Dr. Seuss & Taking Risks

Friday, 2 March 2012

This is the door to my office and a favorite book of mine!

Today is Dr. Seuss’s Birthday!!
Anyone who knows me, knows that Dr. Seuss is just about my favorite person of all time. He was also a man who wasn’t afraid to step outside of his comfort zone and take a risk. And boy, did that pay off for him! So for today’s post, I want to talk about stepping outside your comfort zone, but first a little more about the birthday boy!
Theodor Geisel, who wrote a number of famous, fabulous children’s books under the pen name Dr. Seuss, got started writing for children because of a clause in his contract with Standard Oil. Geisel had started his career as a cartoonist. One of his cartoon used the name brand of a popular pesticide, Flit, and was seen by the wife of an advertising executive for Standard Oil (the makers of Flit). He was offered a job with Standard Oil, drawing cartoons for their ads.
So how did he start in cartoons and advertising and end up writing children’s books? When asked this very question in 1975, he told Edward Connery Lathem, a Dartmouth librarian “I would like to say I went into children’s book writing because of my great understanding of children. I went in because it wasn’t excluded by my Standard Oil contract.”
There was no logical reason for Geisel to think to write for children. In fact, he and his wife, Helen, were not able to have children themselves, but he still gave it a shot and became one of the best known children’s authors in the world.
Now I have to admit that it has been quite a while since I stepped out of my comfort zone in terms of writing. That doesn’t mean that I do not fully support taking chances in your writing. I do, most definitely. For me, the biggest ‘risk’ I took was taking a writing course. It doesn’t seem like much of a risk, I know, let me explain.
I have always been fairly comfortable in my writing. I write what I want, my way and I like the results. I have yet to finish and submit a manuscript, but that’s another story—one about ADHD. Anyways, I write all of my stories using third person omniscient and multiple viewpoints. I like exploring how each character interacts with the next. I love getting inside their heads to see one scene from two different sides.
Taking the course was a big step out of my comfort zone, because for the first time I had someone else telling me what to write and how to do it. I found this extremely challenging. I also found my voice. In trying to make the prescribed assignments more into ‘my style’ I uncovered my true voice, a concept that had eluded me in the past 30 year of writing (I started when I was 6, although I wasn’t really worried about my voice then :] ).
I also experimented with first person and found that my characters and stories really came alive when I wrote in first person.  For my final assignment, I felt as though the main character was sitting across from me telling me her story. It really was incredible. Of course, I haven’t written anything in first person since that course, but I do want to. I just have to figure out how to tell multiple sides of a story in first person without ‘head hopping’.
Tonight, as I go back to my WIP and work within my comfort zone, I will be thinking of Theodor Geisel. Of his talent and of his willingness to take a risk. My mind will wonder back to the pieces I wrote for my class and I will see that my risk paid off. It advanced me as a writer and may even push me further in the future.
When’s the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone?
(Here’s a hint: if you don’t remember, it’s time to try it again.)
Happy writing!


  1. Good question! I actually spent the last year/year & a half trying out different genres and age categories looking for the right fit for my voice and my heart. I like going outside that zone - at least in writing :)

  2. Thanks for the comment! I have found myself with a bit of a 'risk' dilemma today. I blogged about it a minute ago, but to make a long story short, I think I may be trying to write in the wrong subgenre for my voice. While trudging away at my current WIP, my passions seem to have shifted elsewhere. Normally, I would welcome the risk, but right now it is a bit overwhelming. Nothing to do but soldier on, I guess.


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