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April 11, 2019

The Pros and Cons of Experimenting

Ball of sparks with text: Experimenting: The Pros and Cons

We’ve talked before about the perspective of being flexible as writers. The processes and techniques that worked on our last story might not work on our next one, so it can be beneficial to fill our writing and editing toolbox with more options.

However at the same time, there are more risks and potential for problems when we try something new. We might not even know how to judge whether we’ve succeeded or not.

In other words, trying something new comes with a host of pros and cons that we should think about before taking the leap. Let’s take a deeper look at some of the pros and cons of experimenting. *smile*

The Pros of Trying Something New

We can experiment with our writing process, our editing process, our publishing process, our marketing process—or any aspect of our lives.

Trying something new might be beneficial…

  • If We Want More Flexibility and Options:
    As I mentioned above, even if our current processes work, it’s good to at least be familiar with our options. It’s likely that in the future we’ll have to try something different, so preparing ourselves with more tools in our toolbox—in advance—can prevent panic when our usual methods don’t work.
  • If We Want to Learn More about What Works for Us:
    Maybe our current processes work “okay,” but something else might work even better. The best way to learn this is to allow for tweaks, adjustments, or even flipping our usual strategies on their head.
  • If We Want to Learn What Doesn’t Work for Us:
    Sometimes the best way to learn about what works for us is to eliminate the strategies that don’t work. Maybe we’ve heard the advice to wake up early and try writing first thing in the morning, but we’ve dismissed it because we’re typically a night owl. Chances are that we’re right, but we won’t learn if that advice really won’t work for us unless we try.
  • If We Want to Learn What’s Possible:
    If we let fear of trying new things hold us back, we can feel regret. We won’t know what’s possible until we try, and we don’t want to fail to live up to our potential because we allowed fear to control our life. We can feel empowered just by pursuing success, even in the smallest way.
  • If We Want to Grow Out of False Beliefs:
    We all have false beliefs about ourselves, and some of them hold us back. Trying new things forces us to grow, whether the end result is a success or not. Challenges help us learn just how strong, creative, courageous, etc. we are, which helps dispel those false self-beliefs that limit us.
  • If We Want to Differentiate between “Good” and “Bad” Advice:
    When we first start any new endeavor, such as writing, we can have a hard time telling when advice is good or bad. Trying different things can expand our experiences enough to be able to judge when an instructor or mentor is relying too much on a “there’s only one right way” approach to write, plot, draft, develop characters, edit, get published, increase sales, etc.
  • If We’re Stuck in a Rut:
    “Good enough” can lead to boredom and stagnation, while every new thing we try gives us the opportunity to enjoy something new. For example, if all our story ideas feel too same-same, we might explore random writing prompts to trigger new storytelling pathways or we might play with a completely different genre, seeking ideas beyond our usual resources.
  • If We’re at a Dead End:
    If we’re completely blocked—not just failing to succeed as much as we’d like, but stuck completely—trying something new might be the only way out. Remember the saying about how insanity is doing to same thing over and over and expecting different results? Experimenting with something different interrupts that loop.

The Cons of Trying Something New

On the other hand, there are risks with trying something new and different—especially when the tried and true is currently working “good enough.”

Trying something new might be harmful…

  • If We Waste Too Much Time:
    Of course if we try something and it doesn’t work, it can seem like the time is wasted. We might even have to delete or undo all our hard work. That said, even “failure” can be beneficial if we learn something new…such as what not to do in the future. *grin*
  • If We Increase Our Self-Doubt or Fear:
    If our experiment fails, that failure can weigh on us, adding to our feelings of self-doubt. All that can make us less willing to try new things in the future, making us less flexible and taking away our options and potential.
  • If We Fail and End Up Worse than Before:
    If we try something new and it doesn’t work, we might end up in a worse spot. We might now have less time to finish a project, or we might have less money to accomplish our goals.
  • If We Take on Too Many Risks:
    The unknown can expose us to new ideas and benefits we’ve never thought of before, but leaving the safe and familiar behind can also expose us to danger and risk. Most of the time we worry about risk, the bad things never come to pass and more good comes out of the situation than we could ever foresee, but sometimes… Sometimes those bad things do happen.

