I took a Salsa dance class on Monday night. It wasn’t just any class, it was a small class taught by one of the best Latin dancers/dance teachers in New York and it was a follower’s styling class — not a lead & follow and learn new steps kind of environment with partners. It was and hour & a half of gals facing the mirror with wild & crazy moves for improvising on the dance floor. Sure, I have a little Salsa/Mambo in my past, but years of Argentine Tango make those memories seem like prehistoric cave paintings. Still, there I was in my Tango shoes (heels too high & narrow for those grounded Cuban movements) and teetering on the edge of insanity from the syncopations within syncopations.
It was a little dangerous and I loved it. I was dancing OUTSIDE my comfort zone.
I write outside it, too. It’s a challenge that I give myself periodically. I simply push myself to write a story in a new genre, to play with limitations on language or to use a setting or voice I’ve yet to explore. Some of these challenges have resulted in good stories, others…not so much, but I’m convinced that the exercises — even the failures — have a positive impact on my fiction.
Most of my experiments are short stories, but there’s a partially written screenplay, a couple of dreadful novel-length mysteries and even a vampire romance novel gathering dust. Even the ones I wrote, rewrote and loved before I understood they were awful were worthwhile experiences. Bits and pieces of them float into other work and the terrible screenplay morphed into a good short story a few years later. Writing outside my comfort zone, expanded my comfortable turf and is making me a better writer.
If you’re game, here are a few ideas:
If you always write in an omniscient third person voice, try first person voices — maybe the perspective of a naive character OR an unreliable Poe-style narrator?
If you always write police procedural style mysteries, try writing a paranormal or a romantic suspense story.
If you always write stories in contemporary settings, try a historical setting.
If your protagonist is always a woman, try writing a story about a man.
I’m not suggesting that you set aside two years and write a gothic ghost novel if you’re a science fiction writer, but giving the ghost a short, short story might help you add a little fear to your next science fiction novel.
And when you really need a sudden change of direction — write a Haiku!
I almost fell off my shoes on Monday. Writing outside your comfort zone is safer! So give it a try.