Expandin Your Skill Set through Interests and Hobbies by Greg Cannioto
Post date: Jan 30, 2018 6:34:19 PM
Even in graduate school, where I have been pushed to try new things and have read and written more in a few years than possibly my entire prior academic career, I had trouble writing outside my niches. I’d lean toward research papers, prompted writing, and various forms of safe, comfortable literary criticism. A year ago, I’d done almost no creative writing, and even in my essays, I’d tread over familiar theories, analyzing different characters in the same way I had before, never taking any risks. It would get the job done, but nothing more. I’d develop my writing portfolio without actually developing myself. Now I’ve written a screenplay for a short film, a chapter or two of a possible novel, and a few short stories, and beyond that I’m reaching into new areas of theory as well, both in what I read and what I write. I’ve spent some time analyzing how I began expanding my horizons, and I’d like to share my conclusions, and hopefully expand the skills of other writers as well.While the basis of my change in academic attitude likely began with graduate school a couple years back, the greatest change was more recent. A year ago I was not a creative writer at all. One day, an idea for a short story popped into my head. I wasn’t a creative writer, I told myself, but the urge to get the idea out of my mind and onto paper didn’t leave me. Eventually, I made myself sit down and write. It ended up being no more than a few pages of a pretty simple, lazily formatted scene between a few characters. Also, it was fanfiction, so it wasn’t even that original. As an example,
“Wait, wait! This is ridiculous, I’ve been to shops all over Tyria that sold me salvage kits without a problem. Aren’t you just losing sales by doing this?” I began to get frantic, and desperate for a need for a logical explanation I began to rant at the shop owner about this practice. After a while, I had forgotten why I was there, or about the lecture that at this rate I was clearly going to miss (2).
The short story features the dialogue between one of my characters (right) and some random merchant (left) who wouldn’t sell me stuff.
This is certainly not the basis for a novel that would be the voice of a generation, but then again that’s not what I was looking to do. I wasn’t trying to write my big break as a creative writer, I was just trying to have fun and accomplish the goal of writing enough to get the story out of mind at two in the morning. That happened, thankfully, but I also I had fun, and it shook off my worries about creative writing. Now I’ve started dabbling in science fiction (a lot of which I’ve read but never considered writing before), and even wrote a short screenplay for a graduate class. In focusing on what I knew, but in a genre I didn’t know, I was able to give it the old college try, on my own terms. Now, a year later, I’m feeling like I can take on a lot more as a writer, and it even allows me to look at what I read in a new way. As per my example earlier, for me the big break was to get started with something low stress and personal, before implementing what I’d learned into my academics. This can be a bit difficult, but I think as writers and academics we should always be trying something new. Getting started might be tricky, but there are some tricks that might push you in the same direction.
Let’s get the possibly bad news out first, you’ll need to read and write on your own initiative. Get ready to work based on your own self-discipline. It’s like going to the gym for writing. If you’re like me, and crave deadlines, due dates, and instruction, this might be a challenge. That’s why I realized how helpful writing that silly fanfic was, and why I suggest you focus on your own interests. I know focusing on something you’re familiar with sounds contrary to what I’d said earlier about expanding your horizons, but consider that you can write on the same topic while addressing a different genre, or vise-versa. For example, if you read a lot of science fiction (like me), and have written a lot of fiction (not like me), try expanding into non-fiction in the area. If there’s a cool new movie on that novel you loved a few years ago, compare the two in an essay. Write a rhetorical analysis, a research paper, or dabble in the writings of those who’ve written on some of your favorite works. It’ll make writing in these areas in general easier and more familiar.
Again, the difficulty is that unless you’re literally in your dream class, a lot of this will have to be done on your own time. That said, writing for yourself has its benefits. You can write however or whatever you’d like, and at least if your first few attempts at something new aren’t groundbreaking, it’s not like anything is getting published or graded. It will certainly help you gain confidence before trying something where grades or professional credibility are on the line. In fact, without fearing grades, perfect formatting, and writing toward an audience, you’ll likely get to discover a bit of your own writing style. That’s an important lesson in itself. Don’t worry about good or bad, just focus on what you can do and use that knowledge to do new things. Few people start out being great at something, but over time you’ll broadly and deeply expand your areas of expertise. No one is going to judge you for the steps you take along the way.
If you like video games, TV shows, children’s books, or anything, you can expand those interests into your writing. Given enough effort, these interests can help you academically and professionally, as it will expand your comfort zone. Writing a fanfic or entering that fiction contest might not seem relevant to a dissertation you’ll write in five years, but you’d be surprised. Whether you’re an English major or MBA, a freshman straight out of high school or a PhD candidate, writing of any kind will develop your abilities in some way. Writers are often asked how they became a successful author, and besides luck (something I can’t really advise people on) they always say that they read and write a great deal. If you do the same, the myriad number of skills you’ll gain may surprise you. When next you have time for some personal development, grab a favored book or film and approach it in a completely new way. It’s certainly easier than learning from scratch.
“Brain Lifting Weights.” Clipart.Guru. Clipart.guru. https://img.clipart.guru/clip-art-of-brain-lifting-weights-brain-lifting-weights-clipart-235_237.jpg
Cannioto, Gregory. “Salvaging Relationships.” https://docs.google.com/document/d/1leBJb9NXK0XYsUSDovLi0v1O9uT9gGYVEnHFBz18U6k/edit?usp=sharing
Guild Wars 2. ArenaNet, Accessed 23 January 2018. Screenshot taken by author.