4 Steps to Balancing the Pros and Cons

There are a lot more benefits than negatives when it comes to trying new things, so we don’t want our automatic answer to be “no.” But at the same time, we want to try to avoid the worst of the problems.

These 4 steps might help us find the right balance between risk and reward…

Balancing Step #1: Prepare for the Unknown

Before taking the plunge on an experiment, we can try to learn more about what makes it work or not work for others. We can analyze the risks and figure out how we can minimize them.

This step can help us avoid the con of taking on too many risks. The best thing we can do is educate ourselves, so we’re going into the situation with our eyes wide open on what those risks are.

Balancing Step #2: Decide on Our Mindset

There’s a big difference between trying something new and expecting to master it versus just expecting to learn something new that might be interesting. Neither one of those mindsets is right or wrong, as depending on our situation, we might need to master what we decide to attempt. But knowing our mindset can help us determine the next few steps.

This step can help us minimize the con of increasing our self-doubt or fears. While our self-doubt is likely to take a hit with any “failure,” a helpful mindset can alleviate the worst of it, as we look for the silver lining in the experience.

Balancing Step #3: Determine Our “Investment”

We’re not likely to love the change immediately, as we’re wired by evolution to not like trying new things that could be dangerous for us. So just like dealing with any type of risky bet, we want to find a balance between giving it an honest shot and not losing too much on something that’s not working for us.

This step can minimize the cons of wasting too much time and ending up worse than before. Deciding on a “cut bait” point limits our damages—especially if we know our time or money limitations—by figuring out how much we’re willing to (and can afford to) invest in advance.

Balancing Step #4: Set Reasonable Goals

Knowing the risks and the investment we’re willing to commit can help us set reasonable goals. Especially when we don’t know enough about the possibilities of the new approach, it’s hard to judge success or failure.

This step can minimize all of the cons, including that of increasing our self-doubt and fears. As I shared in the link above, reasonable goals can be set up for us to win with low expectations and limited measuring sticks.

Wish Me Luck! My Personal Experiment

This whole post is really just a way for me to gear myself up for starting down the surgery path again, this time with experimental approaches. For those who haven’t been part of my health-issues journey, let me back up…

Writing (and life) is about experimenting—how can we balance the risks and rewards? Click To TweetThree years ago, I had the first surgery to attempt to fix a recurring infection problem in my jaw. That summer marked what should have been the last surgery I needed.

Instead, the infection came roaring back, disintegrating all the bone in the area in a matter of days, all while I was on two very strong antibiotics. My surgeon and I tried many different approaches to get rid of this antibiotic-resistant infection, including an especially nasty (but good at getting deep into bones) antibiotic that destroyed my ability to walk for a year and a half.

Two years ago, after an almost-put-me-in-the-hospital bout of C.Diff. due to all the antibiotics, we made our second attempt. No infection flare-up, but my body rejected the fix anyway.

Now, after a year-and-a-half rest to let my body recover, my surgeon is trying a third time to repair my jaw—this time with an experimental super-rare metal that’s supposed to trick my bone into regrowing.

I’ve gone through the balancing steps above, reading the scientific papers (as this method is so new that there’s almost zero documentation), deciding on a mindset that “we won’t know unless we try,” etc. But there are no long-term studies of how well this might work or what the risks are—and after everything else I’ve gone through, it’s scary to try again.

