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  • [BREAKFAST WITH THE MUSE] What I Have Learned from Leaping Off the Cliff
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[BREAKFAST WITH THE MUSE] What I Have Learned from Leaping Off the Cliff
Written by
Jill Jepson
November 2017
Written by
Jill Jepson
November 2017

Like many women of her generation, my mother was deeply concerned with appearances. We weren’t well off, but she managed always to dress herself and her children nicely. We never went out without being perfectly groomed. We were taught excellent manners, and any time guests stepped foot in our house, they found it spotless.

I didn’t embrace my mother’s preoccupation with appearance (imagine her shock when I became a free-spirited 60’s college student in ragged jeans!)—except in one area of my life: My fiction.

I have always been a perfectionist with respect to my fiction writing. I am shy about my drafts. I hone and polish again and again before I let a single person read a chapter. No one—not an editor, a beta-reader, or my closest friend—lays eyes on a story until it has been rewritten dozens of times. I’m a slow writer and a careful one, and I’ve never made my fiction public unless I was absolutely sure it was ready. Until now.

When I decided it was time to shake up my writing, my plan was simple. Instead of trudging through a novel, I would whip out a novella. Instead of polishing dozens of times before I reveal my work to a single soul, I would post it for everyone to read after a few quick revisions. Instead of planning my fiction out perfectly in advance, I would write on the fly, not knowing from one day to the next where my story is going. In other words, I was going to leap off the cliff.

Six weeks ago, I launched Missed, a fantasy novella for kids (and adults who love kids’ lit), on my new website, Fantasy Crossing. Missed tells the story of Leffa Conundra, a young clairvoyant who goes to meditate and study at a remote abbey under the tutelage of the Sisters of the Mystery. When Leffa begins to be haunted by the strange Man of the Well, she finds her studies taking an ominous turn.

I had no idea when I sat down to write Missed what my story would be about, and I still don’t know where it will end up. Every Friday, I sit down to write another chapter, with only the foggiest notion of what Leffa will be up to. I allow myself just a couple hours to write and do quick revisions, and up the chapter goes onto Fantasy Crossing.

My experiment has been eye-opening and exciting. I have learned many things:

  • I learned I can write fast—I don’t have to be a slow, plodding writer.
  • I discovered new things about my style. When I let my writing come quickly, it has a fairy-tale quality to it that I usually don’t see in my fiction, and left to its own devices, my work can turn unexpectedly dark and mysterious.
  • I came to realize my work doesn’t have to be perfect to be shared. In fact, I love the spontaneity and freedom I am bringing to Missed, and apparently my readers do, too.
  • Most importantly, I am reminded how important it is to push ourselves out of our comfort zones, to try things that make us quake inside, and allow ourselves to be vulnerable.

What have you done to shake up your writing life lately? What could you do to step away from your normal routine into adventure?


Jill Jepson is the author of Missed a fantasy novel for middle-grade readers, which can be read free on Fantasy Crossing. To receive my free weekly strategies for writers, go here. For my free ebooklet Calling Up the Writer Within: A Short Guide to Writing at 50 & Beyond, go here


* This post was originally published in July 2015.

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  • Jill Jepson

    It sounds like you've found the perfect way to shake things up in your writing, Jayne! 

  • Jayne Martin

    I love this idea.  It sounds like something I (Ms Must Control Everything) could benefit from.  To shake my writing up, I signed up for a fairy tale class.  I've never done anything like it, being stuck in realism most of the time.  It's been fun and I think I'll end the class with a tale ready to submit. 

  • Jill Jepson

    I'm so glad this inspired and encouraged you, Karen! What you say is absolutely true: loosening up can be the best thing for our writing. I have to smile when I read that you write best in a plain spiral notebook because you're too careful with the pretty ones! 

  • How courageous of you!   I am very inspired.  Funny, sometimes real writing happens when we loosen up.  I usually keep a journal of reflections, but my best thoughts come out in unattractive notebooks.  I'm too careful with the pretty ones...so I have taken to writing in plain old spiral notebooks (inspired by Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones).  Hope it works.  Your post here is a great source of encouragement.

  • Jill Jepson

    I'm just beginning to learn that slow, careful writing doesn't work very well for me, Nancy Chadwick-Burke--at least not all the time. I agree, balance is what we need.

  • Jill Jepson

    Thanks for sharing my article, Marta Weeks!

  • Jill Jepson

    Miriam Ruff: If you do try shaking things up, send me a message and let me know what you did and how it worked. I'd love to hear it!

  • Jill Jepson

    NanoWriMo is a great way to shake things up, Patricia Robertson! How awesome to have gotten so much out of it!

  • Posted a reference to your article on my blog: http://www.hoyecomova.com/2015/07/are-you-done-yet.html

  • Maybe slow and careful writing is not necessarily a helpful practice? Perhaps it can be a hindurance. I discovered when I would read aloud my writing from a first draft, though written fast and almost mindless, haphazard, I heard my voice coming through strong. The challenge for me is to strike a balance where I don't want to lose the sound of me by thinking too much with slow and careful writing but throwing caution out the window to hear me loud and clear.

  • When reading your article I felt as if you were speaking about me. Thank you so much, henceforth I will post staring with my synopsis.

  • Miriam Ruff

    I think you bring up a very good point - we all need to shake up our writing to keep it fresh and flowing. The last thing we want is to be bogged down so endlessly that our work never sees the light of day. I think I need to try this myself.

  • Patricia Robertson

    Great idea to shake things up a bit. I did this first time I participated in NaNoWriMo. Had never done anything like this before but loved it and now have two novels that came out of that month of writing two years in a row and plans for a third one. Good luck! Let us know how it goes.

  • Jill Jepson

    Cate, you say this so eloquently, I have nothing more to add!