Sunday, October 23, 2011

Trying something new

Yesterday, I spent time with some other writers and we got to talking about creative stretching, the kind you have to do in writing classes. One friend who's going for her MFA has to write in third person instead of her usual, and favored, first person. It reminded me of a short-story class I once took where the teacher gave each of us an assignment specific to our own difficulties; for example,  the person who liked to start stories and then keep them going on and on and on without an ending was told to write a very short story and finish it.

We don't have to take classes to do these kinds of exercises. During the years when I wrote mostly short stories, I experimented a lot as a way to teach myself new things. I wrote in first person, third person, second person. I wrote in present tense and past tense. I wrote in typical prose style and in experimental forms. I wrote contemporary, dystopian, and magical realism. I wrote about very young characters and very old ones, about male and female characters. I wrote stories in the form of letters, biographical notes, emails, research notes. When I thought I could use help on making each word do more work, on incorporating better imagery and wordplay, I studied poetry. At writers' conferences, I usually took sessions on plot and pacing, because I knew I was weaker there than in character and dialogue. And then, one year, I sought out classes on character and dialogue just to remind myself I didn't know it all.

Whether in the classroom or out of it, we can keep learning this way, keep growing as writers. There's no need to fall into, or stay in, a rut. We can take classes, work with other writers, or give ourselves assignments. What new skill are you learning or trying with your writing?


  1. Continuous learning is very important to me. I personally believe that the moment one says that they no longer want to learn, is when they stop growing.

    Thanks for dropping by the blog, by the way!

  2. Stretching out of one's comfort zone takes courage, but growth doesn't happen unless we do. I completely rewrote one of my up-'til-then finished novels, changing it from third person past tense to first person present. It was a challenge but I like the result. I can write in a few different genres, but I'm not flexible enough to say "any" genre! I don't think I could ever write sci-fi or fantasy, for instance.