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Swimming free of the hourglass

Breaking out of the Hourglass

I don’t know about other parts of my life, but when it comes to writing, I hate comfort zones.

I like to swim free, break the bounds of my aquarium.

The minute I’ve figured out a way to say something, a bit of craft or technique, I start searching for other ways. When I think I know enough about a character, I let him or her go in search of new ones.

I’ve read authors who hash the same thing over and over, who keep milking a premise or an idea till I know I don’t need to read any more of their books. I know what their next book would be about, and the next. While there is comfort in familiarity, there is no excitement. And my sedate self likes adventure when it comes to reading and writing.

Sometimes I feel like a particle of sand trapped in an hourglass, rising and falling in the same confined space– and that’s when I break out, write in a different genre, try an experimental narrative structure, read an anthology of poetry from cover to cover.

So do you like breaking out of the hourglass? Do you believe in smoking new words for a different pipe dream?

Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her literary crime thriller series, the Blue Mumbai, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency. Both The Blue Bar and The Blue Monsoon were published in 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • Peter Nena says:

    I break free. I like unpredictability.

  • Nice, interesting presentation, D. And on your other post, I actually do edit as I write. =) I’ve appreciated your loyal support. You’ve been with me from the earlier days, when I ventured out here in March. Thanks for giving the new “kids” on the cyberblock a hand up.

  • Bea Embers says:

    I loved this post, it’s refreshing to hear from writers who write in so many different styles & genres 🙂

  • An author I’ve been reading for years is like that, same old, same old and I like it. It gives me a comfortable, warm feeling to curl up with one of her books. But I also like venturing into new territory with both my reading and writing. Otherwise I might get stuck in a rut. 🙂

  • beetleypete says:

    Despite trying hard to ‘swim free’, I cannot escape the influences of my youth, and the writers that I love. They are inside me, a part of me, and their legacy will forever linger on, in any writing I attempt.
    Similarly, the teachers of my youth, their emotions, and impact; their unconscious suggestions, all still remain…
    Regards as always, Pete.

  • Loved this post. I was told by a couple of respected editors and a publisher that writing outside a particular genre makes it difficult for your readers, because you can’t be easily classified. I have two published books that are as different as can be, and am working on two more that are also widely divergent. I didn’t listen to the advice because my writing reflects different sides of who I am. My blog posts are also totally different, but I do categorize the posts so people can look for what they like. Your post is a welcome affirmation that successful writers can contribute in widely different ways.

  • poetryshack says:

    I guess one would have to know what their “hourglass” was to break out. Not sure what mine is.

  • Its Me! says:

    I know exactly what you mean! Very skilled writing.

  • I break out by writing in different genres. Many thanks for stopping by my blog.

  • Rupali says:

    Great Wordings 🙂 Like it so much

  • Great post. I had an awesome literature teacher growing up (who also happened to be my uncle) and he was always getting us to write differently. It’s dangerous to be comfortable, I think.
    One assignment I remember he gave us was to write a poem without using the same word twice. No average phraseology, no tried-and-true. Exercises like that I feel are important.
    I tend to get caught in each moment too long when I write. My stuff tends not to move as freely as it should, focusing too closely on each detail. I try to follow the Bradbury approach of writing less consciously, at least as far as turn of phrase.
    Anyways, great post. 🙂

  • yakinamac says:

    I love the hourglass metaphor. I hope I have it in me to keep being original, but I’m only on my second book and can already feel similarities between my characters. It can be difficult when, as someone once said – I’m afraid I forget who – the only character a writer portrays is him/herself. Think I’ll have to dig a bit deeper and find some new facets of myself!

  • Gleip says:

    Stagnation is the enemy of innovation.

  • nice one…thoughtful 🙂

  • ivinrocks says:

    Awesome post .. I believe to be really free , one should have the courage, to travel the less travelled road. Nice.. 🙂

  • dweezer19 says:

    Nice to meet you, fellow individualist. I am currently struggling with the inability to move along with the flow of the literary river as far as publishing my work, being encouraged to “trim” my novel and hone it to the tastes of the critics and masses. It was my original thought, my idea, and I just cannot do it. It why I am now publishing for free on my own blog. I am also an artist and no two pieces are ever alike. Same with my jewelry which I hyperventilate over trying to sell online because if two people want the same piece I am in trouble. I can’t do it. Not that I don’t want to. I simply cannot. I enjoyed reading your post. Keep being your original self. There is beauty in what comes from your soul.

