I was approached recently to participate in SantaCLASH. Chynna-Blue Scott is hosting a countdown to Christmas in which authors write Christmas-related short stories.
One catch: You had to write in a genre that wasn't yours and you didn't get to pick.
I was assigned to write a thriller.
A thriller. The last thriller book I read was... never. I have never read a thriller, I don't think. The last thriller movie I watched was Jack Reacher and I can't remember being more mad about my $10 ticket in the last decade.
I asked twitter to recommend their favorite thrillers and Dan Brown was overwhelmingly recommended. I haven't read Dan Brown, but I watched The Da Vinci Code and was thoroughly underwhelmed. I don't "get" the genre, I don't enjoy it, it's just really and truly not my thing.
And writing a thriller piece was hard. Like, really HARD. And I'm still not sure I pulled it off.
(This is not a fishing-for-compliments thing, I promise)
But I learned something from the experience.
1. I'm not a short story writer.
2. I'm a speculative fiction novel writer.
3. Writing short stories is a good way to "cleanse the palette"
4. Writing stuff that has nothing to do with your "real" stuff is a good way to "cleanse the palette"
I've stepped away from my novels to write character bios, alternate POV scenes, backstory chunks, etc. I've used these exercises as mental breaks, the palette cleansers of the writing world. They help me get a break from the big project, but continue to write.
Writing this ridiculously bad little short story was even better than those exercises.
I explored new ways of introducing characters.
I came to understand what's really important in setting up tension, especially when space is limited.
I forced myself to create just for the sake of creating - there was nothing to "gain" from this project. It was just something for fun, to be part of the community, but it doesn't further my writing career. (In my husband's words... "Why are you doing this? Other than to make yourself mad?)
But there's a good reason for it.
It helped me clear away my NaNoWriMo hangover, it helped me refocus on storytelling elements without getting bogged down in the love-hate relationship I have with my characters.
And I'm grateful to Ms. Scott for including me in this project. I'm honored to be thought of as a part of this community and I'm grateful for the chance to stretch my literary legs, even if I did so in a very clumsy and ineffective way.
I'm also going to do this more often.