Write outside the square
I was asked recently at a literary bash what sort of writing I did. When I explained that I wrote various things, ranging from articles to short stories to books – even radio comedy material for a while – I received the kind of look you get when you accidentally step on someone’s freshly seeded lawn.
It seems I had somehow transgressed in the other person’s eyes, as if engaging in more than one kind of writing was deeply sinful. My interlocutor, incidentally, claimed to write ‘only serious material’, without revealing quite what that was.
However, it set me thinking. What he clearly found so odd was that I couldn’t be slotted into a convenient box marked ‘Short Story Writer’, ‘Poet’, ‘Feature Writer’ or whatever. And it’s not the first time I’ve encountered this reaction.
Unless you like to work in a specific field, I don’t see what’s wrong with ploughing a broad furrow. You may possess background knowledge or experience which allows you to concentrate on a particular subject area, which is fine. But most writers I know inevitably try a variety of subjects or styles along the way, whether by accident, design or commission (the latter being where you might get to eat once in a while).
Trying things out.
Merely another way of flexing your writing muscles. And on the simple basis that you never know what you can do until you try, there’s a good argument for trying different forms of writing.
Of course, the act of putting words on paper is common to all writing, but there are some basic differences in the pursuit and practice between, say, writing a piece of fiction and penning a magazine article. But they’re hardly insurmountable.
AKA Making stuff up, gives you complete freedom to write what you wish. It’s your world, so as long as your characters, setting and events are believable and acceptable to your target market, anything goes. And most, if not all your creativity can take place at your desk, the main tools being your mind and whatever information sources you might have at hand.
NOT making stuff up requires a slightly different approach, where accuracy is essential if you want to gain and maintain credibility. Fail to state the correct facts (and there’s always somebody out there who knows) and your writing will be questioned, usually with fatal results for any future projects. Accumulating these facts requires physical study, interviews or research into the subject in libraries, museums or on the Internet.
However, we’re only varying our working practice slightly, not re-inventing the wheel, and we try other forms of activity in life, so why not with writing?
Most of us grow up playing one or more forms of sport, be it football, hockey, baseball, swimming, etc. Most of our choices are governed by background, education or simply the facilities available. But just because we’ve always kicked a ball about, doesn’t mean it’s the only thing we should do.
Many of us in this country rarely see snow from one year’s end to the next (even as I write this, I’ve a feeling I may regret it). But if we’re lucky enough to try winter sports on holiday, we may discover an ability to ski with reasonable, even consummate ease. Some of us who rarely go near water except to wash, find we have a real and hitherto untapped affinity with the stuff when given a wetsuit, flippers and sub-aqua equipment (okay, and tropical temperatures to go with them!)
Both sports may be very different forms of activity from our personal norm, yet we’re still using the same basic equipment, albeit with the add-on of curved planks or floppy shoes to help us along a bit.
Similarly, writing is writing, whatever you are working on. And until you test yourself, you may be unaware that you have the ability to do something you’d never considered before.
Working on assembling a feature is excellent training for developing a control of detail in a work of fiction. If your story is set in a real, identifiable town, for example, it helps to ensure your description of roads, places and the general layout is as accurate as possible, otherwise it will be spoiled for people who know the place you’re writing about.
(and I don't mean in public) from nothing is essential when writing non-fiction. The topic may be factual, even dry, but it still needs to be an entertaining read. And the creative use of words you employ in writing fiction can help you lift the page from being a listing of facts and figures into something enjoyable.
So, unless you wish to stick rigidly to one genre, it might pay to consider others. Changing projects every now and then is a useful way of refreshing your work and giving yourself a break. And writing something outside your normal comfort zone might help spread your talents to other, equally rewarding fields.
More than anything, though, next time anyone asks what you do, you can tell them quite simply and positively.
You’re a writer. End of story.
· Trying different writing styles is like flexing different muscles.
· You already possess the equipment – try using it for different tasks.
· Refuse to be pigeonholed.
· You never know what you can do until you try.
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