Monday, July 16, 2018

Try Something New

As authors, we often get caught in a trap of our own making. We get in a rut, writing the same genres, the same lengths. For some, this can lead to writer's block. For others, it may not cause problems, but it may limit how much stretching and learning you're doing within your craft.

In order to hone your craft, it's important that you keep learning. Whether that means reading craft books, attending writer's conferences, or simply trying new things.

1. Craft Books

One of the top craft books is Stephen King's On Writing. You don't have to write horror for this book to be helpful, because it's not genre specific. King was a teacher and professor, and brings that to his craft memoir.

Another book I hear recommended quite a bit is Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maass. If you've ever been to one of his workshops, you know he can fire up an entire room of people, and his books aren't any different.

Bird by Bird is a good book on craft. It's by Anne Lamott, who brings humor and inspiration together in a guide to the writing life.

Two more I'd recommend are The Art of Character, by David Corbett, and Cheryl St. John's Writing With Emotion, Tension, & Conflict. Both are well written and do a great job addressing their specific topics.

2. Writer's Conferences

For those lucky enough to have a local writer's conference, that's the best place to start. It's easier when you're in a familiar place and not having to mess with flights and transportation. If it's close enough, you won't even need a hotel, making it as inexpensive as possible. If you have to travel for it, I'd recommend finding a general writing conference if you're a newer author, and a genre specific conference if you're past the basics. Try to research those you've seen friends recommending, and don't be afraid to ask them directly about the conference to see what they have to say.

3. Trying Something New

This one's easy and cheap. In fact, it's free! Do you typically write novels? Try a short story, flash fiction, poetry, or essay. Do you usually write a specific genre? Consider giving another genre a go. If you usually write mystery, try your hand at a romance. If you usually write memoir, try a fantasy piece. Write in a different world than your own. Make yourself uncomfortable.

If you need help trying something new, look for writing prompts online. Writer's Digest has some, but there are many beyond that. If you're on Instagram, search for prompts. You'll find a ton. Who knows? Maybe it will lead to your next great story.

What do you do to further your writing education? What books would you recommend on craft? Have you attended any conferences you'd recommend? Have you stretched yourself by trying something new recently?


nashvillecats2 said...

Some very useful tips on people who write novels, being a poet I usually write what is going on in my life,.......not much at present as the extremely hot weather is causing havoc. Thanks for a most interesting post.


Pat Hatt said...

Prompts are a great idea, already got 3 novels written from them. Expanding is the way, more fun that way.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I wrote a contemporary short story for a magazine and it was rather refreshing.
Favorite writing book - Save the Cat.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I totally agree about the book by King and the books and workshops by Maass. I would also recommend Lisa Cron's books, Wired for Story and Story Genius.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I'm attending a couple conferences this year as a speaker but I intend to learn while I'm there, too.

Christine Rains said...

Fantastic tips! I love trying new things in short stories. Sometimes you surprise yourself with how much you like it.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I've done all those things. I've recently felt a little bit in the rut because my romance publisher is pushing me to put out three books a year and I can't get to the fantasy novels I want to work on. Writing conferences, good ones, are the best thing for me to keep learning and improving.

Juneta key said...

Great post and tips. Own all those books. I want to do a writers conference one day. It's on the list.

Tyrean Martinson said...

I think I need to re-read those books. I haven't been to a conference in a while, but had intended to go this year. My health problems took me away from the first one, then the next two were schedules on weekends that I have something else going on . . . so, maybe next year? Or, I need to look further afield. The craft books are great.
And, I love trying new things with my writing - short stories are awesome for that.

Shannon Lawrence said...

Hi Yvonne, anyone can change it up! Since you write poetry, try an essay. Or something short and fictional.

Pat, prompts can be tons of fun, and can even be a good timed exercise before sitting down to work on ongoing projects.

Alex, Save the Cat is another good one!

Madeline, great recommendations, thanks!

L. Diane, me, too. It's good to still try to attend some of the workshops, even when you're running them. I've seen some high profile authors sit in workshops at Pikes Peak Writers Conference between their own workshops.

Christine, definitely! And it's such fun to be surprised that way.

Susan, wow, three books a year would definitely limit how much you can play around in other worlds.

Juneta, I hope you can make it to one!

Tyrean, ugh, the timing of conferences can be so tough. Especially ones that are scheduled on holiday weekends and the like.

Maria said...

Some great ideas here. The Stephen King book is my favourite book on our craft.
Getting out with other writers at conferences is a good thing to do, it makes you realise you're not alone and that you all have the same hopes and dreams and it's amazing what tips and tricks you can pick up. Not to mention the friends you'll meet.

I also find an artists day a good thing to do every now and again. Just take yourself off somewhere different on your own. I've done days out with my camera in unfamiliar cities, train trips to the seaside and outings to theatres and art galleries. All help to fill the creative well.

Jen said...

I love reading books about writing. "On Writing" is one of the best I've come across. I also love Natalie Goldberg's books "Writing Down the Bones," "Thunder and Lightening", and "The True Secret of Writing."

Playing around with other genres and styles has been helpful for me. Recently I've started work on a cozy mystery which is a far cry from the Southern Gothic/Horror that I usually write. I'm also working on penning some essays and articles, not fiction at all!

It's scary, branching out, but it's good for the writing soul and really helps me understand what makes me tick, as a writer, and helps me strengthen my voice.


Mark said...

Couldn't agree more:) So long as it's fun, trying a different type of writing can be quite invigorating:)

cleemckenzie said...

Trying something new is always refreshing! Thanks Shannon.

Mirka Breen said...

trying something new keeps us younger, writerly-wise. I'm contemplating writing a MG as a panster, and it is terrifying for a planner like me.

Betsey Grace Groover said...

All of Don Maass's books are a must read. I've still yet to read On Writing. I been wanting to! Bird by Bird is one I've read a number of times thruout my writing journey. Not only does she give sage advice, but she demonstrates what good writing sounds like and is thru out her book. Her words flow so beautifully, and her use of similes and metaphors are spot on. Hers is one every writer should read at least once, if not more. Plus, it's sort of a comfort read--a hug from a writer friend thru words.

Thanks for the tips on the others! I'll have to check them out. I also love Story Genius by Lisa Cron. It really changed the way I plot.

Great to meet you!

dolorah said...

I haven't read Bird by Bird. Thanks for the reference.

I do find craft writing books by famous authors, and editing houses, to be the best writing resources. Sometimes they all say t he same things, sometimes there is new insights. I love learning new stuff.

JEN Garrett said...

I'm on the rebound from a recently polished book. I've tried revamping a few of my previous manuscripts, but nothing is sticking right now. So, I started touring blogs as a procrastination -er I mean - inspiration. In any case, I found a prompt that gave me the short burst of muse I needed, and I wrote a short story instead of my picture books. It was fun writing for adults for a change, and took the stress off of finding the right "next manuscript" to work on.