  • A.H. says:

    Lovely post. You have encouraged me to go back to some bits I had written and abandoned because I thought it was too difficult for me to write. I need to buckle up and power through them.

  • You are so right. When we find a genre or style that works, it is too easy to coast along. But then . . . I, too, have to get out of the rut. True creativity is not found in doing the same thing over and over. It is found in pushing the boundaries and trying something new. I often start a story that I consider “just for me,” and just write what is fun and appealing for me at the moment. Sometimes I continue it and sometimes I don’t.
    I remember reading that John Steinbeck was criticized that after The Grapes of Wrath, he did not continue with novels in the same vein, but he refused. I think a real writer has to push the boundaries, at least some of the time. Isn’t that why we started to write?

  • Fayaz Pasha says:

    A post indeed. At times we ought to come out of our comfort zone and do experiment with new ideas and thoughts so we learn something new.

  • Ritesh says:

    Yes. Recently my friend swati pushed me into developing this mindset that i must explore different gamuts of emotions….as a creative person, one need not stick to one place

  • ABE says:

    I swim free – but only visiting, in order, the moorings I have established before I start out. They could be – and are – anywhere in the world.

    When you stick with writing the same novel for 13 years (and until I’m done), the question comes up a few times: is this the story I want to be writing?

    I finished the first novel I started – and will publish it after a revision once I finish this (I got some nice rejections but no agent took it on, back in the day of agents): it works, it’s good, but now that I know more, I can see a few things that need work.

    The novel I’m working on came to me as a single idea. I say it was vouchsafed to me. It is being one heck of a ride.

  • literarylad says:

    It’s definitely good to introduce some variety into our writing, both for ourselves, as writers, and also for our readers. Even if we have a consistent main thread or genre, I think that trying some pieces in different styles, with different subject matter, is a good exercise and helps to keep our writing fresh.

  • This is probably my greatest challenge as a writer. I like to sink into a character or a style and soak it up, but it keeps me from broadening my horizons. Thanks for the inspiration to do more.

  • I’m very much with you on this matter. I try to vary my style when I think it’s becoming staid, but I’d like to surprise everyone by secretly writing something totally different than what I’ve done before, for example a screenplay or a poetry collection.

    A good example is P D James, who wrote detective stories for years, then in 1992, published the science fiction novel Children of Men.

  • Reblogged this on Humyn and commented:
    Attention writers: Here is a blog post that inspired me. We all admire writers who are unafraid of leaving new footprints on a path never once ventured.

  • I feel the same way about my writing. I see authors who’ve written so many books that seem like they’re only publishing for the money. I think that as writers, it’s so important to take old ideas and twist them into something new. That’s what blogging is for: coming up with new ideas and sharing them with the world.

  • Erin Granat says:

    Love this. Thanks for liking my post on my Food Stamps Manifesto, I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read on your site and look forward to more. Following!

  • Subroto says:

    Swimming free what a wonderful idea. Most days I dip my toes in the water to see if I can get in.

  • rosevoc2 says:

    Reblogged this on Rosevoc2's Blog and commented:

  • amykrohn says:

    I am currently reading a series of inspirational novels placed in the WWII era. I whipped through the first one, anxious to see what happens next, but now I’m plodding through the second one, not so interested anymore.

  • Well that’s because you’re adventurous, Damyanti. Me, I’m a woos. All my adventure is done virtually. Sigh.

  • Jemima Pett says:

    A very thought-provoking idea! I hope my books are developing in new directions, but I think I really break free in my flash fiction, thanks to the challenges set by Chuck Wendig. That often goes way outside my comfort zone!

