Sunday, April 24, 2011

Stretching yourself

From a writing standpoint today, I did very little.

Yet, from a writing standpoint today, I also did a lot.

I woke up this morning at 7 a.m., no small feat for a man who didn't get home from work until 11:30 p.m. and couldn't fall asleep until about 2:30 a.m.

Why was I so eager to get up?

The Midwest Writers Workshop held a mini-conference today in Brownsburg. It featured a few other writers and about 60 attendees, providing a great atmosphere to spend a few hours eating donuts and talking about writing.

The great thing about these events is getting the chance to mingle with other writers. Apparently, we have all kinds of writing groups around Central Indiana, including one in Avon. I met a couple of people from that group and am looking forward to attending some of their meetings. Writing may be a solo endeavor, but as I mentioned in this post, it also shares some similarities with baseball in that you need teammates to back you up. They can include beta readers or critique partners.

While I blog often about my work, sharing it isn't necessarily in my comfort zone. A lot of writers are like me; we fear a gigantic conspiracy in which someone steals our idea, writes it more profoundly, and then laughs all the way to the Kindle Store. It took me more than a year to expand my Elite Beta Reader Corps beyond my wife (the Elite Beta Readers are much like Army Rangers or Deep-Cover CIA Agents; you won't see me revealing their IDs publicly). Just a few weeks after that breakthrough, I'm now exploring writing groups and other avenues for collaborative work.

This is stretching myself.

This is not playing it safe...and as Cathy Shouse of MWW said today while quoting Elliott Smith, "Playing it safe is the most popular way to fail."

I don't want to fail...so I'm going outside my comfort zone to share my work, make friends, and learn more about the craft I love so much.

I'm stretching myself.

There are several ways to stretch yourself in the writing world. One way is to share your work, exposing it to ridicule and critique. Not everyone is going to love every word you write. It's best to learn that now and develop the thick skin you're going to need to survive in the publishing world. It's better to learn how to respond to that criticism (PRO TIP: Improve your writing!) than learning that harsh lesson in a devastating and very public manner, like this unfortunate writer from a few weeks ago (PRO TIP #2: Going off on reviewers is not a good idea).

Another way to stretch yourself is to write something outside your comfort zone. I'm primarily a sci-fi/fantasy guy. I like space operas, superheroes, laser guns, spaceships, alien invasions, time travel, alternate realities, etc. I'm not a vampire guy; not a werewolf guy. I haven't written poetry, non-fiction, horror, paranormal romance, literary fiction, historical fiction, romance, mysteries, mainstream thrillers, legal thrillers...you get the point. I write what I enjoy reading, which for the most part includes sci-fi and fantasy. Even within that narrower category, there are sub-genres I've yet to touch. I'm not big into high or epic fantasy and never made it through the entire Lord of the Rings series.

Yet, there are opportunities within these other genres to play with and explore; other avenues in order for me to stretch myself.

I blogged a while back at how I'm not much of a horror writer. The genre doesn't "mesh" with me for some reason; I don't watch slasher flicks and I don't read horror novels or stories. Yet, I've written a couple of things that fall into that category. A short story of mine, "Vengeance" is due in an upcoming anthology. While it's not going to frighten anyone, it falls more in the supernatural/horror arena than my previous stories. Zombie fiction is also big and I made my first foray into that with a story about a zombie that's been trained to sniff out explosives. That story was also accepted.

What I'm saying here is that it IS important to stretch yourself. For example, Dianne Drake, a successful romance writer, said today that she's starting to hear editors asking for superhero fiction. She even gave me the name of a publisher who was looking for that particular genre. But there was a catch with that: Dianne writes romance novels and the publisher specializes in romance...a genre I'm not sure I can tackle. I'd have to take my beloved superhero conventions and mesh them into the framework of a romance novel.

Can I do that? Am I capable of writing a superhero romance novel? What genre does that fall in? Is that a new thing? I honestly have no idea.

But it got me thinking: how would I go about writing a love story involving superheroes? Sure, there are plenty of examples in comics and movies, but romance novels, at least in my perception, beg for a little less action in the middle of the city and a little more action in...well, you know where that's going. The characters would have to resonate more, relationships would need to be more fully formed, and the superhero hijinks, while front and center, would still take a backseat to that central romantic relationship.

Yet, the idea intrigued me.

I am a fairly big advocate of "write what you know" (and if you don't know it, set the book in the future and make crap up so you LOOK like you're writing what you know), so I would have to stretch myself by reading a few romance novels and getting a feel for them.

After that, onto poetry...

And legal thrillers...

And paranormal romance...

Maybe I'll just combine those into an epic poem about a romance involving a superhero and a vampire lawyer.

Then again...that's probably stretching a little too much.

What about you? How do you stretch yourself?

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