Tackling Writing Stagnation with Experimentation
There comes a moment in some writer’s lives where they feel that they hit a limit on their skill. It’s not that they believe they know everything about writing, but that there is an internal skill cap which they have bumped against. They report they have reached the end of their skill set, and from now on, there’s no more room for improvement.
This can be a very worrying sensation, especially if you believe that you have some way to go until you can achieve writing goals that you may have. You may feel that dreams of being published may be unobtainable, given that your general skill set has hit a plateau.
If you’re currently feeling this, don’t fret. Be aware that you still have a lot of room for improvement; the very fact that you are aware of this within yourself means that you won’t stagnate. As long as you know that there is still room to grow, you won’t fall into the trap of never improving.
But what can you do about your problem? When I am in a writing rut, I feel that I am producing the same level of content for weeks or months in a row, without improving whatsoever. It usually means I’ve closed the doors to some aspects of my writing. Because it’s hard to see where I’ve begun to restrict myself, I’ve decided to create a special area of my writing where I am free to experiment to my heart’s content.
Why is experimentation important? When done correctly, it allows a writer to try out new ways of writing fiction without fear of commitment. This fear is the same one that tends to lock us up into familiar patterns or routines, and keeps us afraid of trying something new. Changing how we write our fiction can be a worrying and somewhat daunting activity. What if it all goes wrong? What if people dislike it? What if it goes against the genre I have chosen, and people call me out for it? When this fear is removed – when writers write in an environment where none of the questions above matter – it opens up new avenues in their writing they never knew existed.
Creating this environment is a personal matter. There is no wrong way when experimenting with your work. The way I chose to experiment was through the means of flash fiction – full stories with a beginning and an end, which have a thousand-word limit on them.
Flash fiction is a fantastic way to experiment with writing. With such a short form, an author can experiment with new methods and tactics of writing without fear of investing a lot of time in a larger project. It’s totally understandable that a writer does not want to start messing with a set formula when they’re sixty thousand words into their novel, but when the full story doesn’t even rival the word count for a single chapter, what investment is there? If you decide you don’t like it, you can throw it away with very little actual loss of words.
If you decide to try this method, always keep in mind that the little doubts in your head have no power. It’s a place where you’re free – even encouraged – to make mistakes and learn about what you can write. This means that, in terms of what you actually write, anything goes. Write in a different genre, regardless of any experience you have in it. Write in a point of view you rarely use. Try a new writing style, or a new way of presenting information to the reader. Don’t worry about what other people will think if they read it. Given that this is your experimentation session, nobody has to read it at all!
But what if you do want someone to read it? One nice element of flash fiction is that, if you strike gold, you can share it with friends and family and get their verdict on it. Given its short nature, it should take no more than five minutes for someone to read your story. You can use any feedback to shape your experimentation even further, and discover new ways to write prose that you’ve never considered before.
My personal sharing mantra is quite tough. I set a challenge to write and publish a piece of flash fiction every Friday on my blog without fail. The story also gets published on the Friday Flash website, where it is collected with other pieces of flash fiction and published for readers to see. Given that this challenge has a strict deadline, there are weeks where I end up having to publish a piece of fiction which I feel is not so good. Some of my greatest revelations, however, appear when I publish a piece I feel is less than stellar, only to have readers state their love for it over an aspect I had not even considered while writing it!
This is why experimentation and allowing yourself to make mistakes is important. You are your own worst critic, and what might be an awful idea in your eyes may be an interesting or creative thought to your readers. Unless you try new things and gauge reactions, however, you’ll never see that you are skilled in ways you can’t even imagine yet.
Find a way to experiment without fear, and show the results to people you trust – even the parts you feel awful about, if you’re brave. Doing this will help you realise that your skill has not stagnated at all; it’s just the way you approach it that has become linear. Discover new avenues in your skill set, and see where it takes you next.
S.E. Batt is a passionate writer. He writes freelance non-fiction for various websites, and moonlights as a humorous fiction writer when he finds the time to do so. He enjoys cats, tea, and a good keyboard, even though they're fatal when placed all together. sebatt.com