I’m Megan Hutchins (www.mkhutchins.blogspot.com), a science fiction and fantasy writer with one published short story and a number of novels working on getting there. I’m a long-time Idahoan, a once-archaeologist, and the mother of two.
Experimentation, Fudge, and Exposition
I strolled through the Boise farmer’s market last weekend, past stands of artisan bread, salsa, local veggies, bleu cheese salad dressing and a dozen other treats. There’s quite the concentration of creativity and skill crammed into those booths every Saturday morning. I couldn’t figure out how to make dark chocolate toffee fudge if I had days. Even months. (Eating it, that’s another matter entirely)
Since my children aren’t spontaneous producing batches of fudge or cherry tomatoes yet, I assume those skills aren’t instinctual. Writing seems the same way. It’s something we learn. We practice, experiment, ask friends to taste-test, then repeat until the story’s perfected.
Experiment especially interests me. I doubt the wonderful fudge-makers would have over a dozen flavors if they hadn’t experimented. I practice writing daily, I critique regularly, but experiment? A common answer to writing woes is “do what works for you” but how do I know what works for me? Maybe I’m missing out on something because I’ve never tried it.
I’d never been an outliner, but my husband encouraged me to try it at least once, arguing it would help me grow as a writer. What did I have to lose? Outlining came with unexpected challenges and rewards, but I did learn about writing. I feel like I know “what works for me” now — a middle ground between winging it and knowing all the details.
Experimenting can also let me focus on one aspect of writing craft. I love dialogue. It’s comfortable, it’s fun to write, and I rarely have to bang my head against the desk to figure it out. So I decided to write a short story with no dialogue. Prose alone carried the story. I had to characterize, plot, and set the mood differently than I usually would. Happily, this experiment both strengthened my writing muscles and developed into a good story.
I’ve just finished another major draft. For me, that means it’s time to step back, self-analyze, and come up with another experiment to stretch myself. Experimenting has become an invaluable part of my writing process.
What things have you tried, either to uncover what works for you or to strengthen your craft?