True, part of the reason this time was so good for me was because I was surrounded by art museums and beautiful books. Another reason this time was good was because I had so few friends there that I had to learn to trust my own instincts. But, I have come to realize that the main reason I learned so much during that time was because I dared to experiment with my writing.
All of us know a bunch of rules about writing. We know and have discussed that these rules can be broken, and I'm sure a lot of us can figure out times when it's good to break these rules. I honestly believe, though, that until we TRY these things, until we prove ourselves right or wrong, we haven't really internalized the skills.
In Paris, I wasn't constantly working on my novel. Instead, I was writing strange short stories in strange ways. When I read Proust, I tried to write like Proust. When I read Sara Gruen, I tried to write like Sara Gruen. I wrote at night and in the morning. I tried to tell everything and show nothing. I tried to show everything and tell nothing. I used semi-colons. I used colons. I used all caps. Iranwordstogether! I basically tried every zany thing I could think of, just to see what the result would be.
The results of trying all this weird stuff, oddly, was that I freed myself and felt for the first time--eight years into my writing--that I had found my own voice. By proving how limitless my keyboard really could be, I stopped having to rely on tricks that other people had already developed. Instead, I wrote like myself.
So, dare to try things out, even if you already think they're not going to work. Prove it to yourself, and really understand all the nuances of such weirdness.
What experiments have you done lately?