Risky Business

We cannot escape fear. We can only transform it into a companion that accompanies us on all our exciting adventures…Take a risk a day—one small or bold stroke that will make you feel great once you have done it…..Susan Jeffers

I remember one summer our parents took us to a small river to swim. It wasn’t a deep river by any means, and we were all good swimmers. The water was fast and forceful in one place, and we would let the current jostle and bounce us downstream. Once we made it through that particular spot we’d climb out of the water, hurry back up stream and repeat the process. It was both fun and frightening. Even though we’d butt up against large rocks, and suffer some scrapes and bruises, it was so much fun we didn’t want to stop.

The fun we had outweighed our fear of the bruises and skinned knees we got along the way. Our perception of things is often distorted when we are young. I’m pretty safe in saying that the water wasn’t nearly as fast as we imagined it to be or else our parents wouldn’t have taken us. Yet our fear and excitement were very real to us.

Some writers take risks in their writing while others tend to play it safe. Can I really do that? we sometimes ask.

Bitter, Sweet was written in both third and first person. After my novel came out another writer commented that she didn’t know that could be done in YA fiction. Choosing to write it in both third and first person felt right at the time.

One thing I try and strive for in my writing is to find that place where the story I’m telling feels right for me. Sometimes that takes a bit of doing, but I work at it until I’m able to bring it to the place where I’m comfortable with each sentence and paragraph. I need to believe the story and feel it with all my heart. I try not to worry if some editor is going to like it. That’s a sure and fast way to stifle creativity. If the story I’m working at dictates that I take some risks I need to at least try it out, because sometimes those risks end up making me feel great about the story I’m working on.

Writing is not about playing it safe. It’s about writing the best story we can in the best way we can. It’s about listening to what our heart tells us is right, and if that sometimes means taking risks don’t we owe it to ourselves to give it a try?

This question is for writers and non-writers– Do you often take risks or do you always play it safe? Do you agree with what Susan Jeffers said, that taking one small risk will make you feel great?

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  1. Fear of the unknown is what makes me cautious. But when I take risks, I almost always feel better for doing so. I believe writers can’t be successful unless they take risks.

    • Fear of the unknown is a real biggie for many of us. I think I’d rather take risks when it comes to writing more so than real life. Hmmm. If only I knew the outcome I’d probably be braver. ;)

  2. I agree Laura. We need to take risks from time to time in order to grow. We have to step outside our comfort circle. And it always feels good once we do. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face… we must do that which we think we cannot.” BTW I felt the third and first person POV worked well in Bitter, Sweet.

    • Everyone who’s ever looked fear in the face seem to say the same thing, that they were glad for the experience.

      When I wrote Bitter, Sweet I didn’t think of it as taking a risk by using third and first person until I saw it from that other writer’s perspective. A few readers were initially shocked by this as they’d too had never seen it, but I’ve been told they quickly adjusted.

  3. Yep – I’m a risk taker. Anything that looks like a challenge – I’m there. If something looks impossible – I gotta give it a shot. But not bungee jumping. Not sure how it relates to writing, in my case. I’m the tough as nails Construction Manager capable of intimidating with one withering stare or snarl – but I write for kids. Go figure. When I started writing in July 2007 – never gave it a 2nd thought – just did it. I suppose you could say I took more chances with my 2nd book, RECKLESS by including authentic pirate dialect & I’m getting some (hilarious) forehead slapping feedback from readers about the book’s ending – which I guess, in itself, was risky. Fortunately, I’m blessed. My wife Deb is always cool with my ever-evolving quest for adventure – something she has tolerated (usually with a smile) for 35 years. (Hah! My sons are the same way – poor Deb.)

    • I’m not surprised to hear that you’re a risk taker, Dave. If you’d have told me you always play it safe I’d have thought you were pulling my leg again. Maybe you should try Bungee jumping…You’d have the experience to write about sometime. ;)

      I think if we want our fiction to stand out we have to try new things and take some risks. We’ll learn soon enough what works and what doesn’t. Readers will be sure to tell us.

  4. thank you for this piece…it is just what I needed to read today.

  5. I’m a risk taker, Laura. There have been a few times that I wish I’d played it safe, but it hasn’t changed me much. I weigh the costs against the benefits and take the plunge if I think it’s worth it. I’m not speaking only about writing, in fact, mostly about life in general.

    As far as your choice of writing in third and first person in Bitter, Sweet, I would testify that in reading, I found it smooth and seamless. Great writing, Laura…

    • It surprises me to hear you say that you’re a risk taker, Carol Ann. That’s SO interesting.

      Glad you thought the switches in my novel were seamless. Thanks so much! You always know how to make my day. :)

  6. As I get older and weathered there is less fear. You eliminate negative possibilities before you start. Control the variables. If you can’t don’t go there. Taking risks is never safe and always foolish. But taking risks is not the same as trying something new or a new approach. Change does not have to be synonymous with risk taking. Daring to attempt what you may think is over your head is not a risk. It is an extension of courage and a rebellion against mediocrity. What was that book decades ago? Dare to Be Great or something like that.

    • Welcome to my blog, Carl and thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. You make some excellent points. Change doesn’t always involve taking risks although many people probably view it otherwise, especially those who openly admit to not liking change. I think when it comes down to taking risks we have to be willing to accept the outcome even if it is not the outcome we were hoping for.

  7. I used to think teenagers were notorious risk-takers, and I was great at going wild, but writing has taught me differently. As it turns out, I’m a risk-taker when it comes to thinking, but writing the words brings out all the timidity in me. My biggest fear – what if nobody understands what I’m trying to say and hates this so much they make bonfires with it? But, slowly, I’m attempting to re-train myself into taking the same risks in my writing that I do with my thinking and actions. Even if the outcome is a bit muddled, I have no doubt I’ll feel all the better for trying.

    • If you’re writing is telling you to take some risks than you owe it to yourself to explore this. If you don’t like the results it can always be changed again. I’d rather try something new than spend my time wondering how it would have turned out had I tried.Writing takes time to develop. We need to work toward finding our voice and developing a style uniquely all our own.

  8. I’ve pretty much played it safe for most of my life; but have been more inclined to stretch beyond my comfort zone the past few years. There is definitely growth in that, and confidence built to keep going.

    • Welcome to my blog! I think as we age we become more brave than in our youth. I often find myself expressing my thoughts more openly now than I ever would have thought to do when I was younger. Going beyond our comfort zone does help us to grow, and that’s what we’re here for–to grow and learn.

  9. I like to challenge myself. Not sure if that would be classified as taking a risk. If I had to think what scares me the most, it would be marketing. I do it though. Even if I’m sic all day before the interview, I still force myself. So I guess my risk taking does take place, just in a different form. Great post, Laura. Happy Easter.

    • I see challenging ourselves as taking risks. Not all risks are big or dangerous or life changing. If it’s something that makes us feel uncomfortable then I think there is a certain element of risk there.

      Marketing a book is tough. Most authors will agree with that, but I’m sure you’ll do marvelous. Happy Easter, Joylene.

  1. Risky Business (via Laura Best, author) « Change is Never Ending

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