Friday, 25 October 2013

Take Risks With Your Fiction: Is that Good Advice?

I am fascinated by writing advice.

If I were to give any, it would be a very terse

Write More (echoing Jay Lake) .
Submit more.
Enjoy it.

But, boy, do I love thinking about other people's advice. Maybe it's a procrastination thing. I ought to be careful about that.

What I'm wondering about at the moment is this, very popular bit of advice: To be a great writer, you have do take risks with your fiction. To improve you need to move out of your comfort zone.

What do you think about that?

What about this instead: To be a great writer, don't take risks but concentrate on what you're doing and get really, really good at it?

I wouldn't say I take risks. Oh dear, that makes my stories sound very dull. I know what aspects of life I want to explore. I know what effects I want to achieve. I'm not saying I can't improve. But I feel happy on the path I'm on.

What risks do you take? What kind of risks can you take with fiction?

Do you have any examples of writers who've talked about the risks they've taken-- and the positive results they've gotten?


  1. I'm trying to stay focused on writing competitions over the next year. I've completed two novels so far both I'm not completely happy with both which is probably why they haven't been taken on by anyone yet, though I have received good feedback on them.
    I want to improve my writing skills and I feel short stories will help me do that which is why I'm entering writing competitions next year.
    P.S Womags aren't my kind of things :-)

    1. I keep forgetting about competitions. I know you've had some great success with them, Paula. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. I've read more short fiction in the past two years than I ever have in the past. From reading as much as I have, I wonder if that advice it meant to have us write more unconventional stories. I know the 'Help Fund My Robot Army' anthology that was inspired when the editor received a story at lightspeed mag that was written in the format of a Kickstarter pitch. He thought it was so original that he Kickstarted the anthology based on that theme.

    I think that more experimental writing is more of a high risk/high reward sort of thing though... might have more failures than normal that way, but occasionally you might produce something monumentally brilliant. Me, I'm more interested in being competent first, then brilliant. But I still try to write crazy stuff sometimes, just to see if I can make it work. My (serious) tale of a sentient leaf that tries to bargain with the caterpillar that is eating it so it can avert the apocalypse has been difficult to write.

    1. The Kickstarter anthology idea was genius! I wish I'd though of it. I do a bit of experimental writing and it doesn't seem a risk to me. I like that leaf story!

      I think each writer has a different definition.

      What would be a risk would be writing about the emotions from real life. Write from the heart? No thank you.

      But some writers swear by it.

      Also tackling challenging or taboo themes, could be considered risky.

  3. Do I take risks? Play it safe? I have no idea -- unless sticking to my usual suspects / slew of characters would be considered "safe" while striking out into an entirely new world with all-new characters would be "risky." And I tend to keep a foot in both of those camps.

    1. Even subbing is a risk, Milo. I'm kinda good at that and so are you.