I've talked before about how writing The Old Man in the Void is stretching me as a writer. I'm writing in a fairly new genre for me--hard science fiction (or maybe medium since I'm not going to do the math on the page for you.) The nice thing about it is that it's illuminating areas where I need to grow that I hadn't seen in my other books because the pace is different and the focus is elsewhere.
Lately, I've been writing fast-moving, fun stuff, heavy on emotions or humor and light on setting and extrapolation of fact or theory. As a result, I can "get away" with things in those books that I can't in The Old Man in the Void. For example, while I describe taking ATVs through a jungle road in Live and Let Fly, I can still depend on the reader to understand vehicles, driving, even jungle. However, when I say "Santiago rode the swarl in the accretion disk," most readers will be left drooling unless I've made it clear what a swarl and an accretion disk are, and how one rides them. Even more fun, swarls are made up, but not accretion disks (which is the donut-shaped disk of matter surrounding a black hole), so I have to make my imagination make sense in that world and be plausible in ours.
But that's not the only thing. As I'm dealing with a tone and characters different from my usual stuff, I'm realizing that I've gotten limited in my writing. I tend to fall back upon favorite phrases, ways of showing emotion, scene progression. While those have served me well in my fantasy and comedic horror, they stand out and even stall me in the genre of hard/medium science fiction. It's intimidating, and sometimes, I just want to chuck it and write Gapman or something fun. But it's because it's intimidating that I know I need to rise to the challenge.
So, in addition to continuing to write the book, I'm also taking extra time to study writing, not by reading writing books, but by reading the great authors in my genre. I've got a notebook where I'm taking notes of phrases, getting ideas for educating readers on the world, and watching how they put in information. My best discovery to date: David Drake and David Weber do a lot of what I'd been warned against as "info dumping," but they are such masters that you read right along and enjoy it. I honestly think it has to do with genre, too--military/political sci fi, especially when you're deep into a series, benefits from those "dumps. As a result, I'm no longer as afraid to stick a few extra paragraphs of important information in the dialogue. In fact, this week, I went back and added a lot, and I think it's stronger for it.
While I might not apply all the methods I'm learning here to my other books, I'm definitely coming away from this experience a stronger writer, so the lessons in this are
1. Branch out--don't just stick to "your genre" or "your brand"
2. Read widely, especially authors that hit your weak areas. Take notes.
3. Admit your weaknesses, then find tutors to get past them.