January 5, 2011

branch out with your writing

Today's wisdom comes from my personal experience as a writer, as do many of my Wednesday Wisdom posts.

Open your mind.

It's true that I write fantasy and fantasy only, but that wasn't always the case. I used to write plenty of other things, but since then, I've come to a nice agreement with the genre table that I can't write anything but fantasy. Not won't write anything but fantasy, but can't

It seems silly, I'll admit. But, Brooke, surely you can write something other than fantasy. Just take out all the magic, put the protagonists in high school, and voila! not fantasy. Not true, at least not for me. 

So why is my wisdom for you today Open your mind? I'll tell you. 

When I started writing, I started with poetry. I was convinced that I was a poet, and I was the most splendiferous poet anyone in the world would ever read. Granted, I was eleven or twelve, or something like that. I didn't know better. But that's the point. I didn't know about writing fiction because I had never tried it. Look where I am now.

Fast forward a few years, and I'm writing utter toilet paper fiction. That's not the point. I was writing fantasy, stories about dragons, alternate realities, princes and princesses, evil sorcerers, and magical artifacts. I wrote my little heart out, sharing my fantastical adventures with anyone who dared agree to read them. I just knew that fantasy was what I wanted to write, and there was no point in writing anything else. There was no point in trying anything else. I was a god of fantasy writing... not so. Then (here comes the point of this paragraph), I tried something new. 

I wrote a story that had elements of fantasy in it, but it wasn't actually a fantasy. It was one of those frame stories where the actual story takes place in the modern world, but there was a fantastical tale weaved through it. I thought I was clever. Not so much. But the point is, I did try something new. I then tried writing everything from literary prose to science fiction to homoerotic romance.

I started a historical romance novel in the likes of Jane Austen. I started a science fiction conspiracy novel. I started a dystopian conspiracy novel. I started a mystery novel. I wrote a picture book. I started a memoir. I started an adult epic fantasy. I started a young adult epic fantasy. I wrote short stories in the science fiction, dystopian, mystery thriller, and contemporary genres. I also wrote lots of poetry and dramatic plays. I didn't stick to just one thing. For about four years, my writing stretched across all genres, styles, perspectives, and whatnot. It was a lot of work. A lot of learning.

Because I kept an open mind, I learned a lot about writing. Most importantly, I learned what worked for me. Had I not tried writing everything the craft had to offer, I would still be writing toilet paper fiction. I'm pretty certain of that. This goes beyond genres. Would you believe I used to write first person, present tense stories with male protagonists? Maybe, but that's because you don't know me that well. Through my learning experience, I tried writing in all different tenses, perspectives, and through a wide range of characters. I learned that I can't write first person. I can't write male protagonists. I can't write present tense. But I suppose that really isn't true. The truth is... I can't write them well.

I could certainly sit down and write a contemporary novel in first person, present tense from the perspective of a male high school student. I could could certainly sit down and write a historical romance objectively or a dystopian conspiracy novel in second person. I have no doubt in that. The point is... I can't write them well.

You know what I write well? Fantasy. Fantasy with a female protagonist, written in third-person limited, past tense. That is the utter, non-toilet papered truth. The thing is... I would have never discovered this had I not opened my mind to the possibilities of the craft. It's true that I started out with fantasy (that is, when I decided to write fiction), but I still had a limited understanding of the craft. I could have just as easily stuck to writing homoerotic romance or gritty crime thrillers. Truthfully, I still step out of my boundaries sometimes, just to test the waters.

So if you have yet to go on a journey to explore the many depths of writing, or if you've been writing the same genre for years, I encourage you to take a step out of what you usually write and try something new. You may think that you're destined to write romance, when in all reality, you'd write a killer dystopian thriller. You won't know unless you try. Open your mind to the possibilities and take those risks I was telling you about.

Happy writing!


  1. I agree with what you saying here, but I would qualify your self-evaluation by saying: "I can't right them well NOW." That's why you should never stop testing those waters. For all you know, your next attempt to write a male first person, present tense non-fantasy story could be the breakthrough story.

    That doesn't mean that you should keep banging your head against a wall that you're not ready to break yet, but it also means that any wall might prove to be temporary. At this stage in our professional lives, we have still not learned everything we need to learn, and so we probably have not reached our creative peaks yet.

    Because of this, we must not feel that we are completely bound to one kind of writing, nor must we beat ourselves up for our current limitations outside of specific genres and styles. I'm fully willing to admit that my writing has clear weaknesses and limitations, but I won't allow myself to be discouraged by that knowledge.

    There's always room to expand beyond our present skills, and there's always the need to perfect what we've already begun to master. The two are not mutually exclusive, and they are often symbiotic. In any case, I repeat the cry that I utter to all of my writer friends: "Keep writing!"

  2. Wow, that was sloppy of me. I meant to say, "I can't write them well now." I think that I was planning to include a "right" before the word "now," and instead it snuck up and replaced its homonym!

  3. Thanks for your wisdom, Marcus. :) I agree completely.