Taking Chances with Your Writing

Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Do you take chances with your writing? If not, maybe you should.

One of the funny things about my email program is that it likes to warn me if it thinks I’m being potentially offensive. It gives my messages from one to four chili peppers to let me know just how edgy it thinks I am being. Sometimes I tone it down, but normally I just laugh it off because Eudora is frighteningly cautious. “Ooh, maybe you shouldn’t say that. You might offend someone.”

The sad thing is that many of us do this in our writing whether we are writing fiction, memoir, or straight up nonfiction. If we write for children, we worry that someone will say that we are setting a bad example or talking about something that is in some way verboten.

I once had an editor pull the stops on an amazing article. I found a program that was working to save endangered horse breeds. In part, they were doing this through careful breeding. Because it is easier to fly a vial from point A to point B than it is to trailer or fly a horse, this program involved artificial insemination. Halt! Do not proceed! She was afraid that her magazine would lose the homeschooler market if she published something this edgy.

Edgy? It’s science. Zoo programs use it all the time. But she was right. It could cost her those sales.

Once this happened, I questioned every idea I sent her. Play it safe. Don’t rock the boat. My ideas lacked pizazz and she let me know it. I had to quit censoring myself if I was going to come up with something interesting enough to print.

How often do you do this with your own work? Instead of having your character take a chance, she plays it safe.

Write to your passion. Take a chance. You need to know your audience but if you come up with the right idea, they won’t object to something new.


Find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards writing at her blog, One Writer's Journey.  Sue also teaches our course, Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults.  The next session of this course is scheduled to begin on April 7.


Margo Dill said...

Sue: This is good advice! Once we start worrying about stuff, we tend to not write as well--in fiction and nonfiction. I love your example. I never really thought a nonfiction article about horses could be "edgy."

Unknown said...

This is great advice and one I need to heed more carefully. I know I play it too safe, especially when it comes to revealing more of myself.

However, someone on Facebook made the comment that often in contests it is the safe, sentimental, and typically marketable (my addition) pieces that win.

Still, I think the better option is as you suggest.

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