Taking Risks, Telling the Story

riskWhat does it mean to take more risks with your writing?

Do you ever feel that need to branch out, dive deep, and search the inner recesses of your psyche…?  To want to create stories that have purpose, writing that has meaning, ideas that comb the murky depths and make readers gasp in horror, awe, delight, and disbelief? I don’t know about you, but I want readers to think, “how could she write something like that?” while being compelled to turn the next page.

We’ve all read books like that. Those are the stories that we read and wonder how an author could put those words on the page without crumbling into a million pieces, or without falling prey to the dark void. The plot twists are unimaginable, the villains are truly evil, and the situations, setting, and action are all reflective of a realistic, very human, very harsh, very scrutinous look at the world.

But how does a person revert to that darker, riskier way of looking at the world? How can an author make conflict real, how can they make their villains real, without it?

I found an article about risk-taking in writing by Judy Reeve, posted on her website, and I encourage you to head over there and read the whole thing (along with plenty more useful articles on the writing process!)—but for now, here are a few paragraphs that really spoke to this concept:

“If you’re not willing to take risks, chances are your writing will be bland, shallow and boring. Even to yourself.

So, what does it mean, taking risks in your writing?

This is where you move out of safe, familiar territory, into something that feels a little dangerous. Risk-taking differs from individual to individual, so it’s difficult to say exactly what “taking risks” means. One writer’s risk is another’s walk in the woods. And another writer’s walk in the woods feels damned risky to a third.

Following are some of the ways it might feel when you are taking risks in your writing: Maybe your hands tremble and your handwriting gets a little out of control. Maybe while you’re writing, your breathing becomes shallow. Or you stop breathing completely. Sometimes you can tell when you’re taking risks because this is where the censor will step in: “Hey, you can’t write that.” Or the critic: “That’s certainly not a nice thing to write.” Or the editor: “You might want to be a little less specific there, maybe use words that aren’t quite so… well, graphic.” Hearing these voices can almost guarantee you’re working in risky territory.

You may stop writing what you’re working on, or it may deviate off into some safer territory, meaningless details or worse, generalities. You may feel restless and want something – a cup of coffee, a cigarette (and you don’t even smoke), something to eat, anything to alter the direction of the writing and the way you feel.

Taking risks means telling the truth, whatever your truth is.”

risk2

Point to Consider: How do you take risks in your daily writing? How do you find the strength to “tell the truth”, and how does it make you feel during the process?

(A version of this blog post first appeared on Literary Coldcuts on Toasty Buns in June 2009.)

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