I was a freshman at Boston University, terrified as I sat in my mandatory freshman writing seminar. It was my high school teachers’ favorite past time to remind the class of how much harder things would get in college.
“The papers will be double this length in college.”
“Just wait ‘til you get to college. You’ll be in for it then.”
(so menacing. wtf, teachers?)
So I spent my teenage years perfecting the standard breakdown of an essay in preparation—an introduction with a thesis, a few body paragraphs to support the thesis, and a conclusion to sum everything up (AKA repeat what’s already been said).
So imagine my surprise when my writing seminar professor (who had us call her by her first name—so college!) turned her nose up at such a formulaic approach to writing!
What do you mean a research paper can be creative? Unheard of!
You don’t want all 25 essays that you have to grade to look exactly the same? I don’t understand!
With this new freedom to put my own spin on my analytical essays, I suddenly loved to write them (OK, not as much as I loved watching movies with my roommates, but still, I enjoyed them). And reading my high school and college papers was like looking at night and day.
I credit that one class for 1) making me love writing, 2) showing me that I actually can write, and 3) giving me a tool I’ve used ever since when my writing feels stale.
If you’ve ever suffered from writer’s block or just woke up feeling like your gift of prose up and left and you’re just some schlub with a computer (oh, just me?), then this tool will also help you shake off that imposter syndrome and get your writing confidence back.
If I’m lost for what to write or just feeling like my skill isn’t what it used to be, I take a page out of my professor’s book and flip my writing on its head.
When I learned that a research paper could be creative, use humor, and have my own voice, it was like telling 6-Year-Old Me that the blue M&Ms tasted the same as the browns—it was obviously true to everyone else but it rocked my little, sheltered world.
And just as 6-Year-Old Me suddenly had an entire bag of M&Ms at her fingertips (instead of just 30%), College Me was no longer limited to the standard, flavorless essay formula.
I had graduated high school thinking of “analytical” as the antithesis of “creative”. But when someone came along and told me those were just two dyes of colored candy shell with the same melt-in-your-mouth chocolate on the inside, my essays became a hell of a lot more interesting.
And this same process—rethinking the truths we’ve come to accept—can be applied to anyone’s writing.
We as writers find our comfort zones.
“I write short stories.”
“I don’t write romance.”
“My writing’s too serious to use humor.”
But when you’re writing is feeling stale and inspiration is lacking, try switching things up.
Write something you normally never would for a change, and return to your cozy comfort zone with a new outlook. Your “normal” writing will be better off for it!
If you’re feeling down about the progress of your historical fiction novel, stick your characters in a sci-fi book for a chapter! That chapter may not ultimately make it into the final draft, but it will open your mind to a whole slew of new opportunities—new plot points, character developments, and most of all, rejuvenated inspiration and motivation.
Aside from genre, you can also switch up your tone—it’s kind of like trying on a leather motorcycle jacket when you usually wear lace. You take on a new persona and open your mind to thoughts you would’ve never had otherwise.
Do you normally favor a neutral, facts-only narrator? Rewrite a paragraph with a sassy, Dickensian narrator instead. It’ll get your mind working in ways it’s not used to.
I am no poet (you may have noticed). But every once in awhile, I like to dabble in poetry just to see what I can come up with. It goes in my journal where no one else can ever read it, but it helps me flex different writing muscles. I use fancy words and elaborate on figurative imagery (and hardly ever use the words chocolate or Netflix).
Again, these poems never make it onto The Dusty Quill (and probably never will—sorry, folks). Nevertheless, they improve my writing tenfold and keep me from feeling like an imposter, unworthy of the noble title, Writer.
Turning your traditional writing on its head and dabbling in different genres and tones of voice helps you tap into a side of your creativity that you don’t normally use. And when you return to your comfort zone, you get to bring all of that shiny new creativity back with you!
So, the next time you feel like a fraud or just need a little extra inspiration, try writing something totally out of your comfort zone and see what happens! And let me know how the walk on the wild side goes in the comments!
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