Thursday, April 03, 2008

Writing and risk-taking

So I’m teaching my bi-annual writing class on Monday nights this month, and as I see the apprehensive/excited faces behind the desks each evening, I realize again what an act of courage it is (and it is) every time a writer sits down to commit an act of prose. (Or poetry, or whatever it is you’re perpetrating.)

I used to think it got easier as it went along. And on some levels, it does; I’ve written over 2,000 pages of fiction at this point, so I’m pretty comfortable that when I tell my subconscious to come up with something I can transfer to paper, it will. But it still isn’t exactly a walk in the park.

When you are working on an established series, you have the benefit of a pre-created world and characters who have been developed in earlier books, which definitely helps. But there’s still a lot of work to be done; each plot needs to be fresh, and as Susan Wittig Albert discussed last week, characters can’t stay static — they grow and change with time.

On the other hand, when you break from an established series, especially one that’s well-liked, it’s exciting, but also a bit stress-inducing. Particularly if your new work is in a different style, and deals with a completely different subject. (Say, sassy and filled with werewolves instead of cozy and chock-full of coffee cakes.)

Since I committed myself to writing a trilogy that would be more than 2/3 complete before the first book hit the stands, I am particularly aware of the risks of jumping off in a new direction. (And the direction changed more than once after I jumped off, to be honest — for one thing, HOWLING was originally sold as a light werewolf mystery, but the editor decided to publish it as romance once the trilogy was well underway.) And it has been tough going this last several months, as I learned my way around a new genre and went through multiple editor changes — and waited for the first reviews to hit. (Thank goodness they were good.)

But even if things had gone the other way, and my work hadn’t been well received, I’m still glad I took the risk.

Because I think the most important thing as a writer — no matter where you are in the process — is to have faith in yourself, and to allow your creativity to go in whatever strange direction it chooses. Even if it does end up in places you never thought you’d go. Because you know what? There’s something magical that happens when the brain switches off and your fingers fly across the keyboard of their own accord. Characters come to life, plots veer off in unexpected — and sometimes rather unwelcome — directions, and sparks of new ideas flare up when you’re least looking for them.

And even if you screw up, you still learn something.

Writing is a risk. There is always the possibility that you’re the only one who will see the magic in what you’ve written. (Or, the day after, the absolute lack thereof — then again, we as writers are notoriously bad at judging our own work, so you never know.)

The key, however, is keeping that creative flame alive. Because that’s why we keep coming back to it, day after day after day.

So, for those of you out there who have been putting off writing a book for years out of fear it will never get published, or have a book you’ve never gotten around to finishing because it’s too hard, or have a steamy romance in mind that your afraid your grandmother will excommunicate you for (been there, done that, by the way), my advice is: Do it anyway. Take the risk.

Because that’s what this crazy business is all about.


At 3:14 AM, April 05, 2008, Blogger Lawrence said...

Well said Karen, very well said! And by the way, I am really enjoying you're class. I wish it met more often because it revives my creative juices.

At 2:01 PM, April 06, 2008, Blogger dana said...

Congrats on your #1 listing of local best sellers. Can't wait to get my copies!! Keep those books acoming.

At 10:59 PM, April 07, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was a great blog, Karen. People have told me for years that I should be a writer, but you know what, it looks like A LOT of work to me and I don't want to work that hard. What might be fun, would be to come up with a story and then have someone else write it and then I could read it. That would be extremely lazy and possibly gratifying. Also, I wish I could have come to your signings, I've been working TOO much lately. Since you were having a signing, I did bake cupcakes, but then we ate them ourselves. Yummy!--Melissa

At 9:40 AM, April 09, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ditto what Lawrence said.--Kathy

At 11:56 AM, April 09, 2008, Blogger Karen MacInerney said...


I'm so glad you're enjoying it... I'm having fun doing it. It's a good refresher course for me, as well!

See you Monday...

At 11:57 AM, April 09, 2008, Blogger Karen MacInerney said...


Thanks -- that was a pleasant surprise! And I can't help but keep them coming... deadlines approach even as I type. :)

At 11:58 AM, April 09, 2008, Blogger Karen MacInerney said...


You're so funny, you'd be great. So glad to hear Grace is okay, btw; we kind of got sidetracked here with kidney stones.

And if you work out a way to come up with a story and have someone else write it while you eat bonbons, let me know -- I'm on it. :)

And I'll have to see you soon -- I still have one of your plates from last year's signings! (The muffins, I'm afraid, are long gone...)

At 11:59 AM, April 09, 2008, Blogger Karen MacInerney said...


So glad you're in the class -- and that you're writing. I just love your voice, and would love for the rest of the world to hear it, too!

Keep writing, my dear...


At 7:43 AM, April 10, 2008, Blogger Eamon said...

I have made a study of creative-thinking, creative-writing and creativity in general.

I have worked as an advertising account planner, copywriter and have just finished my first children's book.

Risk-taking is absolutely crucial. It is only through risk-taking that you discover new things / things that you are good at (and bad at), that characters / plot / place develop and so on.

Risk-taking involves, too, not afraid of being wrong (and in fact being wrong, can in the long term turn out to be right - just as 'good' might not be really that 'good' in the end, where as the poor idea might have something that could develop into something really interesting.

At 7:29 PM, May 19, 2008, Blogger fuller said...

Hi Karen - I took your class in fall 2006, and it helped me so much. I'm still at work on the idea I emailed you about in January.

I've been taking more risks in my daily life as part of my effort to take risks as a writer.


At 8:17 PM, May 19, 2008, Blogger Karen MacInerney said...


You're right -- I think sometimes the best work comes from going out on a limb. :) I'm about to embark again... nervewracking, but invigorating.

Hope your creative work is blossoming, too.

At 8:18 PM, May 19, 2008, Blogger Karen MacInerney said...


So glad to hear it's coming along! And glad -- as always -- to hear the class helpED. I really enjoy teaching it -- it reminds me what this is all about. And I always meet such great writers!

Keep me posted -- and keep on writing!

At 7:44 PM, September 09, 2008, Blogger Kendra Crispin said...

Risk-taking is critical to any writer. For most of us, that usually means showing our work to others around us, and then those frightening specters called Editors. (I'm speaking generally; I do remember what was said during the Conference.) Thank you for talking about it.


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