Friday, September 4, 2009


A couple of weeks ago, Michelle and I were chatting about writing, and I told her that my recent six months in Paris was probably the time I grew the most as a writer.

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?


  1. Great post . . . and I'm jealous of your time in Paris.

    I think the way I constructed the chapters for my one project was pretty experimental, and the plans I have for a soon-to-be WiP.

    I really believe we need to challenge ourselves, try new things, keep what works, and chalk up what doesn't work as a life experience.


  2. Davin, I'm so glad you did this post! It's wonderful to know that we don't have to color in the lines.

    I did a lot of experimentation in college, but I believe another period of experimenting is in order. My creative voice has waned as of late. I'm thinking some short story experimentation should help!

    Great posts this week! Scott and I have enjoyed the break, hehe. :)

  3. Dared to experiment with your writing. What wonderful words. I too am trying to do this Davin. I love the way that you did it. I think I am going to try your way. It sounds like a lot of fun. Thanks for the idea and thanks for all your FANTASTIC posts. :)

  4. Dude, you make me want to run home and write! I have not been experimenting, and it shows.

  5. if the goal of the post was to be liberating to writers, you succeeded, david. :) my mouth hung open at all your zany experiments, b/c i've never done anything like that. i thought i was pulling out some stops with my italic flashback scenes. :) will have to think outside the screen, i can see.

    Where Romance Meets Therapy

  6. Sic months in Paris! Like Scott, I am so jealous. I'd love to spend long stretches of time in places with lots of history and culture.

    Haven't consciously thought about experimenting with my writing...but I will now.

  7. Scott, you've also mentioned stories with alternative endings. That's pretty experimental too! I really admire that.

    Thanks, Michelle. And, keep in mind that not everything works. But, we learn from this even if it is a big failure. You can't lose! :)

    Robyn, I'm glad you're trying to experiment as well. I know you're submitting a book now, which, for me is a great time to play around with other stuff. It distracts me during the waiting. I got a positive rejection to my full manuscript yesterday and I also sent out a couple more. :)

    Annie...I want to read some of your writing! Send me something! :)

    Jeannie, just try stuff. It sounds like you are starting to do that already a little bit and that's great. I haven't even mentioned some of the other things. But, I've been inspired by John Lennon, who once cut up a bunch of recording, threw them up in the air, and then spliced them together wherever they landed next to each other. Pieces of that are in their great song "I Am The Walrus."

  8. Yes, I know everything doesn't work. In fact, most of it didn't in college. Still, I can't lose. I learned lots of stuff!

  9. I've been writing my endings first. It's worked like a charm a few times.

  10. Whoa, Davin. You are so subversive! I didn't know that about you. I haven't done anything that radical.
    However, I did an exercise another writer suggested of picking a scene from my novel and adding the POV of an animal. The idea is not that you would leave that scene in but that you see the characters and what's happening from an unexpected perspective. It's fascinating what turns up.

  11. I want to talk about your post and how it's true that letting go of the rules and expectations can sometimes free our voice...

    but all I can think is ...

    SIX MONTHS IN PARIS?!?! Holy Mother of Zorg!

  12. Haha, Tess! I know, when I met Davin he was in Paris, and I first thought he lived there permanently. I was so totally jealous. Then I found out he really lives in LA, which is close to where we are!!! So isn't that cool!

    Still, a lot of things about Davin make me jealous. He's just awesome that way. :)

  13. I guess I haven't done any real experiments lately with my writing. I'd like to start with six months in Paris ;) You are so blessed!

  14. Davin - whoops, forgot all about that alternate ending thingy. It really was fun doing the three different endings, especially since from the middle of the book on, the experiences of one character changed in each version. I may have to try that more often and then just pick the ending that works best. The alternate endings can be published much, much later after my lengthy writing career comes to an end sometime after the age of 103! : )


  15. Back in my youth, lo these many years ago, I read a lot of "experimental" fiction and tried a bunch of different ideas out in short stories. It was great fun, but I can't think of any specific sorts of experiments I did. I still play around with structure in short stories (when I have time to write them), because that form is easier to experiment with than a novel, at least for me.

