What does it mean to think outside the bookshelf? Like thinking outside the box, when you think outside the bookshelf, you consider possibilities that are new, innovative. Publishing may seem to move slowly (and in some ways does still move at a pace that hasn’t changed much in decades) but in other way, opportunities exist today that writers twenty-five years ago could not have imagined. Serialized fiction on apps on our smartphones. Fan fiction or shared world content that exists only to satisfy the hunger of readers. Five years ago, producing an ebook, creating a print book template, and distribution of indie pubbed fiction to major brick-and-mortar retailers was just a droplet compared to the ocean of opportunity available to authors (and therefore, to readers) now.
When I teach writing or edit a book, I try to share “best practices.” Lessons from the trenches. After editing hundreds of books, writing (as of today) a dozen of my own, there are craft essentials that can make any work stronger. But I also stress there are many ways to tell a fantastic story. Yes, knowing craft will make your job as the writer easier. Will save you time, writer’s block, and energy running down rabbit holes. But there is beauty in innovation, experimentation, and even in our mistakes.
Study craft. Learn from the best examples within your genre or field. But then allow yourself to think outside the bookshelf. Don’t rush the process. Don’t try to shortcut experience to reach a certain goal. Allow yourself the luxury of learning, growing, and even failing. True creativity comes not only from knowing the basics, from knowing what you “should know,” but also from not being afraid to try something different.
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
-Thomas A. Edison