Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Getting Outside Your Comfort Zone

I was reading the new issue of the Writer’s Center's newsletter, Carousel, and found two great ideas for writers of any genre that I feel compelled to pass along:

1. This is from an interview with poet Rose Solari, and she’s asked for some writing advice. Among her suggestions is this:

“Read deeply and widely. Most of all, read outside of your comfort zone. Seek out work that frustrates and baffles you, as well as work you’re already pre-disposed to like. Do a taste-swap: ask a writer friend whose work is different from yours to recommend two books you ought to read, and do the same for her. There are all kinds of ways to keep your mind open.”

2. I found this idea thanks to a review of the book As You Were Saying: American Writers Respond to Their French Contemporaries (Dalkey Archive Press). Here’s how reviewer Jason DeYoung describes the book:

“The concept behind the recent book As You Were Saying is to have an author—in this case, French—compose a short story, generally of three to four pages in length, and send it to an American author who writes a short story responding to, riffing on, or collaborating with, the French author’s piece.”

Well, I say that sounds like a fascinating exercise, and the French element is interesting (perhaps it would be important to conduct this exercise over duck confit?), but two Americans would be fine, too. You and your writing buddy each write up a short piece (fiction, personal essay, poems—pick your favorite genre!). Then swap, and respond in some way to the piece.

Or, if you’re feeling anti-social, pick something that’s already published. I once wrote a response to Richard Ford’s wonderful short story “Reunion,” which was itself a riff on John Cheever’s masterpiece of a short-short, also called “Reunion.” Yes, mine was called “Reunion,” too…all part of the fun of the riff. The two slightly more famous “Reunions” can be found here.

As Jason notes at the end of the review, “To respond to someone else’s piece takes close reading. Even if you would not normally write about a man having a face transplant [one of the stories in the book], the exercise of attempting it might be enlightening; responding to a colleague’s story with your own story could give you space to play with foreign concepts and help you make new discoveries in your own writing.”

In the end, it’s about pushing yourself beyond your boundaries…isn’t that what art is all about?


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.