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Writing Outside of the Box

Early on in my technical career, I was contracted by Microsoft to write some of their certification exams. When they were releasing a new product, it was a brilliant way to push the technical partners to train and adopt the new product and also convince their customer base that there were partners ready and able to help them implement the new technology.

The questions went something like:

You are updating your Microsoft browser to the latest version and restart your computer. When you put in your password, multiple dialogue windows pop up and disappear faster than you can read them. You are quite certain a nefarious group has taken over your computer. What should you do (check all that apply)?

  1. Go for a walk
  2. Hurl the computer out the nearest window
  3. Buy an Apple product
  4. Introduce yourself to the visitors

Well, not really like that because I distinctly remember trying to use the word “nefarious” in one of my questions and having it stricken by the editors for being too colorful. My admiration goes out to all the teachers, professors, and lecturers reading this because it is so hard to write good exams (yes, I’m thinking of you, Read Between the Lyme, Vicki, Brenda and many more).

I’m thinking of this exam writing because I read an interesting post by Jack Canfora about trying a different style of writing when you are stuck or want to get out of a groove. In the post, The Virtue of Walking in Different Shoes Jack tries his hand at writing Bob Dylan lyrics and extols the practice of writing something entirely different as a way to break away from our habits.

It reminded me of a great post that I recently saw from WritingfromtheheartwithBrian, The Best Laid Plans where he wrote a short story instead of his usual thoughtful essays. And I thought of the post from Todd, There is Try: Why Yoda Was Wrong where he tried songwriting even though it was outside his comfort zone.

So, here’s my question for you:

You are feeling like writing doesn’t love you any more or maybe the other way around. Your adjectives no longer sparkle and you feel exhausted by the thought of taking one more try at coming up with the witty post that you know you are capable of. What should you do?

  1. Go for a walk
  2. Hurl the computer out the nearest window
  3. Buy an Apple product, or frankly just buy anything that will distract you.
  4. Try writing something different – a poem, a menu, something in the 3rd person, some dialogue with a character that is your polar opposite.

P.S. This is my attempt at humor, which is not my comfort zone for writing. For another example, I’ve tried writing some verse on my personal blog in a post entitled: Writing for a Different Result. I also post on Mondays at the Heart of the Matter blog. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter @wynneleon

(featured photo from Pexels)

52 thoughts on “Writing Outside of the Box

  1. I love the sentiment here, Wynne. When I find myself stuck in a creative rut, I do find myself drawn to trying something different. Lately, that been silly anecdotes, like the circus peanut serial killer. The beauty of personal blogging is that none of us are beholden to a practical style, genre, or topic. Trying something different is all part of discovering our voice.

    1. I love how you put that trying something different is part of discovering our voice. Wow, that really resonates with me. And you are right that we’re lucky we have the latitude to do that. Thanks for a great comment, Erin!

  2. I love this, it really works! I know that when I’ve felt stale with my art, learning some new technique or trying a different style really helped rekindle my fire. I highly recommend it to others, there’s no rules in life saying we have to stay doing the same thing for the rest of our lives!

    Explore, have fun and play! It’s good for the soul!

    1. What a great point you’ve made to extend the practice to your art as well. I love that, Tamara! “Explore, have fun and play” seems like really great advice and a way to live. Thank you, my friend!

  3. I love your creativity here — pushing yourself to explore unchartered territory – LOL! I think you “do funny” very well, btw! And if I needed evidence, your hilarious multiple-choice question proves my point. You mean hurling the computer WAS NOT a legit response? Dang it! Truly…tho…this rang true about the writing funk that we can all find ourselves in: “You are feeling like writing doesn’t love you any more or maybe the other way around. Your adjectives no longer sparkle…” Yes! I want those sparkly adjectives. And your point? Change things up to discover joy? Good advice, I say! 🥰

  4. I’ve always had several writing projects going on at once. Children’s fiction, nonfiction, a novel, my blog — and for five or six years a sports parenting advice column. If I’m feeling my writing is flat, I bounce to a different project. I also grab my sketch pad and try to draw something in front of me. Yesterday, I got my flute out…

    1. Wow, EA – what a cool array of creativity and projects you have. And then you add the flute into the mix? Wow, so fun and great examples of how we can change it up. Thank you!

      1. You were joking of course but sometimes I would like to throw the computer out of the window especially when outlook or word or excel or all of them together display “not responding “… actually now that I am thinking next time it happens I can go out for a walk 😅

  5. Somebody once said “If you are stuck in writing, try to write the worst piece that you can think of”. It’s really a way to free your mind and unleash your creativity. Thanks for this! It is a great piece of inspiration for rainy days!

    1. Hi Ivy, I realize this idea! Thanks for sharing. I can see how it can possibly dispel that internal critic before it even gets started! Hello Critic, I know it’s my worst writing…and, I’m doing it on purpose LOL 😆

  6. I’m guessing you used your experience to form your questions. You have been there in the situations to know what is a constructive way to test new employees.

    I was once in an interview for an internal promotion and interviewed by my line manager and another manager. It was a competency based interview. Explain a time when I went the extra mile etc etc. I answered simply saying that you both know how competent I am in this role (interview for our own jobs), I don’t want to sit here and lie to you and say something that ticks the boxes but isn’t reflective about my aptitude and performance. Anyway, I didn’t get the job but a fortnight later I was seconded to another department and my salary nearly doubled!

    I’m of the mindset that you talk with people or communicate some way and simply just being honest, results with a far better relationship all round. We sometimes think other people won’t relate but they do. *Disclaimer* me and my bipolar rendered me disillusioned with people understanding but I was so so wrong.

