Comfortable People are Lazy People

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

95. Breaking out of your comfort zone

Humans are creatures of habit, by nature. We like to stick with what we know, what’s comfortable and easy. That’s why it’s so hard for us to do things like move away from home, take on a new diet or exercise routine, or otherwise break out of our “comfort zone”.

For writers this can be particularly detrimental. While you want to write what you know, what you’re good at, you don’t want to dig yourself into a rut. You don’t want to stagnate. You can’t stick with the exact same formula for your entire career; if you do, your writing will become predictable and boring. Imagine for a moment that a reader is picking up your latest book at a storm and skimming over the cover. Now imagine that reader making a face, thinking, “Why bother spending the money on something that’s going to be the exact same as the last one he/she wrote?” and putting the book back on the shelf. Now imagine reader after reader all doing the exact same thing, no one ever taking the leap to actually purchase the book. How does that feel? I’m going to wager not very good. Even if you’re someone who takes criticism extremely well, you can’t deny the fact that not selling your book is a bad thing. A very bad thing.

So how do we break out of our comfort zones and keep producing books that our readers will want to read? By buckling down, gritting our teeth, and forcing ourselves to do the opposite of what we would normally do. Are all of your main characters always female? Force yourself to write from a male perspective. Do all of your stories feature a romance subplot? Try a subplot about how much two characters can’t stand each other. Do you only write stories for adults? Try writing one for kids. Doing any of these things will probably be difficult, likely it will even be unpleasant, but it will force you to break your mental boundaries, and you never know…you just might discover that you enjoy it.

For myself, I have a few bad habits writing in my “comfort zone” that I’m actively tying to break. All of the examples above were taken from my own experience. I always write from the perspective of female main characters – not because I don’t think I can write from a male perspective, but because it’s easier to write from a female one. I always have a romance subplot in my stories because I enjoy writing about people falling for each other, even under unusual circumstances (*cough*zombie apocalypse*cough*). And I always write for adults – not because I don’t think I could write books for kids, but because I enjoy writing sex and violence, and it’s usually preferable that those things stay away from kids. I’ve been trying to break some of these habits lately, and yes it’s difficult, and sometimes it definitely sucks, but I do believe that I’m learning from the experience.

Never stop learning, no matter what you’re doing or how good you might think you already are. It would be the biggest mistake you’d ever make.

A Process is A Process

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

35. Your process for outlining a story

As previously mentioned (more than once, I believe) I’m not the type to plan out a story ahead of time. I tend to go with the flow, writing as I see fit, and worrying about whether or not it makes sense later. It’s not always the best way to write, I’ll admit, but it has served me thus far.

So outlining, in the technical sense, is not something I’ve been known to do. But I do have my own method of outlining, in a manner of speaking.

When I imagine other writers outlining their work, I imagine them creating a kind of mind map or timeline that shows the natural progression of the story, what should happen when, that kind of thing. My ‘method’, so to speak, is not so much to plan this kind of thing out ahead of time, but to write in such a way that allows me to figure it out as I go. See, what I’ve been doing for the past few years (mostly as a result of participating in NaNoWriMo) is to write each scene as it’s own separate entity. Sure, some stuff will carry over naturally, but for the most part I’ll write the scenes as if none of the other scenes exist. That way, when I have a bunch of scenes written, I can look at them and determine how they should be situated in respect to one another. I know it sounds strange and cumbersome, but doesn’t that accurately describe all the writing habits I’ve already shared with you?

Genre Wars

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

18. If you could write any genre (and it would sell), what would it be?

Fantasy, definitely. No question. I enjoy writing other genres as well (hello, zombies!) but fantasy is definitely the most fun for me. I love being able to do anything I want, create anything I want, and be able to say, “Hey, it’s okay! It doesn’t have to make sense, it’s fantasy!”

I guess that’s a kind of black and white way of looking at it, but let’s put it this way. If I had made the main character in my zombie novel have some kind of supernatural special power or ability, people would scoff and wave it off as ridiculous. Even though we already have an extraordinary premise (the zombies), the story is still set in the “real” world, and the crazy premise is actually one that we can almost believe as being plausible. Even though you know better, the idea of something that’s so ingrained into our storytelling history (monsters and the like) intermingling with the “real” world makes an acceptable level of sense. Superpowers, on the other hand, are pure fantasy and thus don’t have any place in a story where “plausible” things are happening.

Does that make any sense? Oh well, it works in my brain anyway. 😛

Continuing on from that thought process (however flawed it may be), writing fantasy allows you to pretty much do whatever the heck you please. Want a dragon in there? Boom! Dragon! Want your main character to be able to transform into an animal? Bam! Done! Anything your childish imagination can come up with is fair game because, hey, it’s fantasy!

Simplicity

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

12. What novelists can learn from screenplays

I can’t honestly say that I’ve ever written a screenplay. I’ve once or twice considered participating in Script Frenzy, which is run by the same people who do NaNoWriMo and is basically a challenge to write a screenplay in one month, but I’ve never gotten around to it. I prefer prose, so my motivation to actually take part in this challenge is low. But I have actually read a couple of screenplays, mostly because my best friend gave me a Buffy the Vampire Slayer screenplay book that she needed for one of her courses in college. So I’m going to base my meager response on that book…bear with me.

I think one major thing that novelists can learn from screenplays is simplicity. Screenplays are mostly dialogue with a bit of description thrown in as a general idea of what’s happening nearby. Many novels are the exact opposite. I’m as guilty as any other author for over-describing things, or so I’ve been told by critique-readers. As the creator of an entire world, writers tend to want to describe everything down to the tiniest detail, so that the reader can see it exactly as they’re imagining it. The problem with that is that half the fun is in the imagination part. Sometimes the reader wants to be able to figure it out themselves, instead of having a million-and-one details shoved down their throat. George R.R. Martin is famous for this. He creates an amazingly expansive world with characters upon characters upon characters, but his descriptive style leaves the reader constantly struggling to hold torrents of information in their brain, only to eventually realize that 99% of that information was completely irrelevant to the plot.

So, yeah. Simplicity. Learn how to use it.