December 10, 2012

no. 5: challenge yourself

Blogger's Note: We're back for week two and day five of the 12 Days of Writing with author Tracie Banister. Since meeting Tracie through the Twitterverse, I've had the opportunity to read and review her books (check them out here and here). She's also become one of my favorite sounding boards for bouncing ideas, and I'm thrilled to have her here to share a really important one. Be sure to leave a comment for your chance to win a swag package.

No. 5: Challenge Yourself

By Tracie Banister 
Author of Blame it on the Fame and In Need of Therapy

As 2012 draws to a close, I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve accomplished with my writing this year (I released two of my long-gestating books – Go, me!) and what goals I’d like to set for myself in 2013. Of course, I will include the usual writerly aspirations on this list – finish my current manuscript, read/review more books written by authors in my genre, explore different marketing/promotional options, etc., but the goal that will top all the others next year is – Keep challenging myself as a writer!

It’s SO easy to get in a rut when you write day in and day out. Maybe you’ve found your niche in a certain genre, or writing for a particular type of character or in a certain style? Readers/critique partners have responded positively and you feel comfortable with the status quo, but how can you grow and improve as a writer when you’re doing the same thing over and over again? The simple truth is that you can’t and after a while you will begin to feel bored and your work will suffer. Don’t let that happen! Push yourself to try new things, take risks, and never get complacent.

There are so many ways you can challenge yourself as a writer, some of them big, some of them small, all of them helpful in giving you a creative boost. Based on my own experiences over the last few years, here are some suggestions for stepping outside your comfort zone:

Enter a contest I was visiting the website of one of my favorite authors Lauren Willig when I learned about a short story contest that was being run by Random House and a popular Jane Austen website. The contest called for entries of Austen-inspired stories that were 5,000 words or less. Now I’d never written a short story in my life, nor had I ever attempted to write anything set in the Regency Era (although I do love to read Regency fic), but the prize for this contest was so amazing (The winner’s story would be included in an anthology of Austen-inspired shorts written by well-known authors and published by Random House.) that I felt like I had to give it a shot. And what an incredible learning experience that contest was! Like all novel writers, I tend to be verbose. So, being forced to tell a complete story in just 5,000 words taught me an invaluable lesson in keeping my narrative tight. I, also, discovered that I had an affinity for writing Historical Romance, which was interesting since I’d been writing contemporary stories for so long. The response to my short was overwhelmingly positive, and I ended up being a finalist in the contest. Although I didn’t win, that story is still one of the works I’m most proud of.

***SIDENOTE***My Austen short, The Marrying of Margaret, will be included in an upcoming anthology called “Austen Asides” to be released by Woodston Cottage Press on May 1, 2013, so keep an eye out for it!

Go genre-hopping – My foray into historical fic inspired me to start writing a Regency Era novel (I’m hoping that it will be the first in a series.) I’m still focusing on my Chick Lit writing most days, but whenever I’m feeling stuck or unmotivated with those projects, I jump over to my Regency and work on that for a while. It’s amazing how energized and rejuvenated I always feel after doing that. Switching genres makes an author tap into different parts of his/her brain and that gets all the neurons firing, which results in better writing all the way around! So, give another genre a shot. Paranormal, Erotica, Suspense, YA – they all require you to exercise different writing muscles and will help you to refine and enhance your skills.

Change your POV – Sounds easy, right? Wrong. Whether you’re used to writing your novels in first-person or third-person, you are probably set in your ways as far as your voice and how you approach the material in your stories. Switching up the POV will compel you to change your thinking about the characters and how you share info with readers. Both types of narrative have their freedoms and restrictions and will challenge you in completely different ways. Just don’t change POVs in the same story as that will drive you and your readers to the brink of madness!

Branch outside of fiction – Penning articles or essays for blogs, magazines, etc. is another fantastic way to further develop your talent, and even though you’re not writing fiction, you can still utilize your imagination. I had a blast writing articles for Good Humor Girl earlier this year! Coming up with ideas for an article, researching my subject, learning through the process of trial and error how to write something that was punchy, informative, and entertaining in just a page or two were all skills that I could take back to my fiction writing. And an added bonus in writing for blogs and online magazines is that you reach a new audience who will hopefully like your writing style enough to buy one of your books!

These are just a few of the many ways you can propel yourself to greater heights as an author. I’d love to hear about some of the things you’ve done to challenge yourself creatively, so please feel free to leave a comment below. Wishing all my fellow writers the happiest of holidays! Here’s to a new year filled with great ingenuity, growth, and success!

About the Author  
An avid reader and writer, Tracie Banister has been scribbling stories since she was a child, most of them featuring feisty heroines with complicated love lives like her favorite fictional protagonist Scarlett O'Hara. Her work was first seen on the stage of her elementary school, where her 4th grade class performed an original holiday play that she penned (Like all good divas-in-the-making, she, also, starred in and tried to direct the production). Her dreams of authorial success were put on the backburner when she reached adulthood and discovered that she needed a "real" job in order to pay her bills. Her career as personal assistant to a local entrepreneur lasted for 12 years. When it ended, Tracie decided to follow her bliss and dedicate herself to writing full-time. Her debut novel, the Hollywood-themed Blame It on the Fame, was released in January, 2012, and she's following that up with the Miami-set Romantic Comedy, In Need of Therapy.  

For More About Tracie

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  1. Tracie, you are an amazement! From the very first post of yours in CLG and continuing through your blog posts and novels, I was impressed. When you comment on someone's post, the natural teacher in you (supportive, encouraging, and informative) comes out. I learn things from you all the time. This post does not break that streak! Bravo! Great advice for writers. I love stretching myself but some of my critique partners criticize that urging me to "get gooder" at one genre. But, I let my story ideas dictate genre and form. It's good to hear a professional writer encouraging me to do that! Thanks for another great post in a great series!

  2. This is an amazing series. Tracie, what helpful ideas! It is scary branching out in a new genre or POV, but to grow as a writer, we have to do things that scare us all of the time. Your encouragement and personal experience are so appreciated. Congrats on "Marrying Margaret" being part of an anthology!

  3. These are really good tips, Tracie! I've often been tempted to switch out of my first person POV but I am terrified. I'm definitely considering 3rd person for book #4. The worst that happens is that I will hate it but I can always switch back, right?

    Congrats on being a finalist in that contest and for your upcoming release. That's awesome!

  4. Awesome post! So many great tips. I definitely need to challenge myself in 2013... I'm also a bit scared to change POV but I'm going to give it a try.
    Cannot wait to read your contribution to the Austen Anthology! :)

  5. Great post. Can't wait to read your Austen-esque story! That's so great that you were a finalist in the contest! I've tried writing a couple of short stories - but they are SO hard! You rock!

  6. Fabulous post! I especially like the idea of switching genres - maybe not even for the purpose of publishing, but as a writing exercise. A great way to keep those wheels turning. Thanks for the tips!

  7. Good post! Though I must say that I am most excited about her Austen short story... :)