One of the best—albeit more peculiarly expressed—pieces of advice Douglas Wilson gives to writers in Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life is diversify:
Stretch before your routines. If you want to write Italian sonnets, try to write some short stories. If you want to write a few essays, write a novel, or maybe a novella if you are pressed for time. If you want to write haiku, then limber up with opinion pieces for The Washington Post.
(Read more of Wilson’s advice to writers here.)
Wilson’s point is well-taken. If you want to keep sharp, it’s wise to write something different. We writer types can become complacent and lazy—we can pretty easily get into a nice routine (or rut, depending on your point of view), shift into autopilot and write basically the same thing, over and over again.
Recently, I’ve seen some of very fine folks trying to stretch themselves, and it’s a wonderful thing, indeed. My friend Trevin Wax is writing a fiction book (which I’m pretty excited to read when it’s out). And then there’s my online pal Stephen Altrogge, who is cranking out really fun material like crazy these days!
If you’ve read his blog or his major release books, you probably know he’s really funny. Not that “I’m trying to be funny” kind of funny that’s not really funny at all; he’s got a very natural sense of humor and timing that shines through in his work. (For this, I am jealous.)
But in seeing the material he’s been self-publishing of late—The Last Superhero, and serial meta-spy-adventure novel Escaping My Story (parts one and two are now available and are really good!)—you can see he’s really trying to take this call to diversify seriously.
He wants to get better at his craft. This is something more of us need to take seriously, especially me.
A while back I made reference to writing a couple of kid’s books for my wife to illustrate. So far they’re coming along really well.
I have to be honest, though: it’s a lot harder than I thought it would be. Trying to tell a complete story in 1500 words or less with compelling characters is a really challenge. It’s given me a new appreciation for the books we read to our girls on a daily basis. There’s so much work that goes into keeping the story tight alone that I didn’t even consider when I first started working on it.
Although it’s a bit tangential, at work, I’ve got another challenge: adopting a new style guide to keep all our writers consistent. For those of us who’ve been there longer than our new staff, it’s a real challenge at times because we’ve gotten into certain habits or are just used to going on gut and preference.
But formalizing these things is another good challenge. It’s been forcing me consider word use, punctuation, grammatical issues so much more that I’ve been really lax on. This is a good kind of challenge as well—one that’s getting me thinking about the mechanics of what I’m writing, not just the content.
The point is this: Writers, whether we’re writers of books or blogs, we need to diversify. We need to be willing to try different things, regardless of whether or not they see the light of day and regardless of whether we succeed or fail. In the end, our writing will get better and we might even have some fun in the process.