  • I love to swim free. Most days I just float along the surface and let the wind and currents take me on a journey. 🙂

  • I have to admit that I got really excited when I saw your post swimming free
    this summer I was at assategue island in Maryland and i found myself on this empty strip of beach…. So I proceeded into the water and stripped down and swam as free and naked as I could becoming one with the water laughing at the passerby with binoculars… I take every chance I can to swim free. wether it is in my writing, art, parenting or off the beaten path of life. I believe that is where you are going to find the thriving wild life…
    thank you for being you

  • I’m guilty of that myself. In every book I’ve written, I’ve created a main character who is outside the social norm who has a ‘non-human’ name. I don’t if it’s going to be my ‘thing’ or just redundant. haha.

  • 1WriteWay says:

    This is a very thought-provoking post. I haven’t yet reached that level of saturation that you describe, where there’s nothing new to learn about my characters or the genre I’m writing in. I haven’t achieved a comfort zone, but I imagine that if I ever do, I will be happy to stay there. I appreciate that you like to challenge yourself, and that’s where I benefit as a reader. So as a writer, I’ll be fine in my little hourglass, but as a reader, I’ll be happy to read your explorations and experiments.

  • I’m so glad to read that there are others like me – I was beginning to think that I was too flighty. 🙂

  • Amazing Heart Touching post 🙂

  • I tend to gravitate towards the same types of stories, but I try to force myself into other genres. It can be scary, but it’s also liberating. Some of these breakaways have been among my best and most popular work! 🙂

  • Michael56j says:

    I agree. You can see this problem clearly when you read more than two or three books in a series about one main character. By the end of the third book, the character seems to run out of energy. Sadly, some authors fail to notice or even ignore the effect and plough on in mediocrity. Very few authors can manage to keep a character “alive” beyond three books. So, yes. Learn to stretch, or even leave your comfort zone. Great article.

  • Same here! :0)

  • Cecilia says:

    I do like to mix things up a little bit, in both my writing and my reading. It’s interesting that you mentioned authors who start to write predictably. My son was 8 when he suddenly stopped reading this popular book series. When I asked him why he stopped (I was ready to criticize him for not going all the way with the series), he said, “Because every book started to sound the same. Someone does something, then someone comes to the rescue…everything happens in the same way.” Even children notice!

  • Arlee Bird says:

    I guess that’s why I have my “eclectic blog” and three others that are different. I like to write about a lot of different things and experiment some with style.

    Now of course if I were making millions (or even thousands) rehashing stuff in books I’d gladly make the sacrifice to keep on doing that in order to finance my writing experiments on the side.

    Comfort zones can be nice sometimes.

    Wrote By Rote

  • I actually love change and variety when both reading and writing. There are several authors I enjoy reading that I’ve noticed lately have fallen into a pattern of writing. Where I’ve devoured their books in the past, I now barely work up the motivation to work through a story. This can be so disappointing. I hope this never happens to me. Variety is good for the mind and spirit. Thanks for a great post.

  • Dave says:

    Well, I suppose I do venture a bit out of my comfort zone from time to time. My preferred genre is horror/dark fiction. Within the genre, I’ve written an end of the world apocalyptic novel, one I can’t figure out how to explain but is definitely horrific, one supernatural, with the next possibly being … well, I haven’t really decided. But just to throw more into the mix, I’ve written several pieces of flash fiction which all revolve around, of all things, love. Maybe I’m really just a sap at heart. Perhaps I’ll try my hand at a romance novel someday 🙂

  • This is a great post – inspiring us not to be ordinary. I admire your attitude!

  • Meghan B says:

    Absolutely. That’s where the best inspiration comes from!

  • Crap, I guess I’m a comfort zone writer. I know what I do best, space opera, and if I keep writing I will stick with it. Although if I do, the next one will have some darker twists…

  • Toi Thomas says:

    I try to mix things up all the time. I make a point to read books outside of my preferred genre every few months. I make a point to try new genres I haven’t written in before, even if I have no plans to publish. I even trying different writing techniques, with some not so great results, but I keep trying. ..Great post and good question.

  • I having been trying that lately. It keeps it challenging and hopefully makes for a well-rounded writer. Good points. : )

  • Ezekiel Fish says:

    There’s nothing more freeing for the spirit. Nice post.