Why Writers Need to Experiment More Widely

Experimentation is an integral part of being a writer, and experimenting more widely can be incredibly beneficial.

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Writing is, to some degree, constant experimentation. You have to try new things, otherwise you would be copying an existing story. Characters can be based on real people, but will always involve some change that you—intentionally or not—have applied. Real life settings and places will still be refracted through the prism of your interpretation. Emotions, choices, reactions, and thoughts are all based on your own experiences or decisions, and therefore subjectively experimental in their very nature.

“Every grain of experience is food for the greedy growing soul of the artist.”

Anthony Burgess

The path a piece of writing takes can often be constricted by the boundaries set by the writer, and these can at times be subconscious. Genre and form, combined with anticipated audience expectations based on assumptions the writer makes, can restrict experimentation and force the writer to follow set patterns. Even more universally-accepted guidelines like character arcs and act-based structures can prevent the writer trying something new, or pushing the boundaries further than is perceived acceptable. Whilst genre, form, and overall guidelines can be useful when sculpting the basic skeleton of a piece, they do not need to be slavishly adhered to, and neither should they be.

Without experimentation we would not have those great pieces of literature that have altered our worldviews; we would just be recycling the same old tired systems instead of creating new and moving art. Writing needs experimentation in the same way as science does: without it, neither would advance. The option for the writer, then, is to experiment more, and also more widely.

“Life consists of an infinite number of possibilities and the healthy person explores as many of them as possible.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

It is easy to become locked into a set pattern of behaviour; a comfort zone. Writers stick to their genre or form, their traditional type of protagonist, their usual themes. It is by pushing beyond these—and therefore altering the angle from which they see writing—that writers can develop and grow. As such, I would like to challenge you to try experimenting with your writing.

Whatever you usually write—be it long or short-form, fiction or non-fiction, poetry or prose—you should try writing something else. You don’t need to spend long on it, nor do you need to study it extensively. Simply put: write a short story.

Short fiction is a great sandbox in which to play. You can dabble with different styles and perspectives, genres and themes, characters and settings, plots and ideas. Your only restrictions are your imagination and word count, which forces both wide-reaching concepts and focused delivery. Let yourself go and just make something up.

As part of this, you need to forget all the rules. Everything you think you know about writing can be ignored, from structure to style and everything between. Nothing is forbidden at all.

To further push yourself, try writing with a different genre or form in mind. Write romance instead of horror, or literary in place of science fiction. Craft haiku rather than slam poetry, or replace fact with opinion in non-fiction.

Whatever you come up with does not need to be shared, though it can be. If you decide to use this as a development tool, then it is a worthy one. Alternatively, this may result in new content for you to publish or submit for publication elsewhere. Either way, you will find that you grow as a writer, and you do so very quickly. Letting go and trying something different will act as a catalyst to improve your skill and craft, whilst also expanding the horizons of your artistic expression. Then, once you have finished experimenting, you can return to your usual form or style with a wider perspective and additional knowledge and ability, and that is where the real experimenting can begin.

Seb Reilly is a writer, fiction author and occasional musician. He lives by the sea in Thanet, Kent, with his family and two cats.

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