Weekend Writing Ramble: Swing for the Fences

The series in which a fundamentally underqualified writer nevertheless tries to give writing advice returns!

It’s generally my practice to write things I’m comfortable with, which I much prefer as advice to “write what you know”. I don’t know anything about what wars in space will look like, but I do know enough about space and wars to take a shot at convincing the average reader that I do. The same thing applies for zeppelins and airplanes in fake-1929. “Write what you can plausibly invent” is pretty good advice, and it might be rephrased, at the risk of wordiness, as “write things like things you’ve read”. Every genre (including the genres not typically lumped in under ‘genre fiction’) has a set of conventions you have to understand to know when to break.

As advice goes, though, it isn’t very inspiring. Alongside it I might add, “Swing for the fences.” It’s a tendency every writer has, the urge to try something new and exciting instead of going for the same old base hit. It’s a healthy tendency: skills don’t improve when they’re not being stretched. It can also be dispiriting when taken too far. The rush of knocking one out of the park doesn’t make up for too many strikeouts in between (unless you’re way better at this than me, which I admit as a possibility). Balance is good.

I spend something like a fifth to a third of my writing time on things I don’t know if I can pull off at all, much less at the level I expect of myself; for instance, mystery stories. I’m not at all happy with how A Jump to Conclusions is turning out. I don’t quite have the background with mystery that I have with space, war, aviation, or adventure, and my lack of familiarity with the genre has thus far not led to a story I think has much quality. I’ll probably finish it, since I see the path to the end of it now, but even if I don’t I’ll write up a post-mortem. Painful as it may be, I don’t think I have a choice but to find some positives and identify the negatives.

I approach this craft from two angles. First, it’s a hobby. Second, it’s something that could maybe someday pay the bills. From the latter direction, I would say I owe readers quality product, and I don’t have the sort of swing to reliably put the ball into the stands when I’m trying new things. More often than not I’ll hit a pop fly and watch helplessly as it lands in the mitt of the Outfielder of Insufficiently-Developed Skills (who plays next to the Outfielder of Dangerously-Stretched Metaphors). On the other hand, I don’t want to stagnate, and writing things that could turn out to be crap is part of moving forward, so I will continue to swing for the fences when the mood strikes me, and you, writer who is inexplicably still reading my advice, may benefit from doing the same thing.

I composed most of this post on my tablet, which was very interesting. It’s a lot like writing with pen and paper, in that it’s slow and I have to think about sentences before I put them down because they’re annoying to erase.

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