March 3, 2008

Writing Against Type: Challenge Your Writing Style


Actors often fear being typecast in certain roles. For example, no one will ever watch a movie featuring James Gandolfini again and not picture him as Tony Soprano. This can help or hurt him, and more times than not, actors dread the results of being typecast, which means they cannot “grow” as an actor.

Consider the same consequences for your writing. A comment made to me recently concerned a very talented writer and his notion that he had been “hiding behind his blog” and ignoring his larger projects, meaning his novels. Speaking for myself, I am guilty of this behavior as well. My recent attempts to revitalize my writing have worked, and I am taking steps not to “typecast” myself into a role of sharing nothing but personal anecdotes about my life on my blog. This should be the challenge which you as a writer put to yourself: to produce a poem, short story, biography, or even a play which you never attempted before.

The end result of that written venture does not have to be the remarkable; it should be an instrument to discover new talents hidden within. How you ever had a workout and exercised “muscles you never knew you had before?” The concept here is to give your literary voice a day at the gym.

For example, if you’re the type of writer who consistently produces high quality, yet gloomy works of fiction, try writing a happy story. You may hate yourself as you do this, but the challenge is that you’re demonstrating an ability within yourself to construct worlds, characters, and lives out of whole cloth in a manner which you are not accustomed to. Writing against type makes a writer think, and often our routines and habits leave us bored and in a rut. A new style, and different genre attempted, can give one the jolt needed to craft something out of the ordinary when previous projects have yielded less than desirable results.

With that said, I’ve found that I read many blogs with beautiful and many times stark poetry offered by gifted artists. In my experience, I’ve authored some rhymes which I feel are immature and not up to the standards which these other lyricists uphold. Many of my poems were written over a decade ago. For the sake of this article, I’ll present one here to demonstrate my lyrical deficiencies.

Short of Buying Forever
May 14, 1985


The horizon struggles
To embrace the embers
Of discarded daydreams

And then…
A tip-toeing of trees

The hushing of branches
And dew drop serenity
Replenish leaky souls with hope

Settled in the twilight
Immorality hawks its wares
To a pauper with big, empty pockets


Maybe my ability has improved over the years even though I concentrate primarily on writing fiction. Recently, I've challenged myself to attempt poetry again, and I am able to illustrate that I can make keen observations about my own style by crafting symbolic verses. This is a rough draft of a poem I wrote about a week ago. The basic premise of this one is that I’ve witnessed too many people pass away; and at some point, the dying seem to accept their fate. In one or two cases, they appeared happy. Remember that this is a first draft, and I have unearthed emotions and a style which I may utilize again.

Syndrome
March, 2008


Eyes touched by imaginings
Silent people
The corners, from there
They beckon
Unfiltered by dust, accompanying angst
Ailing, infringed upon, a right mind

Captured by malignancy,
Invaded from within
One word, with such dread
Presented potions to purify
To wait, and to become
Terminal

Diffused urge, sidelined fantasy
Embarking on Saturn for
Want of the Moon

Tomorrow’s rays,
Beyond the cradle
Unearth aged man
Squandering
Inherited wisdom
For absent youthful humor
And then, approval

Bring here demise
Raised hands, encourage
Focus, exclaim
Repel denial
Return in grief,
Un-denying
In reverie


This is not poetry as I would want to enjoy it; but the idea is clear. Trust your writer’s instincts and research another form. Write a fantasy novel, a play, a short story. Take yourself around the block a few times, and you may meet some neighbors with interesting lives. Bring your laptop to a different vantage point and you might create a work of art. Challenge yourself, and you cannot fail. Stay safe, and you’ll lose your edge. Write, and write well, and you can live forever. Well, your words will anyway.

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35 comments:

Winter said...

It's true that one should always stretch their creative muscles, push the envelope, etc. I've got a project designed to do just that, but of course, I have been ignoring it. Your excellent post here is a good prod for me. I'll have to go work on McKenna now. LOL

I liked the poetry BTW. The rhythm and nuances have a nice feel to them. I don't think you're as rusty as you think at this.

Swubird said...

