If It’s Not Broken, Break It

This hamster very firmly believes in not judging books by their covers and that when it rains, it pours.

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?

But.

But.

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.

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There Is No Writing Without These Five Things

The muse isn’t this into you.

1. There is no writing without reading. Okay, there is, but it tends to be shitty writing. Read, and read widely. Fill up your brain’s compost bin with ideas and let them sit. Turn occasionally. That’s a thing you do with compost, right? I don’t know, I’m not a fucking gardener.

Anyway, soon, you will have idea compost in which you can plant your own stories. Just don’t be surprised if the fruit they grow is strange. Or radioactive.

2. There is no writing without getting your ass in the chair. You have to work at writing. You have to place your sitting bones in a chair, or otherwise prop them in front of the Magical Writing Box, and get to work. Writing will not do itself while you’re watching YouTube clips of Russian dashcams. It doesn’t turn up if you wait around. The muse can be a shitty date that way. You can dress up nice and wait around for it to pick you up, but it never does. You’d be better off taking yourself out, getting a table, ordering something big and alcoholic, and starting on your own. Get the party started and the muse will show up. Or it won’t. Whatever. Fuck that guy. You don’t need him.

3. There is no writing without coffee. Not for me, anyway. Hey, at least it’s an improvement on the cigarettes.

4. There is no writing without fun. If you hate sitting down to your computer or notebook or stack of engrave-able methane tablets, if you hate having to put all the words in the right order, if you hate the time you spend doing it every single time…then you’re not writing. I’m not sure what you’re doing, but it sounds like you’re engaging in some really boring form of torture. And I bet it makes you bucketloads of fun to be around, champ.

You gotta have fun, or what’s the goddamn point? Though if you want to beat yourself up that bad, there’s probably someone on the internet who will pay to watch.

5. There is no writing without investment. And I don’t mean day-trading. If you’ve got no investment in your story, in your characters, then the writing isn’t going to happen. You don’t always have to like it—the above comments on fun speak to the majority of the time, not the entirety of it—but you should want it. You should want to tell that story. You should want to spend time with those characters, even the ones who make your skin crawl.

Fill in the blank with your must-haves, word nerds: There is no writing without_____________.

Shake It, Baby: Breaking The Routine

I find it hard to imagine a better avatar for chaos than a Furry using a ShakeWeight.

I find it hard to imagine a better avatar for chaos than a Furry using a ShakeWeight.

 

Routines can be great. They give a structure to what is essentially a structureless thing and make sure that you’re not just dicking around on the internet, looking at cat memes and whatever argument is brewing on Twitter today. But watch out for the moment when the routine–as embodied in your schedule, your word count spreadsheet, your plan–becomes more important than the actual thing you’re trying to create.

I don’t think this is just limited to creativity, either. When I started running, I had a routine: five days a week. No excuses. On one hand, that worked out fantastically: I was far less likely to flake on a run in favour of a new video game than I would have been if I’d just said, “eh, I’ll just run whenever I feel like it.” And I ran more, which built skill and endurance faster. But, after a while, the schedule took precedence over other things. Like injury. I kept running with burgeoning plantar fasciitis for a lot longer than I should have, because, in my head, meeting the plan was far, far more fucking important than the pain. I’m lucky I smartened up eventually, or I could have done a lot more damage than I did. As it is, I have a little twinge in my left foot to this day. Which conveniently serves as a reminder not to be so fucking stupid. Not saying I always listen, but…

Writing is the same: having a plan is a great idea, but it should serve you, not the other way around. And sometimes the best way it can serve you is by fucking off altogether.

Getting away from my daily stuff–the word counts, the research goals, the deadlines–cut something loose inside my head and helped me solve plot problems I’ve been working on for months. Part of it was because I was hanging around another, very creative person that I could bounce ideas off. But I think a lot of it was just the change. The routine ceased to matter at all, and the ideas flowed.

Now that I’ve returned home, I have gotten back into a routine. But it’s a different one. The time away also allowed me to reassess my day, see where it was helping and where it was holding me back. And I can put those ideas into practice, make something out of them.

So, if you’re a planner, inject a little chaos into your life. Your creativity will thank you. And the routine will still be there when you get back, ready to put all that new madness to good use.