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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

The Risks of Playing It Safe

Never taking a risk is the biggest risk of all

By Rosanne Bane

One of my agility trainers once commented, “If your dog does everything in class perfectly, you are failing.” I did a double-take. “Failing,” she explained, ”to challenge yourself and your dog often enough.”

Are you challenging yourself as writer or are you playing it safe? What was the last big risk you took in your writing? What was your last big failure? If you can’t remember or if the risks and failures you can recall are puny, you’re doing yourself and your readers a big disservice. Where our writing gets risky is where our writing gets good. Or it crashes and burns, and that’s good for us too.

Dr. Michael Unger, author of Too Safe For Their Own Good points out “By bubble-wrapping our lives, we may inadvertently be taking away opportunities to experience the building blocks of psychosocial growth.”

According to Unger, it is essential to experience challenges and the resulting successes and failures. Failing to give ourselves opportunities to do so deprives us of what he calls the “risk-taker’s advantage,” which includes resilience, learned responsibility, confidence, courage and compassion.

Besides, taking a risk is fun! Remember rolling down hills until you were dizzy when you were a kid? Or sledding? Riding roller coasters? Rock-climbing? Going where you weren’t supposed to go, doing what you weren’t supposed to do with someone you weren’t supposed to be with?

Whatever your current thrill is, it’s important to your mental health and your enjoyment of life. Engaging in a new and challenging experience that involves a reasonable amount of risk releases dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter. No risk, no dopamine, no fun.

Here’s a partial list of the kinds of risks writers can take. You may already do some of these; one writer’s risk is another writer’s routine. Please add to the list. I’d love to hear what risks you’re taking.

  • Send that query you’ve been thinking about, you know, the one that’s sitting in a file while you “do more research” or “revise it just one more time”
  • See how fast you can collect 25 or more rejections
  • Find a magazine you’ve never read that interests you, get the guidelines and get going
  • Tell someone in your family why writing matters to you
  • Say “hello” to an editor, agent or another writer at a conference and ask an open-ended question that will get a conversation going
  • Write in a genre you don’t usually write in
  • Write in a tense or point of view you don’t usually use
  • Kill a perfectly good character just to see what happens
  • Interview someone “strange” “weird” or “different”
  • Write about a family secret
  • Write about your own secret
  • Write without knowing what you’re going to write or why

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7 Comments on “The Risks of Playing It Safe”

  1. 'Ailina January 29, 2010 at 12:52 am #

    “No risk, no dopamine, no fun.” Wow. Love it.

    My name is ‘Ailina, and I’m addicted to complacency.

    The concept of challenging ourselves…it’s true. They say if you want to get better, play the best. Thanks for the practical suggestions for starting points!


    • rosannebane January 29, 2010 at 10:06 am #

      Thanks Ailina. I doubt you are addicted to complacency… you seem quite committed to challenging yourself as a writer.


  2. Amy January 28, 2010 at 9:54 pm #

    I’m going to link to this from my blog, if you don’t mind. E-me if you do, otherwise I will including all your contact info in the link. Thanks, Amy


    • rosannebane January 28, 2010 at 10:42 pm #

      Sure. What’s your blog address? If it’s writing related, we should all drop by…


  3. Amy January 28, 2010 at 9:53 pm #

    Wow, you are so inspiring, the way you put these thoughts into words and motivate strangers to be better. I printed out your list. Great stuff!


    • rosannebane January 28, 2010 at 10:39 pm #

      Thanks Amy! Let me know what you try and what happens, please.



  1. The Road to Motivation Passes Through Risk - January 16, 2011

    […] to blogger Rosanne Bane: Dr. Michael Unger, author of Too Safe For Their Own Good points out “By bubble-wrapping our […]


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