Mr. Grudge:

I like this new stuff your posting - lessons we can all benefit from. Now I'm no critic when it comes to poetry. I admit it. But I liked your words. I even could understand some of your meaning. But that's it isn't it - poetry is so personal - more so than any other art I think. It comes from our insides.

I have written a few heart-felt lines to the Queen, but she is hardly an objective reader. Mostly I write simple stuff, "Roses are red violets are blue..." That kind of thing. Like I said - simple.

I also like your advice on venturing out into new areas. It's definitely scary, but once you face up to your fears, the terror usually gets replaced with confidence. At lease that's my take on the subject.

Another good post. A real pleasure to read your work.

footiam said...

Yeah, a person should try out other things; maybe besides stretching oneself, one should also 'destretch'. Writing is hard work; taking time off may inspire sometimes.J.K. Rowling said that her idea on Harry Potter came when she was traveling in a train. Traveling helps, taking it easy helps; friends help; family helps. Meditate on this!

Kathy said...

This is a great topic! I was encouraged by a friend to try my hand at fictional humor. Until then, I'd always written my humor pieces from a personal perspective. If I didn't live it myself, it didn't get written. Then I had a burst of fictional creativity and wrote an interview with a dog. I found the experience energizing and exciting. It made me stretch my muscles a bit and so glad I did. I'm no longer afraid to write in a new way, but it will still take practice. The important thing is I tried something new and was surprised I had it in me. I'm not longer afraid of this unknown territory.

Mike, you do as well with poetry as with your fiction. It's great to see this side of your writing and I look forward to more of it.

joderebe said...

See? Just throw it out there. How did you feel when writing the poem? Bet it felt great. You are right about trying various styles of writing.
Mike I have to make this comment short...more later in an email. I just wanted to say well done on the post and excellent poem. Love the cadence and the use of imagery. Bravo!
~JD

Teeny Poet said...

Feel free to post some of your works on my poetry site that I started. It would be an honor. Peace

franscud said...

Great job on the poetry Mike ... some great turns of phrase, and don't dis the old stuff. I also completely agree with you on the overall subject ... people get caught up in a comfort zone and that leads to stagnation. I can feel myself getting boxed in, and I'm going to try to break out into new forms too.

Jack Payne said...

Hey, Mike, don't sell yourself short. Your poetry effort sizes up and measures well.

On the challenge yourself challenge, how many creative artists do you suppose ever do this? Despite the reasonable, common sense aspect of it.

In film, James Stewart always played James Stewart. Jack Nicholson always played Jack Nicholson. On and on. In fiction, Hemingway's he-said, she-said, short, clipped writing style always prevailed. James M. Cain's 50 dialog lines in a row without attribution became a stereotype.

As sensible as challenge yourself thinking appears, I sometimes wonder just how many creative artists would short-circuit their careers by trying it.

Bob Johnson said...

I don't know how I found this blog, mind you I forget a lot nowadays, anyhoo, I'm glad I did and am learning lots, I like your syle Mike.

Bob Johnson said...

Besides your syle, I also like your style.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Winter,

"I liked the poetry BTW. The rhythm and nuances have a nice feel to them. I don't think you're as rusty as you think at this.

Your vote of confidence here is encouraging and means a lot. Thanks for your kind words. Let me know how your project works out. -Mike.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Swubird,
"I like this new stuff your posting - lessons we can all benefit from."

This post and the recent ones like it are a return to my early days of Mr. Grudge as a writer's blog. My re-statement of purpose the other day was my determination to get back to my roots and tackle the issues of writing and not simply prattle on about stories from my past. I am glad you like these articles. If you go to the archives here on my blog, look back to around September of 2007 and begin there, as I have many more articles like this one. Thanks.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Footiam,
There's a lot to be said about stepping back from your work. Good point. Thanks.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Kathy,
"Mike, you do as well with poetry as with your fiction. It's great to see this side of your writing and I look forward to more of it."

