The Art of Trying New Things

Since the day I started writing my first novel, I have categorized myself as a YA scifi/fantasy writer. The first book I ever tried to write was a fantasy story about a girl and her brother whose castle got blown up by an enemy kingdom and they had to go and...find...a new...kingdom. (Why yes, I was young when I started that book. How did you know?)
After that, I moved on and wrote my first completed novel, Unperfected, which was very scifi/dystopian. As were most of all the other book ideas I had in my head--or so I thought.
As it turns out, most of my book ideas are in fact not scifi/fantasy, as I thought they were. When I shelved Unperfected and turned to my recent WIP, Awaken, I realized that I have completely miscategorized myself and the genres I write--which is actually kind of a big deal.
Because when you spend years trying to write within a genre you think is your niche, but it really isn't, you don't reach your full writing potential. Which is why sometimes it's really good to try new things in writing; those new things just may end up being perfect for you!

1. Try new genres

Some writers love trying new genres. Some writers hate it. Some are in between. Personally, I've always had book ideas for a lot of different genres, but I never allowed myself to fully think through some of them. After all, I was a scifi/fantasy writer. I had no business trying to write a mystery or paranormal or contemporary story. Right?
Wrong. As soon as I let go of Unperfected and began writing Awaken, I realized that scifi is actually a really hard genre for me to write. Awaken is contemporary fantasy, and it floored me how naturally I wrote contemporary scenes. Scenes with my MC and her best friend in volleyball practice, at school, at home--simply, normal, everyday life. Something I used to never write because I was always writing character in crazy futuristic or fantasy worlds. And if I had never given this genre a try, I would never have realized how much more I enjoy writing contemporary fantasy over scifi!
Writing is all about finding the balance, and that includes genres. I had no idea that I needed a blend of the whimsical and the realistic until I allowed myself the freedom to explore. If you could let yourself relax and write any new genre at all, what would you try?

2. Try new POVs/tense

As a lot of you know, my first several drafts of Unperfected were all from one point-of-view. But as I began editing, my beta reader pointed out to me that she felt the story would be better from two points-of-view. Though I was super hesitant to do that, I finally experimented with it and began writing from the POV of my second main character, and I swear the world just opened up so much. I learned so many new things about my story, the plot, the people--everything! It can be a task to completely overhaul your book and change from one POV to multiple, but if you're feeling stuck and like your book is missing something, maybe give the dual POVs a try.
Along with that, consider the tense in which you write your story. Sometimes switching past and present tense around can help you write your story better, depending on which one you work best with. Same with 1st and third person. I tend to write my stories in first person present tense (I say, he frowns, she asks, etc) but with my old fantasy story I found it easiest to write in third person past tense. If you're feeling really different, you may even try third person present tense (though this one is a little tricky. Props to those of you who excel and write naturally in this way!) Play around with the different options. Who knows! You might discover the POV and tense you thought you liked is actually not ideal for you.

3. Try a new setting or time period

This tends to go along with genre, but it doesn't necessarily have to. Sometimes the worlds we build just don't work like we first thought they would. Still, we hold onto them and try to force them to work because we want them to--but if something doesn't work, it doesn't work.
I had to do a lot of world-fixing in Unperfected. At first, the world was just too confusing for me to describe. I didn't have a clear image of it in my mind--so how could I explain it to my readers if I couldn't even explain it to myself?
So, I sat down and started experimenting with the world and the years. I messed with the science, the nature, the locations, the shape of the city--everything. I completely overhauled my entire world, upgraded it, and even made a map of it. It was really, really helpful.
While I personally have never completely switched time periods around, I've heard of other authors doing so. It's also just good to experiment from time to time, so starting a brand new story in a time period you've never attempted can be a great way to challenge yourself as a writer.

4. Try a new age group

This is something that again, some people love and some people hate. I've heard of authors who write YA and adult. I've heard of authors who write MG and YA. I've heard of authors who write strictly MG, YA, or adult.
When my cousin Cassidy and I went to the Michigan Writing Workshop this past spring, Cassidy was informed by the lady critiquing her work that it might be a good idea for her to switch her age group from YA to MG. She had several reasons for saying this, and ultimately Cassidy decided against it, but it was still fascinating to consider completely changing a YA book to MG. Book age groups exist for a reason, as the books that fall in to those categories have stories that follow the rules of each group. If you think your book would be better suited in a different age group, be sure all of the elements of your book work with those ages.
Sometimes it's also good to just start a brand new story in an age group you've always been curious about trying, but never have before. I've attempted a few MG stories, but learned very quickly that they aren't for me. Still, I never would have known had I not tried!

Trying new things can be scary and frustrating, or it can be exhilarating and refreshing. Whether you're changing your current project or trying new things with brand new stories, sometimes exploring new genres, characters, settings, and ages can be really beneficial.
Who knows--you might just end up finding your new writing niche!