By Elizabeth Coldwell
Whether you realise it or not, it’s all too easy for your writing to fall into a rut.
This might not be so much of a problem if your writing is more of a hobby or a distraction from the Evil Day Job than a career, if you submit to the odd anthology here and there, or if you’re slowly working on that first novel. However, if you’re aiming to make a living from your writing, the pressure to churn out book after book, to build up your backlist and never give readers a moment to wonder when your next novel is coming out, can lead to a certain feeling of déjà vu when you read through your work. Just as importantly, it can also make you forget that, above all, writing is something to be enjoyed. If you’re slogging through the pages, rest assured the readers will be, too.
Even if you don’t notice that you’re in a rut, your editor should. All authors have certain words they tend to overuse, usually without being aware of it, which in the aggregate can dumb down otherwise good work and give it a feeling of tiresome over-familiarity. And I’m not even talking about the dreaded ‘that’ and ‘was’ which so many editors are on a mission to eradicate from manuscripts. Use the same verb three times within a paragraph, or repeatedly refer to your heroine’s ‘wavy, dark hair’ long after this characteristic has been established, and a good editor will flag this up. Some line editors will even highlight these words, making it even more obvious how often they appear—a sure sign you need to start reaching for synonyms.
But even ruthless editing can still leave your readers feeling like you’re rehashing ideas from previous books, whether you’re aware of it or not. So what can you do to freshen up your writing? Here are a few suggestions:
1) Change your writing routine
This might not be possible if you’re one of those people who, due to work or family circumstances, can only allocate a certain part of the day to their craft—but if you’re able to write full time, then do something different for once. Don’t shut yourself away in whichever room you use as your office; get out of the house and write. OK, so the writer with their laptop in the coffee shop has become a cliché, but it can actually do you good to be surrounded by other people as you write. Maybe you’ll see or hear something that inspires a story idea, and it never hurts to be reminded of the many ways people interact in the real world. You might worry that you won’t be as productive as usual, but I can never stress often enough that meeting an arbitrary word count every day doesn’t necessarily make you a good writer.
2) Try another genre
A lot of writers are very reluctant to write in anything other than the genre for which they have become known. They are afraid that by doing so they will somehow alienate their readers, particularly if they write anything other than contemporary romance. Of course, this suggests that perhaps it’s the readers who need to more flexible, rather than the authors, but that’s a whole other topic… However, you don’t need to go so far as to start (or stop, depending on where you’re coming from) writing male/male stories for a change of pace. There are lots of genres you can explore—ménage, Rubenesque, cowboy—that are hugely popular and don’t require you to go too far out of your comfort zone. Or you could try something that will take more research than you’d usually put in, like historical fiction set in an era you’re unfamiliar with. Who knows, you might even learn something…
3) Shake up your cast of characters
If your hero is always the alpha male who has more money than he knows what to do with and women perpetually falling at his feet, try writing about a guy who has to work hard, both for a living and to get the girl of his dreams. (Lord knows it’ll spare us any more dreary Fifty Shades clones…) If you write exclusively from the submissive’s point of view, try putting yourself in the dominant’s shoes (or thigh-high boots) for once. Switching the focus helps keep your writing sharp and forces you to think about a character’s motivation in a different way, which is never a bad thing.
Elizabeth Coldwell is Editor-in-chief at Xcite Books, where the titles she has edited include the National Leather Award-winning anthology, Lipstick Lovers. As an author, she has 25 years’ experience in the field of erotica, having been published by Black Lace, Cleis Press, Sizzler Editions, Total-e-bound and Xcite Books among many others. She can be found blogging at The (Really) Naughty Corner – elizabethcoldwell.