I think you are too kind...Kathy. My poetry is novice, at best. Thank you. Your interview with the dog was brilliant. I took away a new word from that piece, "beagley." You're funny, definitely funny. Thanks Kathy. -Mike.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi JD,
"...See? Just throw it out there. How did you feel when writing the poem? Bet it felt great."

It felt awkward and pretentious, lol. Really, I think all of you are too kind. My poetry is not very good. But, I appreciate your kind words. Thanks JD. -Mike.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Teeny Poet,

"Feel free to post some of your works on my poetry site that I started. It would be an honor."

Thank you for your generous initiation, and thank you for stopping by to read. -Mike.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Francis,

"I also completely agree with you on the overall subject ... people get caught up in a comfort zone and that leads to stagnation."

Yes, I was going for the idea of a comfort zone which writer's can fall into. That's what I was doing and I wrote my "re-statement of purpose" the other day. Thanks for your kind assessment of my poems. -Mike.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Jack,
Thanks for your kind words about my poems. I am glad you liked them. I know many, many actors as I work in a performing arts college. They will take any work they can get. The more successful they become, the more comfortable they are to do the same type of work. With writers, especially bloggers whose goal is to write, changing up one's style for experience certainly helps. What would I do if I met someone who asks me to write a movie script? Should I say I never wrote one? No, I tell him that I know the format and I am an established fiction writer. It is true, I practice writing scripts because if my novels ever get published and someone wants to film it, I can step in and write the script. Writing is a tool, a craft, and in the same way that it is helpful for a carpenter to build a house, he should be able to make furniture as well. Thanks jack. -Mike.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Bob,
I am glad you found my blog, and I am happy I found yours too. I have some catching up to do at "Black Holes & Astrostuff." It's been a few days. Thanks Bob. -Mike.

Anna said...

Mike, this is really nice post, and quite encouraging. I find myself writing at times, and the best comes when I don't think much, just write - but then I have to do lot of editing, lol. Thanks for sharing this with us, and your poems are amazing. Everytime I show up here I get to see amazing works of yours. Anna :)

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Anna,

"I find myself writing at times, and the best comes when I don't think much, just write - but then I have to do lot of editing..."

Yes, that is the key, editing. I often think that writing is easy. The dirty work comes when you have to edit. I read a quote somewhere, and it is not mine:

"A good novel is not what you put into it...it's what you take out of it..."

Food for thought. Thanks, Anna, for your kind compliments about my poems. I still think my poetry is dreadful. Have a great day. -Mike.

Max said...

Hey Mike,

I know exactly what you mean by this, I struggle to keep my texts dynamic. I do not wish to write always in the same style, and about the same things (although I have one short story that I post every now and then)...

A Poem...let me check it out:
May 1985
Hmm, I am going to be honest here - it is not that bad, it is a bit gloomy though (the use of sad words like pauper, empty, leaky souls, immorality). You needed to improve the technique a bit, however the talent was latent...congratulations, I liked it!

March 2008
Much better indeed, although it needs a bit of work still (in order to respect so poetry rules). But the general idea of it is brilliant, Mike; congrats *bowing*!

Have you ever read Fernando Pessoa (a Portuguese poet)? He wrote some poems that were similar to your style (when he wrote under the pseudomyn of Álvaro Campos)...

Cheers

Paul Burman said...

This is sound advice, Mike, and it's worth being reminded of every once in a while. I used to write a lot of poetry at one time, but once I stopped submitting to magazines (because I became over-critical and didn't think it was worth publishing anymore) I carried on with it as a discipline, just writing for myself, simply because I felt that it honed my prose and would have a positive impact on my short story and novel writing. And I believe it has worked in this respect. Blogging will also influence this in terms of structure and the speed with which I write, I think!

Poetikat said...

Dear Mr. Grudge,
Thank you for stopping by my blog and for your warm welcome to the Society of Midnight Wanderers. I am pleased to be part of such a valuable group. I will take the opportunity to visit other members and hope that they will visit me and perhaps find something of interest.
Sincerely,
Kat

Anna said...

Mike, "A good novel is not what you put into it...it's what you take out of it..." - thank you, I will definitely remember this. Anna :)

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Max,
"Have you ever read Fernando Pessoa (a Portuguese poet)? He wrote some poems that were similar to your style (when he wrote under the pseudomyn of Álvaro Campos)..."

