I took my son to his martial arts class this week, and the Instructor had the whole class doing something different. He took an established kata, one that the class knew well, consisting essentially of a series of defensive blocks set in a circle pattern. Master Sanchez then had the students build from that, adding a series of punches and kick between the blocks. It worked for a time, and then the kata fell apart for every student on the floor. When he asked them
why, several answers were offered, but one student found the key.
“We were afraid of screwing it up,” he said. And he was right. No new parts were added; all the students were familiar with all the moves they were asked to do. The problem was doing it differently. I noticed how that applies to writing as well.
We all know how to string words together in a sentence, and how the sentences make
paragraphs, and how enough paragraphs put together make a story. But what happens
when you write in a different manner? What if you write in first person one chapter, then third person the next, like James Patterson does in his Alex Cross novels? What if you write a western instead of a mystery, like Robert B. Parker? What if you’re detective is also a wizard, like Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden? I think you get my point.
We all need to sharpen our skills from time to time, to do something different and expand our repertoire. Whenever I get to feeling complacent and confident, I take on a new genre, or a new perspective, or even a whole new form. The process helps the writer to face the things they fear in writing, and to learn that there is nothing wrong with messing up from time to time. It gives us the chance to start fresh and get it right the next time. So, what are you afraid of?