Sooo… Wish me luck. If all goes as planned, my surgery will be around the time this post goes live. And believe me, I’ll take all the luck, good wishes, and prayers anyone is willing to share—because sometimes we do have to experiment to move forward. *smile*

What experiments have you tried with your writing career or in your life? How did they work out for you? Can you think of any pros or cons to add to our lists? Do you have any other advice or insights into how to balance the pros and cons? Do you have any advice for me? *bites nails*

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Anne Kaelber
Anne Kaelber

Jami, First, I’m sending my positive vibes and what healing energy I can transmit. 🙂 It takes a courageous soul and/or hitting our own real-life “Black Moment” to take truly scary steps. I will hope for your speedy recovery — and that this DOES work for you! Regarding experimentation, I feel like that’s ALL I’ve done for the last 4+ years! I joke that I “created my own Master’s degree” in story structure. But if that were the case, I’d be repeating a lot of classes. *grin* I’ve lost track of the number of methodologies and authors explaining them, which I’ve tried. I think the closest I’ve come to truly “grokking” this topic has been through Michael Hauge’s Story Mastery (thank you for highlighting his workshops here!). My biggest challenge is knowing when to “cut bait”. I *hate* admitting defeat — even if it’s just for (yet another) method I can’t get to work. I had the Turning Points for this novel all worked out and even tried writing those scenes first….47k into the work and I see plot holes! (There’s M. Night Shyamalan’s next movie. lol) I’ve been stuck on those plot holes for a while. Even with the emotional wound thesaurus, I’m having trouble tying the wound and the exterior arc together. To me, that says either the wound OR the right exterior arc isn’t right. Now, if I could just figure out how to *fix* the darn thing. Thanks for another post which reminds me I’m not…  — Read More »

Sieran

Omg! I’ll probably comment more later, but good luck!!

I need to make decisions on surgeries too, but they are sex-reassignment surgeries. Some of them I know I want, but some others I’m still not sure yet. It helped to look at photos of surgical results, but I’m still undecided about which exact procedures I want. Gender dysphoria is bad, but at least I’m good at dissociating and pretending that I have/ don’t have certain physical traits.

Katy
Katy

Good luck Jami! I’m not the most vocal reader, but I’ve loved this blog for probably almost two years. Your worksheets COMPLETELY changed the way I write, and I’ll always be grateful.

I’m very good at experimenting and taking risks – I’ve been through a great deal of hardship, and if there’s one good thing that’s come of it, it’s that I now have a mindset that essentially reminds me that there’s not much the world can throw at me now that’s worse than what’s already happened to me. Every time things get bad, I think of all I’ve experienced and remember that if I’m strong enough to live through that, I can live through this too.

I hope for a speedy recovery for you!

trudi taylor

Listen to your gut – even on the bad days and keep a journal of your symptoms. I wrote a series of essays on “What a chair means” as a way to cope with my distress of multiple surgeries and umpteen failed treatments. Using what you can to give you hope also keeps you feeling in control. Best of luck (PS – some of my best pieces of flash fiction were written during this 4 year time)

Elizabeth Randolph

WIshing you well.

Darianne
Darianne

I hope your issues with your jaw will get resolved. Issues like that – I have a comparable issue with my big toe on my left foot, – yeah I know it’s not a jaw but lingering pain no matter where it is in your body – can really drain your energy. Hope you will do well and improve on the stats for this new surgery. As for experimenting, a couple of years ago I decided to accept writing blogs for Mercedes lovers. With my background in cars and technology, someone would have to tell me I have a flat even when my car produces sparks because I’m driving on my rims but I was confident enough and this particular company wanted to see some of my work and after some revisions came up with a blog about tuning a Mercedes. I thought it wasn’t half bad but they obviously didn’t like it cause I never heard from them. Then a friend says “you wrote it as a woman, no man is gonna like that”. Now I might think they were right and I never wrote about cars again. The other guy who actually got the blog writing gig wrote a few and then their website became mute. So I posted my blog on Medium where most of my stranded ships are posted and lo and behold I average about 40 readers a week! Yes, I’m a woman, thank you. The Mercedes gig was in 2016. At the end of…  — Read More »

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[…] E. J. Runyon recommends using what you know rather than writing what you know, and Jami Gold examines the pros and cons of trying something new. […]

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