Broadening one’s horizons
I’ve been quite excited this week. It’s an interesting story, and one that’s taught me a lesson; so I thought you might like to hear about it.
Sarah Hoyt has long been a friend and an inspiration to my wife and myself. She encouraged me in my early writing days, when I was getting to the point of being ready to publish, and did me the courtesy of a cover review for my first military science fiction novel, ‘Take The Star Road‘. She’s been a member of our extended family ever since (or we’ve been members of hers – whatever.) Walking around Denver Zoo in her company during a recent visit proved exhausting – her enthusiasm for various and sundry fauna had my wife and I struggling to keep up! Perhaps she sees similarities between yours truly and the elephants…
One of the more intriguing aspects of Sarah’s success is that she’s written in so many genres. A quick scan of her current Amazon.com book listings reveals horror/vampires, science fiction, fantasy, historical romance and crime (sometimes mingled together in the same book). That was an early lesson to me. Sarah refuses to limit herself to one or two genres. If she can think up a plot in any genre at all, she’ll write about it – so why shouldn’t I do the same?
In my journey to publication, I’d concentrated at first on fantasy (not yet published), and then science fiction. As I began to put more books out there, I also began to run into more and more “writer’s blocks” – periods when my creativity seemed to vanish, and I found my work in progress to be more about frustration than fulfilment. I began to look for ways to address the problem… and thought of Sarah. Might her ability to flit back and forth between genres also be a way to address my creative bottlenecks? I decided to give it a try.
I began three different projects in 2014, and I’ve been working on them here and there, in dribs and drabs, ever since. They include:
- A space detective series, set in the same universe as my Maxwell Saga (my primary SF series), and potentially involving some of the same characters from time to time in ancillary roles, but focusing on a private detective’s activities in the underworld of the future rather than military sci-fi.
- A fantasy novel, based on some of the characters I’d developed during my years of trying to develop an effective style of fiction writing, but which had never seen publication.
- A Western novel, trying to address some of the shortcomings I’d found in the genre over many years of reading and otherwise enjoying it. In particular, I disliked the cavalier abandonment of historical fact in many Western books and series. I wanted to see whether attention to detail and rigorous historical research could produce a Western that was both more accurate, and also fun to read.
The first two projects are ongoing, slowly but steadily. I think both may produce something publishable over time. I’m treating them as a way to get my mind into a different groove when I get stuck with my work in progress. I’ll put the WIP aside for a few days, or even a few weeks, and knock out some more pages in those other books. It clears my mind, forces me to think in different channels, and keeps me interested.
The Western novel has suddenly taken on a life of its own, to my (very pleased) surprise. I’d almost finished it, and decided I’d try to get some feedback from my blog readership; so I put up the first chapter as a ‘teaser’ last weekend, and invited readers to comment. They did, so voluminously that I put up a second post that night, addressing some of the points they raised and going into more detail.
To my great surprise (and even greater pleasure), within 24 hours of putting up the ‘teaser’ chapter, I was approached by a small publisher to ask whether I’d be interested in a contract for not one, but three Western novels based on the sample I’d posted. As you can imagine, I was very interested indeed. I’ve been discussing it with them ever since, and last night I fired off the completed manuscript to them, after editing it in the light of reader feedback and writing the final chapter. If all goes well, a contract will be signed in fairly short order (it’s already been sent to me), and publication will follow very quickly. That publisher doesn’t mess around, and moves fast.
I’m not telling you this to “blow my own trumpet“, but to highlight a very important reality. I followed Sarah’s example and deliberately began to write in multiple genres, initially as a way to overcome “writer’s block” in my primary genre, but later as a means to develop my writing abilities in new directions. That exercise has just paid off for me, completely unexpectedly. I couldn’t be happier, of course; but it’s also reminded me that we all too often create our own limitations, and set boundaries around our own success.
We need to deliberately step out of our comfort zones from time to time, tackling things that might not seem intuitive at first glance, and seeking ways to stretch our minds and creative capabilities. If we don’t, we can end up “stuck in a rut” for the rest of our creative lives; but if we do, who knows where it may take us? We may end up publishing something that we never seriously thought about, except as a sideline or diversion. The sky’s the limit!
(Oh – and thanks again, Sarah! You rock!)