Refilling the Well: Branch Out to Enrich Your Writing

January is all about goals and aspirations for the year to come, but for writers one of the hardest things can be to find a balance between forming good writing habits and falling into a rut. There’s a danger in sitting down in the same place every single day and approaching your project with the identical mind set. You can become too rigid about your writing habits to the point of placing undo pressure on yourself; an attempt to hone your personal style and voice can result in repetitive writing, over-used vocabulary or catch phrases, or predictable descriptions; seeking your niche can give you tunnel vision, or a limited scope, and books that all start to sound the same.

So how do you keep things fresh? How do you develop a steady writing practice while still allowing your imagination to run free? What do you do to make sure that you continue to grow, to acquire new skills and hone your craft?

No matter how hard you try to clear your mind before you sit down to write, you will always bring real life with you when you get to work, and really, you wouldn’t want it any other way, as that life is what you tap into in order to create a believable world in your manuscript. So take advantage of that, and mix up your real-life experiences in order to bring something new to the page.

When was the last time you did something completely new, that you’d never done before? We talk frequently about refilling the well, the idea being that creative work requires inspiration, and that time spent outside the creative process gives the mind new material from which to draw. But even playtime can get repetitive. How often do you treat yourself by going to a movie or for a walk or window shopping? The chances are you have a set routine, even when it comes to taking time away from your writing.

Climb out of that rut and explore a little. Check the local paper for something different going on in your town as opposed to the same old choices you normally make. Find an auction to attend, go to a horse race, volunteer at a soup kitchen or with Habitat for Humanity, take a one-day class in something completely outside your comfort zone. Maybe you’ll be inspired to give a character a new hobby or profession, or maybe you’ll just see some new people with interesting clothes or gestures or ways of speaking.

Beginning writers are often told “write what you know,” advice that can be a double-edged sword, particularly for authors of fantasy or science fiction. The best writers combine both life experience and imagination to create their stories, using their knowledge of real world emotions and actions to inform those areas of the story that require them to imagine themselves into the situation.

Get out and broaden your horizons. The more things you experience in the real world, the more inspiration you will bring when you sit down at your keyboard. Make it a goal to try a few new things this year, whether they apply to your current project or not. You never know when a real-life encounter will spark the next big idea. Have fun, and happy writing!