what to do when you get stuck in a rut

Focus and consistency are wonderful things, but sometimes I use them as an excuse not to branch out. On the one hand, writing free-verse poetry about finding beauty in the ugly is my niche, my specialty. On the other, it is my comfort zone. It’s what I feel safe writing, and it’s what comes naturally to me now.

It didn’t always come naturally. At one point, it was a change to write this way; it stretched me past what I thought my limits were.

Now that I’m comfortable here, though, it’s time to stretch a bit more. If I want to become the best writer I can, I need to push myself so that I will keep growing, and that means change. Like exercising physical muscles, I need to exercise my writing abilities.

{today’s exercise}

Going outside of your comfort zone doesn’t mean doing something crazy and terrifying. If you’ve never worked out before, you don’t start by trying to lift the heaviest weights or run a marathon. Take a small step into the unknown and experiment. Maybe if you always write poems you try writing a short story. Maybe you tackle a topic you’ve been afraid to attempt. Maybe you write something that rhymes — or something that doesn’t rhyme! Try something new.

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{my process & my poem}

I’ve built enough of a poetry-writing practice that it comes naturally to me now. The same goes for articles like those I post on this blog. What I don’t feel very comfortable with is story-writing; at least, I’m not as comfortable with fiction as I am with poetry and non-fiction.

Over the years, I’ve kept my writing muscles flexible by writing stories — everything from flash-fiction to 50K-word incomplete manuscripts. I don’t often revise and edit my stories, though (especially the long ones). Instead they get filed away never to be read again. I’m changing that. I’ve committed to writing a novel by the end of 2016. I don’t expect to be able to craft a final draft in that time, but I will have a completed a multi-thousand-word story, something I’ve never accomplished before. What follows is an excerpt. You can read the summary of the story as well as another excerpt here on the New Wrinkle Publishing writers’ contest page. (You can also vote for my novel there, if you want to help bring more attention to it.)

The mist tickles her hands and settles on her clothes. She smiles at the cold, weaving between people who don't know she exists. There's time for a bite to eat before next class.

Bright gold with angry red and black jars her in the midst of the grey. She cringes at the writing on the sign. Does she deserve Hell?

The words stick in her mind through lunch. She goes back.

There are two strangers lying in wait - one with the sign and one with The Book.

The one with The Book is kind. He says his name is Troy. Does he know it means soldier? He doesn't seem like one. At least not compared with the rough, loud other. Troy listens. She wonders if he cares or if it is only a subtle tactic. One must watch those with names like Soldier.