When we have clarity with our writing, we know where we are going, whether that is genre or the project. Having clarity in our writing is like going on a hike — there may still be some unexpected things, but there is path, and we know where the path will lead.
Variety in writing is what keeps us sane, er, what allows us to avoid boredom. Whether this is working on two projects at the same time or manipulating the genre, etc. for a bit, we are excited by the chance to do something a little different, to play in a different world, to get to know a different character.
One of the things that we must keep in mind, when exploring the ideas of clarity and variety in our writing, is that we need to be in balance. Having lots of clarity when writing, but no variety makes a project trudge along. It can feel more like work than work feels, and it often ends up with us longing to abandon the project. The caveat to this is that by edit 5+ we probably ALL feel like we are trudging. That doesn’t count.
If there is too much variety, it can be difficult for us and our readers to really have a sense of who we are, what our stories are about, why they should try AT ALL to follow us along our career. And too little variety leaves our books predictable, makes them seem the same, coerces our writing into the land of the formulaic.
Clarity and Variety in the Writer’s Life
There is another part of clarity and variety that we need to understand as well. This is how the life we have influences not only our stories, but our abilities to write as well. Let me explain.
When I first started writing, like many of you, I was invigorated by the idea that I could create a world and characters, that I could transform ideas into story. I dove into craft books, took notes on what I was reading, analyzed movies. It was exciting and became even more so when I discovered that my genre had a name (women’s fiction) and that there was a group forming to provide support to writers of this genre. I had a writing group, and we shared pages and lessons learned, and writing nourished me.
It continued this way for a while and even increased for a couple of years. And then, for the last two years, everything I have written has felt like folding laundry (because that’s the worst chore and is NEVER done). My WIPs sat there, like wrinkled clothes, taunting my inability to just finished the bleepin’ job. I was going through some mental health issues, but as I started to heal and understand, the ability to write didn’t get better. It was just this weekend I finally figured out why.
When I started writing, the stressors with my then day job were high. Add to it the undiagnosed depression, and writing became a way for me to escape, to pretend everything was okay and just create. But I’ve gotten well, my job now both satisfies and fulfills me, and the thing that used to drive me into my WIPs faded to non-existence.
I didn’t know how to create when I didn’t need to escape. I imagine that it is similar to how people who learn to create through leaning on drugs or alcohol might feel. I had to see if I could trust myself to enjoy life and writing.
A very wise friend suggested the initial reframing may be best transitioning from escaping to expanding the joy that I now experience in my life to something broader through writing, that striving toward joy in several capacities was something that I was worthy of, was something that could help me transition back into the creativity I’d come to miss. That exploring ways to add variety through story and character and world could become my new clarity.
The balance of variety and clarity in the writer is just as important as the balance in the writing. Writers who have a chaotic life, bounce from one thing to another phase in their lives, may benefit from a steady, consistent genre, world, kind of story to provide a bit of clarity. And those who are in a very clear, relatively reliable place in their lives may long for a bit a variety, which they can add into their writing.
Are you balanced or imbalanced with the writing you are doing? How do you strive for well-adjusted harmony between you and your writing?
Tasha Seegmiller believes in the magic of love and hope, which she weaves into every story she creates. She is passionate about helping women nourish their creativity and is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. The former high school English teacher now assists in managing the award-winning project-based learning program (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. Tasha married a guy she’s known since she was seven and is the mom of three teens. She is represented by Annelise Robey of Jane Rotrosen Agency.
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You are doubly influential in my writing life: first, with your webinar on the WFWA website, and now with this insightful post. I am the Judith who asked you a question about Pinterest and Instagram and, for the first time in watching a webinar, you (the presenter) actually answered it before "time ran out." I have one self-published historical novel and am working on a linked story collection that is almost complete. Now the scary marketing part begins - so thanks for the upbeat blog post.
I'm so glad to hear that what I have said has been helpful. I also have to recommend a new book, It Needs to Look Like We Tried by Todd Petersen. It is also a linked story collection that may appeal to what you are writing.
Your assessment of how writing as an escape disappeared as you had less to escape from is astute. I have found that my own clarity in what to write next has been affected by the fact that two of my manuscripts will actually be published...and thus there will be some expectations that weren't there before while I was writing. I've also suffered from sharing early chapters and then being given advice to go another way, resulting in a completely different book. So clarity is my problem at the moment. Variety I've got in the bag--I've been fooling around with screenplays while I'm stuck on novel writing.
I didn't know you were playing with screenplays! I think they could be lots of fun. Isn't it funny how we have the varying complications with writing. No wonder there are so many advice pieces out there - there are equal numbers of people who have combinations of complications.
Love this subject, Tasha, it's so important, and I haven't seen anyone talk about it.
Because I don't plot much, I don't get bored - but my mind takes care of it - I'm always shocked to realize I'm writing something very different, new and something very hard!
Writing in two genres helps, too - WF and romance - keeps me interested.
I have heard the dual genre writing is really good for them. I'm not sure I could write romance without being sickeningly sweet or cliched.
Wow! Thank you for this. It's a new (to me) and fascinating perspective.
Thank you! It's definitely an interesting idea to explore.
I think I'm mostly balanced.
Ack, I need more clarity! Variety I got oodles of. Thanks so much for focusing in on this important topic, Tasha. Great post!
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Writing as escape is such a tried and true gift! I can't do it that way. When I'm floundering in depression, one of the things that adds to it is that I have an extremely difficult time writing from there. My writing comes through joy. I can't seem to tunnel through sadness the same way to get to it.
Yes, Tasha, like Julie I have plenty of variety, which has made for some very interesting scenes. The clarity has been my challenge lately. working to re-discover the joy of writing (before publishing, social media, marketing, deadlines) has helped.