What does it really mean to take a risk with our writing? Does it mean we break from the elemental story decree by unfastening our seat belts to break from rule-oriented strategies? Is it wise to do so? Is it reaching too far with the quill long gone? What do we do as writers when the word itself denotes qualifiable danger, jeopardy, peril, hazard or menace?
Recently I re-read a classic short story that I enjoy this time of year as the seasons are changing. It prompted this inquiry. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s work from Twice Told Tales, The Haunted Mind we are confronted with an analysis of this very quandary. His work, as I’ve assessed it, is a provocation and contemplation of the seasons of choice, imagination, and action. There’s a hearty sense of limbo and rumination, and a constant thrum of angst. It pulls the reader along through a stream of consciousness I liken to a space of decision. The story travels with an evocative lens to tell of how we sit in our safe spaces, holding to the earth, grounded, but often buried in our inaction. He entices us to envision what might lay beyond. A thin veil of wonderment embracing the notion that we can all be called back to our creative souls. The work itself is an example of this risk. It has been one of the most hailed and hated works of Literary time.
Reading this story three years ago for the first time helped me renew my vows to writing. It helped me see my reluctance as a tool, and from then on, I held it in a different way.
Closer to my heart.
It prompted me to write a story that broke from the boundaries of subjective expectation. Could it be that the potential of a holy grail in our writing is waiting for each of us in our next safe scare? This book may not meet the open market and have a ground-breaking effect, but I wrote it anyway. Therein lays the risk and what made it all the more worthwhile to write.
There’s a lot of jibber jabber in the industry right now about a search for unique voices and stand out story structures that allow readers to have a dissimilar or diverse experience. The divergence is real and agents, editors and some publishers are taking note. Readers, especially young readers who come to this new world experience are more open than ever and more likely to take the road less traveled if given the opportunity. Sure, the story brain is wired for certain expectations, but when it’s confronted with something new, something altered, rich and astounding, it pays attention. The alternate paths we take as writers can mean the world of difference for our reader’s. Think of taking your next risk as a new line of resistance. It is our duty to reshape the world of books and give our readers what they want, but that is often in direct opposition to what the market gatekeepers would have us relegated to believe.
It’s nothing novel to tweak and twizzle our words around and toy with its form and function, but to ask ourselves, have we taken a risk? This is the true test. To trust in your psyche and instincts to challenge the rules. A certain level of risk-taking is a healthy endeavor. It takes courage to work to stand out in a brave new world of stories that our readers are hungry for. It’s time we trust in the muse to remind us that in this space there is no litmus test, no guide, no edict that qualifies what it means to reach that far. What if the next risk you took with your writing was like the next breakthrough in scientific achievement, but a literary one, and while you wrote it, you allowed yourself the safe distance to simply look at it as an experiment?
Take some time and think about the last big risk you took or wanted to take with your writing. No word is off limits, no concept too off base. Fledge from the ledge. Play with the divergence, and when something resonates, run with it off the cliff, and remember, in writing, the cliff is your friend.