Dan Wells – If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try Something Completely Different!

Write what you love to read. Though normally excellent advice, there is a caveat. It is only true if you have read widely and experimented with your tastes. Readers tend to be a conservative lot, finding a genre and sticking to it for no other reason than they liked something similar in the past. As writers it’s necessary to force ourselves to read and write outside of our own comfort zone.

Dan Wells has commented on Writing Excuses regarding how he used to write a lot of really bad epic fantasy. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t get something sellable on paper. He wrote epic fantasy because it was what he and his friends liked to read, but he just didn’t have the knack for it. For whatever reason, the toolbox Dan possessed didn’t suit what he was trying to do.

There is a reason that many authors tend to write books that are very similar. Each genre has its own traditions of tropes, archetypes, and structures that require slight variations on the writer’s toolbox. For example, a thriller writer needs an innate sense of how to manage fast pacing but doesn’t necessarily need to know how to compose grand description or the ability to inspire a sense of epic scale in the reader. The epic fantasy writer needs the opposite. Once you find a comfort zone, it is human nature to want to stay there, but please don’t fall into that trap.

There were two different approaches to Dan’s problem. Either he could have analyzed not only his own skills but also the expectations of his audience and genre and then worked for years to change his innate talents and learned skills to suit the mold. Or, Dan could explore different genres and find a new home.

Upon encouragement from his writing group, Dan began experimenting and eventually wrote his debut novel, I Am Not a Serial Killer. Though I am not a horror fan, I read the book as a means of stretching my own horizons and thoroughly enjoyed the work. I ended up consuming the entire series. It caused me to experiment with the genre myself, and though I am not a horror writer, I do have a few new tools added to my box because of it.

Dan was able to find his new home in horror and be successful enough at it to be able to quit his day job and write full time. Apparently his sales were so great in Germany that he and his family ended up moving there. How much time could he have wasted trying to force his way into a genre that didn’t suit?

Because of Dan, I have been more willing to experiment with my own writing. In fact, I intend for my first three books to be in widely differing, if related, genres. If at first you don’t succeed, it may be time to try something completely different.


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