Since I’ve been awake all night—literally—and my mind has been in somewhat of a fog, I decided I’d tackle another one of Chuck Wendig’s 25 Things Writers Should Stop Doing. We’re going to tackle #14: Stop Playing It Safe.
Here’s what Mr. Wendig had to say on the subject:
Let 2012 be the year of the risk. Nobody knows what’s going on in the publishing industry, but we can be damn sure that what’s going on with authors is that we’re finding new ways to be empowered in this New Media Future, Mother*******s (hereby known as NMFMF). What that means is, it’s time to forget the old rules. Time to start questioning preconceived notions and established conventions. It’s time to start taking some risks both in your career and in your storytelling. Throw open the doors. Kick down the walls of your uncomfortable box. Carpet bomb the Comfort Zone so that none other may dwell there.
Risk. That’s something a lot of folks have a hard time taking. It’s also the only thing that gets anyone anywhere in life. Come on, how many of you men out there sweated taking the risk of asking a pretty girl out? With fear coursing through your veins and trying to be cool, keeping that voice even is near impossible. Just the thought of asking certain girls out petrified me when I was younger. Really, what could they say? No? Sure they could. It wouldn’t have been the end of the world. Interesting enough, I never got turned down for a date—the girls either said yes because they wanted to or because they felt pity… It may have been more pity than anything else.
Life is one big gamble and as Kenny Rogers once said, You gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run.
If we were to use Poker as a guideline, then life really is about the risk/reward. You get your hand, like a few cards so you put the others back. You either raise the stakes or fold. If you raise the stakes, you better hope you have a strong enough hand and that those cards that replaced the previous ones are good. The Risk: betting in the first place and then hoping your cards are good enough to beat everyone else’s at the table. The reward: taking home the pot if you hold the winning hand. The flip side: losing the money in the pot (and if you’re smart, it wasn’t a lot of cash).
Writing is much like poker in many respects. You can play it conservatively and not put in as much or not draw as many cards after the initial deal-in or stand pat with what you have. In writing terms, you can play it safe by writing what everyone else writes or doing what everyone else does, by staying in the confines of your comfort zone. You can submit your stories or novels or what-have-you’s to the markets you know will accept them, but maybe not pay you all that much. Yes, you can do all of that. But, where’s the risk in that?
You can step outside your comfort zone.
My friend, Petra Miller (a talented writer in her own rite), told me something about three or so years ago. She said (and I’m paraphrasing here since I can’t remember word for word) ‘A.J., you’re a good writer, but if you ever want to get anywhere you have to step outside your comfort zone and write things that you wouldn’t normally write.’
I stewed on that conversation for a day or two (and if you know me well at all, you’ll say it was longer than that) then sat down to write something completely out of the norm for me: I wrote a story involving sex. No, I’m not a prude, but I steer away from sex in my work. Most of the time I don’t feel it necessary for the content, but for that story that is what I wrote.
I also started working foul language into some of my stories, but only where I deemed it appropriate. There are way too many writers out there who feel the need to cuss ten times in one paragraph, mostly completely unnecessary. That may be how they talk in real life. I don’t know, but it’s not needed in stories unless it is important that the reader understands the type of person that spouts off all those expletives.
Let’s be honest here: some words just don’t capture the full effect of what you are going for. I mean ‘darn’ is all fine and dandy, but ‘damn’ gets the message across. As do other words and phrases that I’m sure you know and that I don’t need to go into detail about.
There is also the point of not just submitting to the easy markets. Sure a lot of the ‘for the love’ or low paying markets readily accept quality work and that strokes the ego a bit, makes the writer inside feel like they are doing something right and are going somewhere. And, you know, there is nothing wrong with that… if that’s where you want to stay. It gets you some exposure and exposure is as valuable as money in many cases. But, if you really want exposure and you want to get paid well for your work, you have to aim higher, shoot for those tougher markets to get into.
Again, risk/reward. You are risking getting rejected by the bigger dogs, but your reward is so much greater if you get an acceptance, both in pay and in exposure.
On the flip side of that, I will say that supporting the lower paying pubs is a good thing for all of us and I have no issues with someone helping out the smaller publications by submitting their works to those places. I just wouldn’t make that the majority of where you send your best work.
Then there is the whole thing about writing out of your comfort zone. If it has an affect on you, do you think it will have an affect on the reader? As Stephen King said in On Writing, if he doesn’t know where the story is going, the readers won’t either and half the fun is the journey. Take your readers and yourself on that journey. I did that in my as yet unpublished novel, Cory’s Way. I knew what I wanted, but in getting there I learned a lot more about my characters and the storyline than I would have if I would have just wrote it the way I saw it in my head. I went on that journey with Cory and his friends and, in the end I think the novel turned out much better than it would have if I would have been in control of it instead of my characters.
Will Cory’s Way ever sell? Honestly, I can’t say I don’t care. I do. I think it’s a good story and that’s the important thing. It was outside my comfort zone, it was something different as far as style is concerned and it’s a novel—something far different as far as word count is concerned. I believe it will sell one day and I believe the readers will like it.
So, editors and publishers alike can say they think it won’t sell. I’m okay with that. I’ve seen the stuff that is selling and I refuse to write like that and I refuse to believe that my work won’t sell.
I’m a long-winded writer and it shows in my work. Will my work sell? Some of it will. Maybe some of it won’t. But I don’t know that and neither do the publishers. What they do know is what they want to sell. There’s a big difference between the two.
I’ve taken a lot of gambles lately. I plan on taking a few more. And, guess what? You should, too. Don’t let someone tell you that what you’ve written won’t sell. In this world of e-books and self-publishing, what do they know? What do any of us really know?
Thanks for reading and I’m A.J. and I’m out…