Okay I might be exaggerating a tiny bit with the title of this blog, but it is an intimidating transition nonetheless.
I am a picture book author. I’ve been writing picture books for the past six years and my seventh book, Monster Needs To Go To School, is scheduled to be released this July 26th. So it’s easy to say I am comfortable writing in this genre. I am now in the middle of writing my first Young Adult novel. Why subject myself to writing in a genre that is so different to what I’m comfortable with?
BECAUSE it’s uncomfortable.
Writing is no different than any other activity. The more you do it, the better you get. And just like any physical activity, if you keep doing the same thing, you have a tendency to plateau. It is important as a writer to push yourself out of your comfort zone if you want to break through that wall and be better than you are. For me writing a YA is doing just that; pushing me to become a better writer.
When I first came up with the idea for a YA novel I said to myself, well that’s a cool idea, too bad it can’t be a picture book, and I put the idea aside. But the idea would not go away. It was like a constant itch that scratching would not cure. I made up every excuse a writer uses not to write something.
- I don’t have the time.
- How can I write a believable story without pictures?
- I write stories with 500 words, how could I possibly write 50,000 words?
- I don’t have the discipline.
The excuses went on. But none of those excuses was able to cure that itch. So I looked at the excuses I was making and tried to answer them.
- If I have to have pictures to explain my story, then how do I train myself to be a more complete writer?
- If I don’t have the discipline, then how do I train myself to become more disciplined?
- If I can only write 500 words then how can I train myself to be able to write more?
- If I don’t have the time. . .this is actually a poor excuse, but I had to throw it in because everyone has used it at some point, including myself. If it’s something I really want to do I’ll find the time.
I noticed these excuses come from the same place that limit a person from running that 10k even though they have been running a 5k everyday. Fear of failure.
What if, after spending so much time writing a YA novel, it sucks? I never had that fear when writing a picture book, and let me tell you I have written some crappy stories. But for some reason this idea that it would take longer to write, that it would be harder to do somehow put more weight into that fear. So I treated it the same way I would if I were going to run a 10k. I decided to do it.
I sat down and I wrote 500 words. Then it became 600 which soon became 1000. Eventually I stopped counting the number of words I was writing every day and focused on writing the scene in my head. When it came to writing dialogue, I let the fear of not sounding natural go and had a conversation with my character. As I sunk deeper and deeper into my writing I realized how stupid the fear of failure is, and how dumb it was to limit myself based on the fear of failure.
Because here’s the thing: there is no failure. It’s not that failure isn’t an option. It’s that failure doesn’t exist, it’s an illusion. Yes, my novel may not see the light of day. In fact statistics tell me it probably won’t, but publication does not define success. I have become a better writer after writing this novel. A year ago I never thought I could write 1000 words, let alone 50,000 words. A year ago I never thought I would be able to write a scene without the help of an illustrator. A year ago I was a picture book author and now I’m a novelist, too.
Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Do something hard BECAUSE it is hard. It is the only way you will become better than you are. If you only write middle grade or YA, then write a picture book. Maybe you’ll learn how to tighten up your writing when you put the word count limit on yourself. If you only write picture books, then write that novel. Perhaps your ability to create a more visual scene will grow. When I finished the first draft of my YA I found my ability to revise my picture books changed. After writing a novel, rewriting a 500-word story was no big deal—something I never would have discovered if I hadn’t pushed myself.
Don’t let the illusion of fear stop you from growing as a writer. Do something uncomfortable until it becomes comfortable. Then do something else.