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Inkcouragement: The Tyranny of Trying Something New

Jessica Spotswood, editor of A Tyranny of Petticoats, is here with nine of her fellow anthology authors to dish some advice on trying something new -- whether it's a new genre, a format, or writing habits. 

Inkcouragement: The Tyranny of Trying Something New

Welcome back to Inkcouragement! We hope the holiday break has treated you and your writing well--and I'm so excited that the first post for 2016 is based on A Tyranny of Petticoats. If you haven't seen my review, it's a fantastic anthology all about kickass girls throughout American history. I absolutely loved it, especially because many of the authors (like Marie Lu and Marissa Meyer) departed from their usual genres to try their hand at short historical fiction. 

Nothing's scarier than trying something new, especially when you're worried that you don't know what you're doing anyway.

Jessica Spotswood stopped by, along with nine fellow authors, to give us a little advice on trying something new when it comes to writing. Take it away, Jessica!

Hi! I'm so excited to be at Forever Young Adult for this stop on the A Tyranny of Petticoats blog tour! I asked my authors to give some advice on trying something new, writing-wise. Here are their answers (and mine!):

J. Anderson Coats

When I was a baby writer, I wrote the same story again and again. The settings varied and the characters all had different names, but fundamentally the plots were identical. Then I got a life-altering piece of writing wisdom from Elizabeth Bear, a fantasy writer I admire very much. She said the writerbrain is like a toolbox, and when you take on the challenge of writing outside your comfort zone, you learn to use new tools. Each genre or age range or literary form requires different skills to make it work, so you have more strategies at your disposal for your writing as a whole. You won’t need every tool for every story, but the more tools you have, the more vivid and organic your writing becomes. --- J. Anderson Coats

Y.S. Lee

When Jess invited me to write a short story for A TYRANNY OF PETTICOATS, I was simultaneously thrilled and terrified. I’d spent the last few years writing a quartet of mystery novels set in 1850s London. Plus, I hadn’t written a short story since high school (and my high-school stories were exactly as clichéd and unformed as you might expect). Still, I wasn’t about to say no. In fact, I decided that since I was exploring a new prose form, a new geography, a new culture and a new time period, I might as well try out a new point-of-view, too. I gave myself plenty of extra time to experiment, mess up, get writer’s block. But the funniest thing happened as soon as I severed myself from my first four novels: the words just came. First-drafting “The Legendary Garrett Girls” was some of the fastest, most gleeful, most liberating writing I’ve ever done. And I’m convinced it’s because it was all so very fresh and new. --- Y.S. Lee

Katherine Longshore

I write long.  My books are long.  My e-mails are long.  Even the notes I send my kids to school with are long.  So for me, attempting a short story and staying within the prescribed word-count was a challenge, to say the least.  It felt like trying to stuff a marshmallow into a pin head—pieces kept oozing out and overflowing, ultimately creating an unshapely, gelatinous mess.  Until I found the single, golden kernel that was the seed of what the characters wanted to say, and from there the story formed around it, layer upon layer, like a pearl.  The process taught me to trim inessential details, to scrape away detritus to find the truth, and to choose each word with care—things that I hope improve my stories, even the long ones. --- Katherine Longshore

Marie Lu

Short stories have always terrified me. As someone who has never published a standalone novel before, let alone a short story, I am incredibly intimidated by a format that demands relating so much in so little space. But flexing a new muscle also flexes old ones, often in surprising ways. I had to force myself to think of a story's structure in different ways, which has now changed the way I approach chapters in my full-length novels, and I also learned to be bolder with story topics and plot points, something I hope I can carry over into my other writing. --- Marie Lu

Kekla Magoon

Writing is like any skill--you aren't just born knowing how to do it perfectly, you have to learn and practice and experiment to get really good at it. When you feel comfortable with one kind of writing, the same kind of learning still happens over and over as you branch out to try new things. I used to write a lot of historical fiction, and I always wrote realistic fiction, but a few years ago I decided to try a fantasy novel for the first time. I had to learn to think differently about my writing process, my research process, and storytelling in general. Instead of imagining what it would have been like to live in a different time and place, I got to invent whole worlds! It was really fun to use my imagination in a different way, and I have done several fantasies now. Writing a short story for A TYRANNY OF PETTICOATS was really fun because it allowed me to dip back into one of my favorite genres--historical fiction. --- Kekla Magoon

