Friday, February 18, 2011

Be brave and write dangerously

Let me tell you about the best test I ever took in college.

It was the final for my fantasy literature class. This class sounds better than it really was. Our teacher was a quirky old man that looked like Colonel Sanders and couldn't stay on topic for the life of him. Normally students like teachers that don't stay off-topic. This was eighty minutes of rambling hell. When it was nearing finals week, I was actually kind of worried because we rarely talked about fantasy literature and all Colonel Sanders did was tell us that he rarely gave high grades.

Test day came. We sat at our desks with pens and blue books, waiting for inevitable doom. The prompt was handed out and it went something like this:
Write a thoughtful, multi-page answer to one of two following questions. One choice is safe, the other is dangerous. 
  1. "Fancy quote about fantasy writing reflecting reality" according to Ursula le Guin. Support this claim using at least three works we've read over the semester. 
  2. Write the beginning of a fantasy story. Make sure to follow the conventions we've been talking about all semester. It must take place in one of the following locations:
    • Billings, MT (the "magic" city)
    • A farmland
    • Two other places I don't remember
I just remember sitting in my desk, watching as everyone else in class immediately started jotting things down in their blue books. Apparently they didn't need any time to make a decision.

At first, I almost answered the first question. But then I remembered something: I was a creative writing major. If there was anyone in this class of literature people that could write the beginning of a fantasy story, it was me. Sure, the other prompt was definitely the safe one, but if I had to be stuck in that room for two hours writing something, I was going to be writing something fun.

Everyone I talked to after class chose the first essay question. Even my fellow creative writing majors. Apparently I was the only one brave, or stupid, enough to take the plunge.

In the end, I got an A in the class. Some of those other people didn't.

Can you guess what the moral of this story is? One choice is safe, the other is dangerous. Sometimes we need to pick the scary choices, even if they don't seem like a good idea at the time.

Everyone in that class could write a decent answer to the first essay question. A lot of writers can write a candy coated fantasy with teen girls looking for love and elements of Harry Potter. Sure, it's not original, but it's trendy and might get you published.

Maybe it's hard to be brave enough to make something new and edgy. But you should do it anyway because your work will suffer if you don't. Don't make yourself write something because you think someone else will like it better. Write the things you want to write. Have fun! The next time you're dipping into cliche, challenge yourself. Cliches are all about being safe, but if you break away the walls, you can find something fresh.

Have you ever made the dangerous choice? Was it in your writing, or just in life? What were the stakes? Tell me your story in the comments.


Kate Robertson said...

Gee I thought everyone would have chosen the second option.

Sarah Robertson said...

Nope! :)

Max said...

Once upon a time I thought I was going to be an actor. Then I realized I had to make a choice between my two passions, the other of which was writing. It was really scary but I was glad I made it. Very glad.

Brenna Braaten said...

1. Awesome post and good points.

2. (random) You might want to mention Billings is in Montana.

Sarah Robertson said...

Decisions like that are always tough--I'm glad you're happy with the one you chose though. Especially since it brought you here, to the writerly/dark side. :P

Sarah Robertson said...

1. Glad you enjoy. :3
2. Yes, that might be a good choice.

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