I remember as a child sometimes being allowed to mix up whatever Mum was preparing in her big brown earthenware bowl and not just for Stir Up Sunday.
But writers need to mix things up too. Why and how?
Why Mix Things Up At All?
It keeps things interesting for the writer and also helps with keeping on keeping on when the writing life hits rough patches every so often. The latter happens to almost everyone.
Knowing you have other things to write/try to write is a good incentive to keep writing.
I’ve also found it to be true that if you become stuck on Project A, say a scene isn’t working out quite as you’d hoped, you won’t be stuck on Project B. I’ve also found ideas for how to resolve my problem with Project A occur to me as I work on Project B! I used to be cross about that but I know differently now. I just note down the new ideas and come back to them when I’m ready to work on Project A again. That has the benefit of allowing those ideas to “brew” for a while. I’m more able to judge whether they’re as good as I thought they were after some time away from them.
The writer may discover new forms of fiction they love. (This is what happened to me with flash fiction. Cafelit, where I’m published online and in print via their anthologies, had issued a 100-word challenge and I gave it a go. I became addicted to flash fiction after that! Previously, I’d written standard length short stories for them).
It shows flexibility of approach to writing and that is useful. You don’t want all of your stories sounding the same. Mixing up how and what you write avoids that.
You don’t know what you can do writing wise until you try!
How To Mix Things Up
I use a variety of methods for this.
Firstly, I include what I call my “reading diet” as a major part of this because writers are inspired by what they’ve read and loved (and still love). So the more widely you read, the bigger the range of inspiration is potentially there for you to tap into. If you only ever read one kind of book, that would be all that could inspire you. (And don’t forget to include a healthy balance of fiction and non-fiction reading here).
Also mix up the type of thing you read in terms of length and style. I deliberately read novels, short stories, flash fiction, articles, non-fiction books etc but also ensure I read both contemporary and classic works. I read short novels, long ones etc.
I deliberately have a couple of projects on the go at a time with a major one (such as getting a new flash fiction collection together) happening in the background. My CFT posts are my main weekly dose of non-fiction writing. I am working also either on major fiction pieces and/or drafting future flash fiction stories ready for submission to Cafelit and the like. I know I need to write non-fiction and fiction in the course of a week to make me feel as if I have had a good, productive writing week.
I also mix up the length of what I write. My CFT posts range from 1000 to 1500 words. My flash fiction ranges from 25 to 1000 words. My short stories are usually at the 1500 to 1700 word count. All of these have their different challenges.
Then there are the competitions. I enter flash fiction and short story ones. I go for a mix of open and set themes. Both have advantages that benefit a writer.
Advantages of Writing to an Open Theme
The obvious one is you can write about what you like.
You can write about what you like!
Ahem… how can the same thing be an advantage and disadvantage? Simple. By having completely free rein, it is easy to end up not writing anything at all because you can be so fazed by all the different possibilities, you don’t focus on one of those and run with that.
For an open theme to work for you, I’ve found you do need to be disciplined about listing some possible ideas, making yourself pick the one you like the most and then stick with it. It is too tempting to flit to another idea if the first one isn’t working out or if you change your mind about which one you like best.
I’ve found the best results here come from when I’ve listed a number of different ideas, put those aside for a while, come back and read them again with a fresh eye. Then and only then can I really know which is the one I am most likely to enjoy writing (and therefore stick with until the end! I’ve only abandoned a couple of stories in my time and that was because I didn’t do nearly enough outlining and preparation before I started writing so lesson learned there).
Advantages of Writing to a Set Theme
You’ve got a framework in place when writing to a set theme and it is what I love most about the form. You’ve got your theme. It’s just a question of working out how you will tackle it. I find spider diagrams useful here. Spider diagrams are where you take your theme and come out with ideas branching from it. For example:-
Idea 1 = Romantic Story Idea 2 = Love/Loyalty story (non-romantic)
THEME = LOVE
Idea 3 = When Love Goes Wrong Idea 4 = Love for Object (special meaning)
When I use these I tend to scribble down my ideas on a piece of paper with lines coming out from the central point. When you stand back the result can look like a spider, hence the name, but it is a great technique for brainstorming ideas. And you can have as big or small a spider as you like but I prefer to have at least four different thoughts emerging from the theme. I want to make sure I’m exploring every possibility that might appeal to me before I start outlining characters.
The preparation work in terms of outlining those characters pays off as I write my first draft. I have given myself a road map and it makes a huge difference. I find the first draft is generally written in no time at all and I like that!
Disadvantages of Writing to a Set Theme
You may not like the theme!
You can’t just write what you like. The theme has to be evident in your story and not just loosely related.
You need to accept you’re not going to come up with something unique. Regardless of whether there are only seven basic plots or not, what makes your story unique is how you handle the theme.
For example if the theme is love, and you decide to go for a love and loyalty story, you could take the tale as being from the viewpoint of say a dog whose love and loyalty to its owner goes far beyond what most would expect. (The film Homeward Bound has this as a major theme and it is a popular one, and not just with pet owners).
Mixing things up then keeps your brain and imagination active. I believe that’s good for health, yet alone your creative side. The latter can boost the former considerably.
Mix up your ways of being creative (even if you stick to one form such as creative writing) and inspire your imagination to dig deeper and to work that bit harder. You will rise to the challenge and your work will be the better for it.
Whatever you write or read, enjoy it! And do mix things up from time to time to keep yourself on the ball.
Challenging yourself to write and/or read something different is fun! Doing different things connected with reading and writing is also huge fun. Fun is something we could all do with more of at the moment, I think.
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
Never miss out on another blog post. Subscribe here:
Subscribe to Blog via Email