I’m a member of the PSWA (Public Safety Writers Association), which means all of the members share a connection with public safety. As a result, we write about things we know, things we’re comfortable with, e.g., police work, firefighting, dispatching, etc. And while it’s not easy to write a novel, an article, or short story,being intimately familiar with the topic about which you are writing is certainly a plus.
There’s an old axiom advising writers to “Write what you know.” Good advice? Maybe. While writing about things you are familiar with makes the task less arduous, it also makes your writing more predictable. I think a better piece of advice to writers might be, “Write what you feel.”
In the past couple of years, I’ve been travelling that path. Having written several thrillers and dozens of training articles, I began to realize my writing was becoming too pre-packaged. It all seemed to reflect the same theme. Therefore, I started to experiment. I discovered a genre called flash fiction. This particular short story template limits the word count to a paltry sum of less than 1,000 words. Some formats, I found, were even more stringent, allowing less than 500 words.
Daunting as it seemed, I nonetheless accepted the challenge. To my surprise, the words flowed quickly and easily on to the page. Being constrained to a word count made my writing much tighter. My prose was crisp, my characters and scenery fresh and vivid. I wrote about love and hate, about loss and renewal. My endings were sometimes happy and other times sad and unpredictable.
In short, if you find yourself in a writing slump and everything begins to look the same, try something different. Write a love story, a poem, or a piece of science fiction. Tackle a topic you never thought you’d ever write about. This past year I even wrote several technical manuals—boring, but challenging nevertheless, and the exercise took me out of my comfort zone.
Writing is a gift we should never take for granted. This unique craft gives rise to emotion and passion, not only in those who write, but also in those who read. As with any living thing, writing needs nurturing. Don’t ignore your muse. Tend to it; baby it. Don’t ever let the writer in you become apathetic or comfortable. Challenge yourself, you won’t be sorry.