How Variety Will Make You a Smarter Writer

Lately, I’ve been studying a variety of music. It’s not the first time in my life I’ve done this. Over the years, I’ve listened to rock, pop, country, folk, jazz, classical, blues, and more. I haven’t just skimmed the surface, but I’ve gone deep into the history of many types of music.

I’ve done the same with the books I’ve read. I’ve read fiction, non-fiction, poetry, classics, religion, psychology, success, etc.

The last few months I’ve been listening to minimalist music, both in the traditional classical form and in the modern pop form. If you’ve ever listened to minimalist pieces, you might think it’s boring and monotonous. But if you listen closely, minimalist music actually has more variety than most popular music, which leads to something I’ve been contemplating:

Variety Is The Key to Being Creative

As a musician and a writer, I’m always looking for new and unique ways of expressing myself. I grow tired of worn-out, over-done formats. I want variety.

Don’t get me wrong. I love many popular works in both music and writing. And I understand that format gives music and stories substance and organization. It’s the glue that holds the art together for the average consumer. But true creativity is found by stepping outside of that comfort zone.

If you’re an artist, writer, or musician, I encourage you to study and practice a variety of work. It’s okay to have a niche that’s your speciality. But don’t forget to try new things. If you specialize in water color, try something in a multi-media format. If you write fiction, try writing some poetry. Or if you play classical music, try playing the blues.

Going outside of your artistic comfort zone will help you to see more angles. You’ll become more creative and innovative.

Try Unusual Combinations

When I teach brainstorming in my public speaking courses, I encourage students to generate ideas quickly and uncritically. I tell them it doesn’t matter if the ideas make no sense at the time. Just get them down on paper. I even suggest that they take two completely unrelated words and do an Internet search. Try it. You’ll discover things you never knew existed.

After you brainstorm you might discover something interesting. A few of those off-the-wall ideas actually seem interesting.

In my first book, A Train Called ForgivenessI experimented with a style that teetered between poetry and prose. I had no idea what I was doing, but in the end, the book has become my best-selling book to date. It was an experiment in creativity.

In music, I love the idea of blending two styles of music that one would never expect to be combined: Chant and rap? Classical and hip-hop? Or two instruments that one would never expect: How about a duet for sousaphone and ukulele. I know this might sound strange, but this is how new innovative ideas are born. Along with imposing limitations, variety is a key element to innovation.

This Works at Work Too

There have been documented studies that show how variety in the workplace creates productivity and generates ideas. If your job has lost it’s luster, try something new. It could be as simple as rearranging your office and adding some simple artwork.

For me, as a teacher, I like to change the books I teach from every few years. I like to try new methods of teaching in the classroom. Sometimes I discover something that works, sometimes it’s not so great.

You’ll Fail, but That’s Okay

If you’re willing to take chances and try new and unusual ways of expressing your creativity, you’re bound to have some failures. Recently, I tried to create my own minimalist music recording: The Minimalist Mixtape. 

I wound up with 14 tracks that I found acceptable. But I threw away at least that many more tracks that didn’t work. I tried some unusual combinations that just didn’t jibe. But that’s okay. It’s all a learning process. I’ve thrown away half-written novels. I’ve tossed out dozens of songs and poems. But in the process, I’m becoming a better writer and a better musician. Each failure is a step to something greater than you’ve ever created before.

Do a Variety in Life

It’s not just your creative life and your job that can benefit from variety. You’ll become more happy overall. You might even live a longer life. Try adding variety in all areas of life:

  • Take a variety of vacations.
  • Eat a variety of food.
  • Listen to different kinds of music.
  • Practice variety in your exercise routines.
  • Read a variety of books.
  • Watch different kinds of movies
  • Go to a sports game.
  • Go to a theatre production.
  • Play a new game.

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. That might be true, but you can teach yourself to become more creative by practicing variety in life. Each time you try something new, that experience becomes part of your creative palette.

An Exercise in Variety

This week, I’d like you to do something. If you have a routine, I’d like you to break it. You don’t have to change everything up. Just do one thing a little differently. Drive a different route to work. Drink tea instead of coffee. Play a game after dinner instead of watching TV. Just mix things up a little.

If you’re an artist or a writer, try something different in regard to your art. Try writing in the evening instead of the morning. Try starting with paint instead of pencil. Play the piano instead of guitar.

I think you’ll find that this will stimulate your mind and generate innovative thought. It might not happen immediately, but in time you might begin to consider new and unique combinations.