    In my current novel, I think I'm being adventurous enough by taking the characters from "Hamlet" and telling a different story with them. I've told myself that in my next book I will pull out all the stops, but I'm not quite sure what I mean by that yet. Mostly, I constantly remind myself to be brave when I write, and no matter how weird the ideas along the way, I owe it to myself to try them out.

  16. Mmmm, Paris. I was there for about three days in grade 9, but when you're that young, you don't really appreciate the beauty and culture.

    Sometimes I like to make up words. My spell check hates me. Then I press 'ignore' :)

  17. About as daring as I've been recently is when I wrote yesterday. Wow! But, I think it's cool that you tried all those different writing styles.

  18. Rebecca, that's a great experiment. Does it make you sound like Yoda? Great experiment that is.

    Tricia, that's a great exercise! I'm going to dig up an excerpt of my dog and goose story. I rather like it, I do admit. :)

    Tess, It was a pretty magical time. I can't tell you how many times I'd just stop in the street while I was there, take a deep breath, and just be so grateful for the experience. Of course, it kind of broke me upon coming back. I keep trying to figure out how to get there again.

    Other things that Michelle is jealous of: my constant writing insecurity, my wiry hair that sticks straight up when I wake up in the morning, my ability to listen to the same song on my iPod for a month without changing it.

    T. Anne, the beautiful thing is that the experiments can happen anywhere. But, I don't recommend the cold room down the hall from my lab. Your hand shakes too much.

    Scott, someone else recently mentioned that I could publish my more experimental stuff after my career is established. Ha! I'm too impatient.

    scott g. f., that is great advice. With my new stories, I've been trying to tell myself a similar thing. "Don't worry that everyone is going to think you're totally screwed up. Write it anyway."

    Morgan, making up words is an admirable one. I have done that, but I'm always convinced to take them out by my readers. I think only one time--no two--did I leave them in. One was "electrone."

    Justus, writing is the first and most important step, by far, so stay out of your car, put out your cigar, and there you are, ready to rar.

  19. For Paris to fuel your writing, I think you must have to spend a good deal of time there. When I went, I was too fascinated with it all to even attempt putting a pen to paper. Instead I stored it all inside and now find myself wishing I'd at least journaled about it.

    I thinks it's wonderful you tried so many different things. How did writing like Proust work out for you? The idea intimidates me :)

    But to be able to use that time to find your voice is invaluable. Sometimes it feels like knowing what doesn't work for us is the only way of being confident of what does. Thanks again for the interesting post!

  20. Does it count that I've mistakenly done most of these things? Seriously though, this is interesting and maybe something I need to try out. Nice post.

  21. Everything I write is an experiment....and some of it doesn't work, that's for sure. But you never know until you try it!

    I love when I read something unexpected, where you can tell the author really took a chance on how he chose to tell the story. Current favorite: The Book Thief.

    (I am experimenting with writing a Young Adult novel right now.....just kind of for me, to see if I can....I might loose steam, but for now, it is making me grow.)


  22. That's such a great thing to do. I did some of that in college. I haven't done much recently. I'm changing the POV of my story and experimenting with what else will work and what the possibilities are. We'll see how that works out.

  23. So, now I officially know that, when I am in college (hehehe), I'm doing a study abroad program in Paris (or, possibly, London) and I'm going to take the least amount of classes I possibly can and write and experiment. Really.

    Great post, Davin!

  24. Every time I stop by this blog I get a dose of inspiration. I love the idea of experimenting with words in so many different ways...definitely have to try it. Maybe in a pre-writing exercise, to get my creativity rolling.

    Davin, I'm impressed that you found a way to fit a six month trip into your life. So cool! Do you think you were inspired primarily by the time and freedom to experiment or was the location (and all the new sensory input!) also key to your experience?

  25. Cheryl, It was definitely both the free time and the surroundings. Paris is very inspirational because the art there seems to be less affected by the industry. Or, at least the industry is more in line than my own personal tastes! I was there for work, though, so all of my time wasn't free. I had a fellowship to go do some research in a lab there.

  26. I see. So this wasn't a "writing exclusive" trip, altho the writing definitely benefited. Thanks for sharing!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.