Tuesday, July 3, 2012 | By: Lynn


In July, the world watches performances of top athletes competing at the 2012 Olympics in London. From gymnasts to swimmers to beach volleyball players and wrestlers, the athletes present the results of their extreme efforts and commitment to be counted among the best. Some will stand among the medal winners and some will go home with just the experience. But for all, the risk is the same – to invest in their dream, knowing nothing is a sure thing. When it comes to writing, also, risk is a part of the landscape.

Risky Business
Risk is all around us. Even if we do nothing but sit on the sofa and stare, we are at risk of the inexplicable and uncontrollable nature of life hitting from anywhere. Though risk-taking may be thought of as a valuable attribute, it gets mixed reviews and risk-taking is something many of us tend to shy away from. Most of us want safety and a sure thing. Of course we do. And when we take a risk, anything but safety and a sure thing could happen.

Writing is an exercise in risk-taking. There’s no guarantee our writing will get published, so we risk failure of a sort. If we want to promote our writing we need to learn how to be effective at all kinds of social media. If that’s a new experience, it may seem like risky business at which we’re doomed to make blunders. If we write a character in a nontraditional way, it may be a reason for an editor to reject the book. It’s a risk to do something different, even if we feel in our heart it is the right direction to go. There’s a chance no one, editors or readers, will agree that we did something different but spectacular. The stunning concept you love may be seen by readers as ridiculous, laughable. For instance, Stephanie Meyer had a different take on vampires and wrote them as sultry and tragic but good-hearted. Though her books found wild popularity, not everyone is crazy about the vampire characters found in the Twilight series.

But risk-takers are also innovators. An article in the New York Times discusses Steve Jobs and how his risk-taking enhanced the possibility of innovation.

“Studies of innovation come to the same conclusion: you can’t engineer innovation, but you can increase the odds of it occurring. And Mr. Jobs’ career can be viewed as a consistent pursuit of improving those odds, both for himself and the companies he has led. Mr. Jobs, of course, has enjoyed singular success. But innovation, broadly defined, is the crucial ingredient in all economic progress — higher growth for nations, more competitive products for companies, and more prosperous careers for individuals. And Mr. Jobs, experts say, personifies what works in the innovation game.”

Good things can happen when a risk is taken, but it doesn’t necessarily come in a nice package, as Job attested to in a commencement address mentioned in the same article.

“It turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me,” he told the students. Mr. Jobs also spoke of perseverance. “Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick,” he said. “Don’t lose faith.”

Why Take Risks
If you’re a writer, at some point you decided you wanted to write. Just making that claim, if only to yourself, is risking pain and suffering because you may trigger inner conflict and find lack of support for your endeavors. When you put your writing out into the world, again, you’re practicing risk-taking. You can minimize the level of risk by making sure you have honed your skills and feel confident in investing in your dream. Still, you risk humiliation and shame. That’s enough to hide your light. But writing doesn’t work like that. It’s a bud vs. the flower kind of thing, as the well-known Anais Nin quote alludes to: "And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom."

Creativity longs for innovative expression. When we take risks in our writing life and in our writing, we feed our creativity and it can respond with out-of-the-box ideas. Taking a risk by plotting a story that will require you to do research by daring to reach out to expert sources could instill greater confidence and improve your skills, not to mention infuse your story with authenticity and a powerfully authentic voice.

Creative Coach Sharon Good writes on her website about taking risks and points out advantages, regardless of the outcome.

“Life doesn't come with guarantees. That can make it risky and perhaps scary, but it's also what makes it interesting and fun. Even if you're not a gambler by nature, there's something exhilarating about taking a risk and winning. As you go through your life, the parts that are going to stand out are not the ones where you plodded along safely and did what was expected of you. The shining memories will be the times when you took a leap of faith, whether you won or not.”
It’s Hard
I’m not someone who gravitates to risky things like race car driving or skydiving. I like the safe life. But when I first started working as a reporter I heard a commencement speaker suggest graduates, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” I told a coworker, “I do at least 10 things every day that scare me.” It was a very challenging time in my life, it was hard, and it was, well, scary. But it was worth the risk of humiliation and shame and being wrong to improve my writing skills and gain confidence and live my dream of writing. I’m still working at it. And I take inspiration from people around me who keep trying to live their dream, even when it’s hard, and especially from other writers, such as Tyler Tervooren. A self-proclaimed professor of riskology, Tervooren has compiled a list of 99 quotes regarding taking risks. One of my favorites from his list is from T.S. Eliot:
“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”

Are you one of those people who risk losing a sense of security – risk going too far in someone else’s opinion – to bring out your words in to the world? Tell me about it…


R.T. Wolfe said...

Writing can be like standing in the middle of the mall with your pants down. But if not, what are we here for?
Thanks for the post, guys!
-R.T. Wolfe
Author of the romantic suspense, Black Creek

Lynn said...

LOL! Good analogy, R.T. Thanks for visiting!

Rebecca C. Wright said...

Great post Lynn.

I think the scariest thing is taking the chance to put our thoughts on paper with the idea that someone else will read and "see" us as we truly are. It is very much like R.T. said...standing in the mall with your pants down.

The comfort comes when we know we are not alone but have fellow writers and risk takers to talk to:)