    I saw a documentary on the Brontë sisters and even though they wrote fictional stories, all were cemented in real life experiences they had

    1. Be honest and draw from experience – what great advice for writing and for life. Thank you for sharing your story and that wisdom, Rochdalestu!

      1. You are very welcome 🤗 It’s just how I’ve approached blogging and life since I was diagnosed with bipolar. I didn’t have a clue what to do with the blogs but I just wrote my experiences and thoughts. It was a better way to catalogue and keep my thoughts together for reflection. I didn’t want to use social media as multitudes of people can see it and then it’s negative remarks and that. I liked that blogging meant it was there for me and if someone wanted to read it then they could. I learnt that I do write somethings that maybe are far out for some, but not for others. I also think a truthful explanation is relatable for others whereas if you embellished your thoughts and narrative then it can become disjointed.

        It’s not wisdom but I’m just telling you what you already know 🤗

        Pleased to meet you and I wish you a very enjoyable Wednesday evening

  7. Stuck in a groove – yep I know that feeling. Great tips thank you Wynne and you’ve given me several different blogs to read too 😊 🙏🏼

    1. Oh, I’m glad you liked it, Margaret! And yes, those are some wonderful blogs to check out. I really hope you’ll enjoy them. Thank you so much for reading and commenting!

  8. Thanks for the shout out Wynne. Definitely tempted to throw the computer through the window. But I’d go for a walk. But today looking out through windows while travelling sparked my imagination

    1. Oh, I love the idea of looking out the windows on the train. Beautiful, Brenda! Going for a walk is my go-to as well. Thanks for the lovely comment!

  9. This is such a great topic for writers, we all fall into ruts on occasion, and I believe the ways of diverting our thoughts are as plentiful as there are writers. I for one like to go for a walk, chocolate and coffee help, but I often resort to reading something inspiring by an author I admire. Sometimes I just start writing without concern for the topic and see what comes out. I like that you challenge yourself Wynne, and aren’t afraid to try new things, especially if they are particularly challenging. You inspire me! Hugs, C

    1. Oh, Cheryl – I love this point about reading as an inspiration. Also, hanging out with small children helps too, doesn’t it? When you talk about going for a walk, it reminds me of your John O’Donohue post. Yes, such great therapy isn’t it?

      And you inspire me, Cheryl! 🙂

  10. I’m impressed that you’re trying a new twist on your already great writing, Wynne! Your post is definitely humorous 🙂 Thanks also for the shout-out! It is much appreciated! I wish I could share a new tip on trying a different way to write or a way to stir up those settled creative juices, but I haven’t done much of my own writing in awhile. But, one thing I use sometimes with students just to maybe help them ease into writing and finding their own voices (on archaic notebook paper, of course!):
    One person starts a story. It can be about anything. They have maybe 2-3 minutes to get going. We stop and pass the paper on. The next person gets to add to the story …and so on. Sometimes, we have some pretty awesome and sometimes silly stories in the end! Students always seem to like this activity even if they are tentative at first. 🙂

  11. Thanks for the mention Wynne! 🙂
    I believe one could get good results and accomplish all the possible answers by throwing the computer out the window, then taking a walk to the Apple Store to buy a new computer. Set it up, then try writing something new 🤷🏼‍♂️😁

  12. First-time reader; I commend you for getting out of your comfort zone (I think we writers should adopt that more often!). When I find myself in a creative rut—as I am currently— I find that reading helps get the creativity flowing again (especially if it’s poetry or something grade-school age) though the thought of throwing my laptop or iPad out the window IS tempting sometimes! 🙂

    You’ve inspired me this evening; it’s been a while since I’ve written a poem. Think I might try my hand at poetry this evening. Thanks!

  13. As a technical writer by profession, in intrigued by other types of professional writing. I do user guides, install/admin stuff, API docs, and marketingesque what’s new content. Recently, we’ve started doing get started bits and it’s actually really hard to break the usual styles. My blog is already my outlet for my personal writing, rather than the technical stuff. But I’d never thought of my jobs writing as a foil for my personal writing. Thanks for a thought provoking post.

  14. Great topic Wynne. Writing outside the box is needed now and again especially if you start suffering from the “Writer’s Block”. A change of writing can move the train of the mind to be creative and never stop until the station has been reached in this case until you are done writing💯🔥

    1. I love this, Mthobisi, “A change of writing can move the train of the mind to be creative and never stop until the station has been reached in this case until you are done writing.” Yes! What a lovely way to put it.!

  15. Thank you for the tip for helping to get out of a writing rut (or lack of being able to write rut!) It’s one of the reasons I think reading and writing in many different genres helps us to improve across the board.

    In my own novel writing (yet to be published but hopefully in the next few years) I find benefit in reading books I like and those I don’t, from similar and across different genres, and from different authors. In writing I shall try to do the same when I seen to be stuck in my own head and not able to pick up the pen!

    Thank you! 🧡

    1. I love your tip to read things you both like and don’t like, Hamish! What a lovely way to get unstuck. And congratulations on your novel writing!

  16. I joined 2 different January challenges that pushed me out of my normal “box” and had a blast doing so. It wasn’t a routine that was sustainable long term, but for a finite amount of time it really helped me stretch and grow! I may have to look for another one to get me out of my rut once life slows down a bit more.

    1. I love this comment – about you taking on challenges and loving them. And also the note that they weren’t sustainable but still did the trick. Thanks, Dawn!

  17. Doing something different is beautiful… we add learning something new every week and going somewhere new once a month and every 90 days traveling to a new place , doesn’t have to be far just new. Newness and inspiration dance a beautiful dance.. I love it.. enjoy !

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