I’ve talked before about why I write – that is, why I put pen to paper. But I’ve never talked about why I write the kinds of stories I write.
Why does one gravitate toward fantasy? Science fiction? Chick-lit? Christian? Who knows. It’s just what we want to write about, right? That’s what I thought, until recently.
The novel I just finished was the hardest thing I’ve written to date. It’s not a novel I gravitate toward when I’m skimming shelves, it’s not about anything I’ve experienced personally, and the style is way out of my comfort zone. But, now that it’s done, it’s also the best thing I’ve ever written. And I’m convinced that’s because it was so far out of my comfort zone. It forced me to stretch myself into the unknown, which meant I flopped on my face more than once. And, with each flop, I learned not to make that mistake again.
The project I’ve just started working on is turning out to be similar. Again, it’s not a novel I gravitate toward. It’s not about anything I’ve experienced personally. And the style and subject are way out of my comfort zone. Does that mean I shouldn’t write it? Nope. I’m still going to. And I’m going to flop on my face along the way. And that’s okay.
Agent Elana Roth wrote a great post about the craft of writing, which she compared to making pottery. It is brilliant and everyone should go read it. :) It illustrates exactly what I’ve been experiencing for the past few years.
I’ve been working on selling my first novel for quite some time now. It came really close last year, right down to the wire, but the house ultimately said no, and now it’s back in my hands. If you’d asked me a year ago how I’d feel about this, I’d have said “devastated!” But, I’m okay. In fact, I won’t be heartbroken if it never gets published. Not because I don’t think it’s publishable – I think it is, and that it would do fairly well – but because I know I can do better.
Everything about that book was well within my comfort zone, yet it didn’t produce my best work. I didn’t have to do anything in order to write it, except for writing it. Clearly, that doesn’t work for me. I need to be able to stretch and grow, and I can’t do that if I’m always working on projects within my comfort zone. This may not work for everyone, but it’s working so far for me, and I expect it to keep working. So much that when I eventually have an agent and editor, I want them both to feel free to look me in the eye and say "you can do better," and then send me off to do just that.
A year ago, I wrote about writing what you know, and what it meant for me as a writer. It still means the same for me now, but I would add to it: Start out by writing what you know, then move on to writing what you don’t know. Otherwise, how are you going to grow?
So, why do you write what you write?