This is a phrase I hear a lot at the gym when we’re told every day to push the boundaries if we hope to achieve our goals. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable is another.
This applies to writing as well as we tend to get into a way or a style of writing and we tend to stick to what we know. But, as I told my lovely writing group if you want to change, to improve, to develop as a writer, then you need to be able to step out of what you know and try something new.
When we talked about ‘voice’ last time, I talked about the challenges of using more than one first-person voice in the same story and how to make those voices sound different. So I set the writing challenge of writing a piece using at least two first-person voices and one of them had to be American. BUT not a stereotype, so step away from cliché and see how hard (and how fun) it can be to create new and interesting voices.
While we had a few pieces, not all quite managing to follow the brief, what we did have I know pushed writers in different ways and they did indeed confess to having to step out of their comfort zones for this one. Some great pieces produced, but all in need of some further development. But the prompts are there to get those creative juices flowing.
It was indeed a challenge when I had to create different voices in While No One Was Watching. It started life, as some of you already know, as a short story challenge I set myself to use three distinct voices in succession. Each added to the story of the missing Eleanor Boone, but each one in their own way an unreliable narrator. So the reporter, the psychic and the old mother with dementia. In that case, they were all American (a challenge for the UK writer) but each quite different and of course the psychic is African-American so needed some research for authenticity and not just how I thought she should sound.
When we push ourselves to discard that old adage that you write what you know, you start to push the boundaries of possibility… and it can be exciting. You never know what this will do to enhance your writing. So I urge you all to examine how you write, hold a mirror up to yourself. If I was to ask you to sit down now and write the opening scene of a new short story, without too much thought, just start… what comes naturally? First person? Past tense? A female older narrator? So now look at how you create voices, is it you or the character? Now write that scene in a voice you would never normally use: a child narrator? Present tense? Second person (now that would be different and not easy either)… is the voice authentic?
In order to grow, we must first see ourselves and then we must step away from the comfort and the safety of what we know… and dare to do something different.
Up for it?
Have a great Tuesday.