Go Ahead, Take the Plunge: Writing Outside Your Comfort Zone
If you’re anything like me, you have a certain genre where your little writerly heart sings. Sure, different ideas pop into my head from time to time that fall outside that genre, but there’s usually a little something that ties it back to my comfort zone.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this, and in fact, it might even be a good thing (depending on who you ask and when). For example, for those who make a living off their writing, straying outside their solidified boundaries might be a tad risky. Their established audience might cringe away from the shift, resulting in a loss of sales not only on their current piece, but perhaps future sales even when they return to their tried and true. For example, if you write male/male romance (as I do) and suddenly get an itch to write a female/female romance, the audience will be vastly different. It’s often suggested that you try to “write for your audience,” which results in some authors having multiple pen names so they can write outside their stigmatized genre without making their readers bristle. (Just look at Nora Roberts, aka J.D. Robb. Both are wildly successful, but have a fairly different audience, hence her decision to toss up her pen name to be faithful to her fan base.)
However, sometimes tossing things up can be beneficial to your creative juices. Even if you don’t want to. This is something I’ve recently learned, and the reason I’ve decided to do this blog post.
Although I’m not straying far from my genre, I am attempting a major shift in tone, which can be just as jarring both to the reader and writer alike. I tend to be an angsty writer, one who lives to torture and torment my characters and dive deep to discover how all that turmoil affects them mentally, emotionally, and even physically. My favorite conflicts points tend to be internal, and revolve around finding ways to heal and grow despite adversity and despair.
Recently, I’ve found myself in a situation where I’ve been “forced” to avoid angst and focus instead on healthy, whole-hearted humans whose primary conflicts come from external devices rather than internal plights. Let’s just discuss how angst-filled and frustrating this process has been for me, shall we?
Or, perhaps not. Because you know what? Once I got over that initial hump of irritation, I’ve found it to be an amazing learning experience. It has strengthened my writing and taught me new ways to address some of the most basic areas of writing, from pacing to banter to internal narrative. All must be reassessed and adjusted in an angst-free world.
So, that’s one example of “writing outside your comfort zone,” but there are other types of adventurous writing out there. Let’s discuss them, shall we? After all, if such a minor shift in my writing can be so beneficial to my writerly learning, perhaps greater leaps might be, as well?
It’s up to you to decide whether venturing away from the areas you find most “you” will benefit you, and I’m in no way suggesting you take on a massive project in any of these areas without first having a heart-to-heart with yourself. But there’s something to be said about giving it a go, even if it’s only a short story or a chapter. Consider it a writing exercise to grow and adapt, if nothing else.
Genre(s) You Don’t Read
This one is obvious. If you’re a YA novelist who’s never tackled an adult paranormal, why not give it a go? Again, I’m not saying to adopt a full project, but see where it takes you. Write a chapter or two, or plot out a short story. Flex those writerly muscles in a way you’ve never flexed them before. It’s just like working out… sometimes a little pain goes a long way toward building a better you, all around!
Subject(s) / Setting(s) / Topic(s) You’re Not “Comfortable” With
By “uncomfortable” here, I mean more “unfamiliar” than anything. Many of us tend to “write what you know” and rarely stray into areas we don’t have at least some small grasp on from a personal standpoint. Research is a writer’s friend, and attempting to write things we’re unfamiliar with can build our research skills with a quickness.
Form or Structure You Haven’t Worked With
Do you tend to write only novel-length stories in the sweet-spot range? Or perhaps your jam is novellas? Poetry? Short-stories? Flash-fiction? Why not try your hand at something a little different for a change? I have a good writer friend who decided to task herself with writing a short-story because she’d never done it before… and said short-story has since been picked up by a major publisher and is due out this coming spring. I’m not guaranteeing you the same results, but where’s the harm in giving something else a go for a change?
A Process You’ve Never Used Before
Are you a die-hard pantser who has never given outlining a chance? Or perhaps you’re a plotter who has never sat down to a blank page and just tried letting the story come as it may? Do you always write in order, or do you tend to write scenes out-of-order and piece them together later? Do you edit as you go, or let the typos and repetitious craziness remain until you get draft one words on the page? Whatever your process, why not try something different?
Overall, I think the most important thing here is to treat this as a writing exercise and nothing more. Don’t plan to write the next great American novel while adopting a zillion different things outside your comfort zone all at once. Play with them. Write snippets and shorts, or even attempt a chapter of your current WIP using one of these ideas. I think the most important thing to remember is: don’t do too much “new” at once, or you might lose your bearings and find your writerly judgment going askew.
Stepping outside your comfort zone isn’t an obligation, but rather something to be viewed as an opportunity for growth and creative adventure. It isn’t for everyone, but for those willing to give it a go, it can be a fun and rewarding experience. So, go forth, my lovelies, and see where being “uncomfortable” can get you! 😅
Until next time,