Challenging Myself as a Writer

I’m the kind of person who gladly takes up the gauntlet when someone issues a writing challenge. I love wrangling difficult writing prompts, stretching my writing muscles, stepping out of my comfort zone and trying new things. It’s terrifying at times, but the reward is often worth the struggle.

In fact, had I not dared to challenge myself to write steampunk a few years ago, I would not be looking at a traditional book release in less than two months. Back in early 2011, I was in the middle of editing my first complete fantasy novel—to much distress and frustration—when I was introduced to the steampunk genre. I knew immediately that I wanted to write a story in a mechanized Victorian setting. My brain started doing its thing, and before long, I had myself a concept for a steampunk novel, what would eventually become The Brass Giant.

However, I doubted that I could write it.

Up to this point, all I’d ever written was fantasy. I hadn’t read much steampunk, maybe two or three novels in all, but I was burning to write this story, to breathe life into the characters I’d created and build this fabulous mechanical city I’d envisioned. But I was terrified of doing it wrong. I worried that because I hadn’t been exposed to much steampunk that I’d commit some horrible steampunk faux pas and everyone would slam my book for it.

I really had no idea what I was doing.

But I did it anyway.

And now I have a book coming out with a major publisher because I dared to challenge myself.

***

Recently, a writing friend of mine threw down the proverbial gauntlet and challenged me to write a novel by hand, a page a day. Because I don’t have enough to do already—snerk—I, of course, accepted the challenge.

She brainstormed a couple of ideas before settling on a non-steampunk, non-YA story about an assassin who falls in love with the person they’re supposed to kill. Immediately—and I mean like damn near that instant—my brain starting storming up ideas for how to execute that idea.

Now, while I am excited to write this story and see where it leads, it poses several challenges for me. Not only am I challenging myself to shove yet another novel into my already busy schedule, this story has some very unique challenges that separate it from all of my other work.

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  • I have to write it by hand.

This might not seem like a big deal to some people, and it may seem weird to others, but that’s part of the challenge. The writing friend who issued the challenge is notorious for handwriting all of her drafts, and I just happen to have a Moleskine journal that needs filling. And at only a page a day, I shouldn’t suffer the ill effects of writing by hand for extended periods of time, so that’s a plus.

  • It’s not my usual genre, neither steampunk or fantasy.

This one is going to be strictly historical. Now, this is a small challenge comparatively. I love historical fiction, and ever since I read Robin LaFever’s His Fair Assassin series and started watching the TV show Reign, I’ve been wanting to write something historical (though both of those have a slight touch of fantasy, mine won’t).

  • It isn’t intended for a young adult audience

Everything I’ve written up until now has featured younger characters and stories intended for young audiences, either middle-grade or young adult. So writing a character who is older, even in their twenties, is new to me. I don’t know how this will affect my writing style, to be honest. I expect it might be darker, grittier, more complex, and with a lot more swearing. And sex.

  • There will be sex.

Okay, so I’m a delicate prudish flower when it comes to sex scenes in fiction. I’ve never written anything more steamy than a first kiss between teenagers, and when it comes to sex in books I read, it doesn’t take much to make me blush or get uncomfortable. Now, I’m not about to dive headfirst into some medieval erotica or anything, but this book will have sexual relationships and such, which will be one of the biggest challenges of writing this book, I think.

  • I’m not outlining anything.

Normally, I plot my novels extensively, writing up numbered outlines with detailed scene cards and such. For this book, I just have a general idea of what I think might happen, and that’s all I have to go on. I’ve experimented a bit with not plotting on another novel, but considering the complexity of this one, not really knowing ahead of time where things are going to lead is going to present some challenges as I get deeper into the plot. I may get ideas on the way for how the story should unfold, but for the most part, I’m writing blind.

  • Some secret challenges that will be a surprise for my select zero-draft readers.

Not going into detail here. Because reasons. ::winky face::

***

This book is going to be so different than anything else I’ve ever written, both in the method of writing and the actual content of the story. Whether it’ll end up being a good book, I don’t know. I might suck at writing romance. I might suck at writing this particular kind of character. I might suck at writing about the intrigues of medieval court. I don’t know. And that’s thrilling in a way. I don’t want to be the kind of author who plays it safe and writes the same damn novel twelve times over and just slaps a different cover on it.

I might fail miserably at this. But if I do, at least I challenged myself to try something different, and at the very least, maybe I’ll learn a thing or two along the way.

It might actually turn out okay. Who knows?

Do I doubt myself? Hell yes, I do.

But I’m going to do it anyway.

Brooke Johnson

Brooke Johnson

Brooke is a stay-at-home mom, amateur seamstress, RPG enthusiast, and art hobbyist, in addition to all that book writing. She's the author of The Brass Giant, a YA steampunk novel from Harper Voyager Impulse, and Dark Lord in Training, a middle-grade fantasy, as well as several other projects in the works.
Brooke Johnson

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