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Change Your Mind. Try Something New. Write Something Better.

Man with lightbulb for head [1]Lately, something’s been bothering me about the blog I’ve managed for more than four years: the person I was when I started the blog is not the person I am today.

Or more precisely, the writer I was then is not the writer I am now. I’ve changed my mind on a lot of key issues. I’ve gained a lot more experience. I just feel…different.

The blog is still useful for a particular audience, but it no longer feels authentic to where I am in my writing journey.

Do I continue to invest time and energy in the blog when it’s not as personally fulfilling as it once was? Do I shut it down and give up a readership of thousands? Something in between?

Whatever I choose, change is the key word.

Change can be scary because it involves risk, but it can also be positive when it forces us to grow and write something better. Here are some ways in which changing my mind over the years has helped me grow as a writer:

Writing in different genres has helped me discover my strengths.

When I first started writing seriously, short stories were the last thing on my mind.

I spent at least the first year focusing on picture books. I became insanely interested in reading them, and I wrote and submitted tons of work to small publishing houses. But I saw little fruit for my labours, and eventually my zeal died down. I began looking for something more fulfilling.

For a year or so after that, I dabbled in longer forms—some middle-grade chapter books and a bunch of novel concepts that went nowhere. I had a great time, but they weren’t very good.

Then came a couple of solid years of working on mainstream novels. I wrote two of them, but something still didn’t quite feel right. I was on the right track, but not where I felt wholly comfortable.

Three years ago, I decided to try short fiction after all. The more literary short stories I read and wrote, the more I began to feel I’d found my strength. My stories started being published in journals and anthologies, which convinced me I was on the right track. Now, I see myself as working toward publishing either a collection of short stories or a novel written in short stories (like Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad or Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge.)

It’s okay to change your mind about what you want to write, or what style you want to write in. Experimentation is key to finding out what you’re best at. And just because you enjoy writing in a certain style or genre doesn’t mean that’s the style or genre in which you’re going to be most successful.

Trying different writing processes has helped me find what works for me.

For many years I was an outliner/planner, mostly because when I didn’t outline, I inevitably got lost in my story and became so frustrated that I’d give up. It was only after experimenting with writing organically that I came to understand its benefits (especially if you’re writing in shorter forms). I don’t usually dive into a story wholly unprepared, but I allow myself to wander and go through many rewrites. I embrace pre-writing more; I’m less focused on what will make it into the final draft and more focused on ensuring I know my story as well as I can.

I also used to write exclusively on my computer, but now I write by hand in the exploratory stages. I’m less locked in to a particular process and more willing to let the process naturally fit the individual piece.

If you’re a plotter, try pantsing a short piece of writing for a change (that is, try writing without an outline). If you always type your stories, give hand-writing a go. Mix things up once in a while, and you might find some previously untried process works better for you, or for a particular piece you’re working on.

Changing my definition of success has helped me embrace the journey.

New writers always have a clear—and usually unrealistic—picture of what success looks like. Early in my writing career, I thought success would mean nothing less than publishing a novel with a major publishing house. That was before I had done much writing, of course.

Over the years, my definition of success has evolved. I now recognize that small victories along the way are just as important as big ones. Getting a story published in a literary journal or having someone approach you for a paid writing gig—these things are both encouraging and help you work toward your larger writing goals.

Although I’d love to one day sell a novel to a big-name publisher, I’d be just as happy to put out a collection of short stories with a respected small press. In both situations, I’d be pursuing a passion and seeing my work in print.

Don’t be so focused on achieving your big writing dreams that you miss out on the joys of the process. After all, writing is something we do because we love doing it.

Changing your mind isn’t always a bad thing, even if it means moving in an uncomfortable or unfamiliar direction. Change is evidence of your growth as a writer, and who doesn’t want to get better at something they love doing?

What changes of mind have you made that ultimately led to your significant growth as a writer?

Photo courtesy of Airik Lopez [2] via Flickr Creative Commons

About Suzannah Windsor Freeman [3]

Suzannah Windsor Freeman is a Canadian freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in The Writer, Sou'wester, Grist, Saw Palm, Anderbo, The Best of the Sand Hill Review, and others. She is the managing editor of Compose: A Journal of Simply Good Writing and Writeitsideways.com. She lives in Ontario with her husband and four children.