“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
— Mark Twain
Mark Twain gave us lots of great quotes and in this one we can take some lessons for our writing:
I've never been a great risk taker in life and this is also true of my writing - I'm being honest here. I stick to genres that I am comfortable with and tend to write about stuff I know; and according to some writers, that's a fatal mistake. Take author Annie Proulx (The Shipping News) who famously said: “What I find to be very bad advice is the snappy little sentence, 'Write what you know.' It is the most tiresome and stupid advice that could possibly be given."
Annie goes on to say that if we just write about what we know, we don't grow - and there's truth to that. If we keep rolling down the same well-worn track, and we don't digress onto another pathway that looks bright and interesting, or dark yet irresistibly intriguing, we can become tunnel-visioned.
I'm all for writing about what you know but within that, take your risks, don't get too comfortable, let the wind fill your sails and rather than pull in the ropes, let them out to allow full flight so you are on that pathway to discovery and imagining. Take what you know and apply it to a new genre: I can take the first fabulous flush of true love I experienced at 16 (well, at least I thought it was true) and translate that into romance fiction; I can take my life with my cat and create a child's picture book; the facts I have about my Mom growing up in Florida during the war I can apply to a local history of that time and place.
The main message here is to take chances, enjoy your writing, let it take you to places you never thought you would go - and don't be afraid. Fear is one of the greatest roadblocks to our writing: it manifests as self doubt (I can't possibly do this, I'm not good enough), what-will-people-think-of-me (people will hate my work), and who could possibly be interested in anything I have to say?
I say, 'who cares?' Write what you want, take risks, and never stop learning. Every time you write, you learn - about yourself, and your craft.
Go on. Explore. Dream. Discover.