I’m learning to hate adages.
I shouldn’t; I mean, they’re just words. But, much like Twitter*, the effort of condensing a sentiment into a small, memorable package means that it either 1) comes across as something a mentally-deficient hamster would say or 2) loses all meaning and context.
Adages are too often the shortcut of thinking.
Today’s annoyance? “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Sounds good on the surface. Why mess with something that’s functioning perfectly well? After all, it’s working, right?
What if there’s a better way out there?
Something that you’re refusing to see because good enough is…well, good enough?
Much like ‘write what you know’, this phrase has the ability to become a straight jacket. You get stuck in a routine or a method of creation because it’s always worked and it’s fine and trying something new is too much work. But if you’re never going to fix anything as long as it functions with the minimum efficiency, you’re never going to expand your horizons.
If I didn’t try to change things that weren’t broken, I never would have written short stories, or horror, or young adult fiction, because adult fantasy novels were fine. And while not all those experiments worked out for the best, they were still valuable.
Hell, from the Real Life Files, that adage would have seen me never ask my husband on a date, because we were fine as friends. It would have seen me still trapped in an academic career, because it was good enough. It would see us stuck in another province, because why risk the move to a strange town?
So fuck that. Sometimes you have to break things before you can make new things. Break your routines, break your characters, break your stories, and see what you can make out of the pieces. If you can’t make anything, then go back to what you knew. At least you tried. But in the trying, you might just make something great. Isn’t that work the risk?
You always write at home? Go to a coffee shop, or a library, or the park by the river. You always write hard science fiction? Write a romance. Learn something from it. You only read speculative fiction? Pick up a literary award-winner or a non-fiction history.
The new and the novel are where ideas come from. Complacency is the enemy of creativity. And if you’re a writer, then why the hell would you choose complacency?
So break things. Raise new things in their place. And find out what you can do, not just what you can get by doing.
*I love you, Twitter, but you are possibly the shittiest place on earth to have a nuanced conversation about anything.