Thanks for the suggestion to read Alvaro Campos. I am always on the lookout for fine writing. Also, I agree whole heartedly with your assessment of my poems. I placed them here, unabashedly, to illustrate that I am willing to stretch myself to improve my writing. This sis practice, and your appraisal here is worth my effort. Thank you, Max. It is a pleasure having you here. -Mike.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Paul,
"Blogging will also influence this in terms of structure and the speed with which I write, I think!"

I agree with you about blogging and its effect on one's writing. This space here has definitely allowed to to become more prolific, and to be a better technical writer as well. Bloggers are intelligent folks, very creative, and they know when someone is faking it. My voice is honest, I edit more judiciously, and I work harder than ever. It's great to have folks read your work, isn't it, Paul? Thank you very much. -Mike.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Poetikat,
It is a pleasure to have you on board with the Midnight Wanderers. I look forward to reading more of your work. We are a new group and the folks we have with us know are diverse and practice many styles of writing. There is a lot we can do together, and this is only the beginning. Thank you for stopping by here, and once again, welcome. -Mike.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Anna,
That little quote has helped me an awful lot with my writing. I am happy to share this with you. Thanks for reading. -Mike.

Jod{i} said...

Hello!
I agree all writers should venture out, good or bad and even down right ugly. Its part of that creativeness, its the learning curve and it keeps all that we do possess fresh and smooth.
Having written a few screenplays and edited a few, I have forced myself to venture off into worlds of dark comedies, dramas and even some funny stuff. Although I tend to be more in the drama aspect of film.
It is a craft in of itself- being able to switch roles and genres.
As for my blog(s)-Its not about hiding behind them, its about learning. Responses to me are fuel for writing. I am not one to throw out a screenplay I hesitate, as well as anything I want published. Paranoia? Mayhap. I have seen people use a peer to peer site and have their scripts stolen. That is off topic and other issues.
So I am very hestitant on putting my "real" writing out there, WHy have it published then if I am just going to sell it?
Huh...need to ponder that(I do)...
GREAT ARTICLE!

Peter said...

Hi! I'm with Bob as I'm learning heaps from you as well plus the fact I also like your style.

I'll never get into writing fiction but with your help I will become a better blog writer. Touch Wood!

Thank you for being a great teacher and for letting others bend your ear more than once.

Take Care!
Peter

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Jod{i},
"As for my blog(s)-Its not about hiding behind them, its about learning."

I agreew ith you as I have leanred so much about writing by being creative here. the writer I mentioned felt he was negelecting his other works by blogging more than working on his novel. I am guilty of that, yet the paradox is I feel have I better skills now that I write more with my blog than when I wrote in a vacuum with myu noevels. Thanks so much for your thoughful and insightful comment. -Mike.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Peter,
"Thank you for being a great teacher and for letting others bend your ear more than once."

You can bend my ear anytime, mate. And, as for being a teacher, thank you; and, remember that that I learn from you as well. Have a great weekend and thanks for reading my post. -Mike.

J Sherer said...

I think learning, growing, and stretching oneself is very critical. Excellent post. I'm currently writing a series about applying business principles to your writing. One of the issues there is really defining yourself for your target audience. Part of that definition means choosing a path and sticking to that pass.

But, you bring up a great point. When you're practicing. When you're honing your skills. When you're trying to find your voice and improve your writing...Experiment! That will enable to you stick to you core strategy when you release your work to the public, but in the meantime writing outside your norm allows you to grow!

Excellent points all around! Thanks, Mr. Grudge!

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi J. Sherer,

"But, you bring up a great point. When you're practicing. When you're honing your skills. When you're trying to find your voice and improve your writing...Experiment! That will enable to you stick to you core strategy when you release your work to the public, but in the meantime writing outside your norm allows you to grow!"

Yes, you got it! I experiment with different voices, plots, and styles until I find a groove, and then I feel that I have grown some. Thanks for the comment. -Mike.