Some writers have cats.Â Some writers have parrots.Â Here are my babies, Spock and Scotty.Â They’re year-oldÂ mini-donkeys, and they’ve managed to live up to every donkey stereotypeÂ you’ve ever heard about.Â They’re cautious, they’re stubborn, yet they’re intensely curious.Â If you whip out anything electronic, they’ll come right up and crowd close to get a good look and a good sniff.Â They love electronics.
But they’re alsoÂ intent on self-preservation. Â It took us four attempts just to coax them out of their nice safe corral into the open world for a walk.Â It then took three attempts to coax them into a horse carrier.Â If there’s a garden hose lying on the ground, they won’t step over it.Â If there’s a puddle of water, they’ll come to a screeching halt and refuse to go any further.Â They have such a strong instinct for survival, they have to think long and hard before doing anything that might endanger them.
That’s how it is with some writers.Â (Did I say this entry wasn’t about writing?Â I guess I lied.)
Some writers play it safe with their careers.Â They find successÂ in one genre, soÂ they stick with it for book after book.Â Maybe they even keep writing the same story, with only a few variations.Â And that’s okay.Â It may even be the smart thing to do.Â Donkeys, after all, are known for being experts in self-preservation.Â No wonder they manage to survive in the harshest of environments.
Other writers take chances.Â They’ll be safe in the niche of one genre and then do something unexpected and daring.Â Their risk may take them to new and exciting places — or it may start the downslide of their careers.Â I can think of several writers this has happened to.Â One achieved bestselling success writing contemporary foreign thrillers.Â Then he wrote aÂ terrific historical thriller that garnered lousy sales.Â He hasn’t had a bestseller since.
Another bestselling thriller writer, caught up in the pain of a terrible personal tragedy, chose to write about that tragedy in a nonfiction book.Â Ever since, the writer’s had a hard time reclaiming a spot on the bestseller list.
In retrospect,Â these were disastrous career moves for the writers.Â But they were risks they felt compelled to take, and I admire them for it.Â There isn’t enough risk-taking among writers.Â We’re too often talked out of it because it makesÂ our sales unpredictable and itÂ confuses our readers.Â We seldom get praised for it; in fact critics often tend to be harsher on veteran writers who try something completely different.
Yet some plucky writers will continue to take those risks.Â Some of them will come galloping eagerly out of the corral.Â Some of them will trip and break a leg. Â But others will discover that even the risk of a broken leg is worth stepping out of that safe and familiar place that has started to feel just a little too confining.