Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Risky Writing

The closest picture I could find to illustrate "risk."
Because, like, you're climbing a staircase, right..?
It's a metaphor!

After weeks of research and debate and false starts, I finally sat down yesterday and wrote the first chapter of my next book. It was awesome. Not the writing (which is still a first draft ugly duckling), but the feeling of finally capturing my main character’s voice, of finally getting a sense of what this book will sound like. I definitely had one of those “writer’s high” moments, fist-pumping and reading lines out loud to the husband.

Once I had the first chapter, I could see clearly the kind of book this could be, and, I’m not gonna lie, it has me a little nervous.

I really enjoy writing commercial fiction. It just makes sense to me—the pacing, the plot, when to ratchet up the tension, when to give the characters a break. Even though I know I still have a lot to learn, I can see the pattern that these kinds of books follow, which helps for plotting, structure, character development.

This book, not so much. This one wants to be full-on literary. Like, literary without much of a plot. Like, literary and playing with tenses and POV. No cute boy to distract my main character, no we-have-to-save-the-world element.

Loosely, the book will be about three generations of women and the choices they’ve made with their lives.* I can’t really think of a YA book that fits that sort of “sprawling family history” format (although, dear readers, if you have suggestions, please please pretty please let me know!), but the books I’ve been sort of using for inspiration are East of Eden, One Hundred Years of Solitude, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Notice any common threads? Maybe that its authors count two Nobel Prizes and two Pulitzer prizes among them? Yeah…

Not like there’s anything wrong with looking to great works of literature as examples, but it’s a little…intimidating. What else is intimidating? I’ve never written something super literary before (unless you count the pseudo-memoir essays of my early college years which…I don’t), and I’m really not quite sure what to do or what (if any) model to follow.

But, I really like pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I like the challenge and the research and building new skills, even if the potential for crash-and-burn is maybe higher than it would be if I stuck to one genre or style of writing.

Anyway, I really want to turn this question around on you guys. Do you like to take risks with your writing? Do you tend to stick to one genre and go for depth and expertise or do you tend to hop around and try new things? There’s no right or wrong answer—excellent examples exist in each camp—I’m just curious to see what you think.

*Am I being cagey with the details? Yes! I am suuuper uncomfortable putting the details of a project out into the Real World before it’s finished. Suffice it to say, there are people and they do…things…


  1. Ann Rinaldi has a trilogy that does that (the Quilt trilogy, I think it's called). I don't remember the details at all, and it's definitely more historical fiction than literature, but I did love it!

  2. I tried your tip about following twitters (googling query
    and it didn't work.

  3. Thanks, Kathy, I'll check that out!

    And Elizabeth, the tip is for searching twitter feeds via Google. You replace the twitter handle of the stream you want to search with "AgentName" and what you want to search for with "query."

    So let's say you want to find out everything Janet Reid has tweeted about sharks. Her twitter handle is "Janet_Reid." You go to Google and type in this: sharks

    Now let's say you want to search Jennifer Laughran's twitter to see if she's said anything about conferences. Her twitter handle is "literaticat" so you would type this into Google: conference

    Hope that helps!