zone!
Write Outside of Your Genre
It doesn’t have to be something long. It doesn’t even have to be something you plan to publish or submit. All you need to do is pick a genre you’ve never written before, and give yourself room to breathe.
You can outline it! I’m not a pantser by any stretch of the imagination, and, if you aren’t either, I encourage you to outline to your heart’s content! This isn’t an exercise in off-the-cuff writing, so don’t panic.
Once you decide on the genre you want to test out, find your conflict. Or, if you start with characters, discover who they are and what drives them. However you begin, get yourself started! Don’t be afraid, because this is just an exercise. Who knows? Maybe you’ll even like the process in this new genre!
When I need a refresh period in another genre, I generally choose characters I’m already familiar with. I’ve written romance and feel-good material for my Amity Dawn characters. I jumped into mystery (poorly; I did not enjoy it) with characters from Glass Dragons.
Every new genre brings its own experience, and you can learn from all of them.
Write Something Controversial
Do you have something to say about a current event? DAPL? The election? Ghirardelli vs Lindt?
Fear can often drive us to keep our mouths shut on things we’re afraid will attract conflict. The internet is the perfect place to get chewed up and spit out for having an opinion, but I encourage you to hold your ground! Nothing was ever accomplished by keeping silent.
Once you have your story/blog post/what-have-you written, share it. Share it! Seriously. It can be so empowering to make yourself heard. It gives you a voice and it lets others know that it’s okay to stand with you or against you! It’s okay to feel something!
Overcoming your fear of having a voice by expressing yourself can lead to all sorts of unlocked inspiration. The fear of writing what you mean and writing what you feel is pushed aside, and you can experience a new confidence in your subject matter. Don’t be afraid to be opinionated.
Invite Someone to Read Your Work
It’s scary to open yourself up to criticism, but, remember, criticism teaches us how to improve. We can’t grow if we stay in our own little bubble. Reading, writing, and experiencing new things are all amazing ways to grow as a writer, but it’s allowing others to tell us what’s missing that gives us perspective on our own work.
Allow a beta reader into your Writer Bubble. Let them read your work, praise what’s good, and question what needs attention. We can only see so far into our work. We know what we meant to say in that line that’s awkwardly worded. It doesn’t read awkwardly to us!
Did you use too many commas in that sentence? Did your protagonist just do something totally uncharacteristic? It won’t make us cringe if we read it with writer-eyes. A beta can catch that for you.
It doesn’t mean your novel isn’t your masterpiece. It just means every masterpiece goes through a draft period; a period where it needs tweaking and molding until it resembles the vision in your head. The value of a second set of eyes can be absolutely priceless.
Be Authentically You
I’m not saying you need to incite dissension in your readers. If you’re a professional and quiet person, there’s nothing wrong with keeping things light and encouraging! If you’re a little more abrasive, that’s okay, too. I have a tendency to be that way. I have strong opinions and I like to voice them—not for the sake of argument, but to connect to other people who might feel alone in their views.
Regardless of who you are, what you believe or do for a living, where you find your peace, always be authentically you.