Beth Revis

I think it's important to always explore new things. A writer should never be stagnant. While all my previously published works have taken place centuries in the future, this short story goes the opposite direction, into the past. But while there's a huge difference between interstellar space travel and a train journey into the Wild West, the thing that stays the same is that we're all human. That's why it's important for writers to stretch the boundaries of their imaginations--because it always comes back to those some basic human qualities we all share. The wider we see the world, the more we know we're not all that different.  --- Beth Revis

Caroline Richmond

I'm a creature of habit who resists change like a cat fleeing a bath, and so trying something new writing-wise can be very scary to me! In fact, when Jessica first approached me about writing a short story for A TYRANNY OF PETTICOATS, I was terrified about signing on. My fear kicked in big time: I hadn't written a short story since college! And all of them had been really bad! But in the end I knew I'd regret turning down such an amazing opportunity--and now I'm so glad that I said 'yes'! I had so much fun doing research for this story and coming up with the plot. Not only that, I learned a lot about how to establish a setting and characters very quickly---because you don't have a lot of time to do that within a tight word count! And so the moral of the story is: if something writing-wise scares you, don't let that hold you back! ​ --- Caroline Richmond​

Robin Talley

I recently wrote my first-ever non-realistic story -- leaving behind the laws of physics that had bound all my writing before and tiptoeing instead into a world where ghosts wreak havoc and spooky objects appear out of thin air. At first I was anxious, wondering if  I was doing it right. Then I realized there is no "right" or "wrong" way to write any given genre -- as long as you're passionate about what you're writing, it'll come through on the page.  --- Robin Talley

Elizabeth Wein

I'm about to embark on a project which is professionally new to me: Middle grade non-fiction. On the one hand, I feel completely unprepared. On the other: haven't I done this before? I've written five work-for-hire novels for a younger age group than my own novels are aimed at; I've written a PhD thesis and plenty of academic papers and articles for journals; I've done a ton of research for my historical fiction. So maybe this shouldn't frighten me so much. In preparation I've just bought three packs of index cards, so I can fall back into my (now charmingly dated) scholarly notetaking and organizational habits. Mainly I'm in awe of the amount of research the project is going to require, but experience has told me that the hardest part is getting started. We'll see how it goes. --- Elizabeth Wein

Jessica Spotswood

When a friend suggested that I organize and edit my own anthology, I was both intrigued and intimidated. I'd helped new playwrights develop their work as a dramaturg in grad school, I'd done some freelance editing, and I'd worked with an inspiring and exacting editor at Penguin on my trilogy. But I'd never edited short stories before. I hadn't even written a short story since college. However, I loved the idea of a feminist historical anthology - short stories about clever, interesting girls throughout American history - so so much. I wanted someone to do it. Why not me? I had friends who immediately jumped on board, including several NYT bestsellers. Was I up to the task of editing writers I admired so much? I took the leap. And I have learned so much from this project, from the insight of our Candlewick editors and from the fourteen gracious authors I've worked with. It's definitely sharpened my editing - and writing - skills. It takes a certain amount of faith in yourself to try something new, but you can fake that. And if you've got a good team behind you - whether they're editors, agents, or critique partners - they won't let you fall. --- Jessica Spotswood


Have you tried something new with your writing, lately? How did it work out? Is there anything you're afraid to try, or are you suddenly inspired to switch from contemporary romance to fantasy/sci-fi? Let us know in the comments!

Thanks to all of the fantastic authors who stopped by! Don't forget to pick up a copy of A Tyranny of Petticoats, available now. (Psst: keep your eyes peeled for a giveaway!)

Stop by the other blogs on the A Tyranny of Petticoats blog tour:

Katie’s Book Blog
The Book Cellar X
Forever Young Adult
The Book Smugglers
Please Feed the Bookworm

Jennie's photo About the Author: Jennie Kendrick lives in San Francisco and has an excessive fondness of historical fiction, spreadsheets, turquoise sparkly things, and bourbon. She is also a literary agent. When she's not reading, writing, or writing about reading, she cooks obsessively, and thrifts for vintage everything.