In writing as in life, who doesn’t like to feel safe, comfortable? Give me a choice and I’ll take comfort most of the time, I’m not ashamed of that.
And in writing everyone has comfort zones, as well. Topics you find safe, forms you stick to like guiding hands in the dark.
But have you ever gotten bored with your own work? Have you ever had the feeling that there’s something else you’d rather be writing about only you just can’t or shouldn’t? Or perhaps you’ve thought, “I’m not smart/sophisticated/talented enough to write that.”
Alas, staying safe, and writing what’s comfortable doesn’t lead you to many interesting places. Readers eventually get bored, and worse, you, the writer, suffer creative flatline.
I’ve been reading the advice for years, “Write what scares you.” And I used to think: Why would I want to do that? It’s scary after all. Well, it just so happens that what scares you is often a well of powerfully universal material.
For most writers there is a dark pulsing story (or many) that begs for your telling. Stories want to be told, freed from the confines of your body and mind.
When you go beyond your safe boundaries as a writer, whether you risk something with new material, or a new form, you open yourself to depth that may be bolder, braver, more exciting than anything you’ve written yet.
Just like physical acts of bravery, like (for me) jumping off a diving board or speaking in front of others, when you try to grapple with material that is just a little bit bigger or scarier to you than usual, you invite in the capacity for something greater. In fact, I’d wager, you teach yourself how to be that smarter, more talented or sophisticated writer by taking it on.
Going beyond your comfort zone isn’t just about writing topics that scare you, but about learning a new form. In my own writing life, I’ve almost always written fiction; I can control the variables, manipulate the characters and never once have to admit that anything is “real.” Essays and memoir pieces, on the other hand, have always compelled but terrified me. I want to write my truth, but what if (people get mad/I do it badly/I forget something, etc).
Tips for pushing yourself out of comfort:
- Remind yourself you need not show anyone what you write
- Begin a freewrite exercise with, “The story I’ve always wanted to tell but can’t is…”
- Try to follow the structure of another writer’s piece of writing (structure only, not content) and see if you can fit your own material within it
- Change form or genre. From essay to fiction, from mystery to literary, from poetry to essay
- Line up a buddy to do this with, and maybe you can even exchange your new, scary, experimental work with only each other.
- Be brave, close your eyes, and jump
If you like what you’ve read, please subscribe to this blog or sign up for my newsletter. Also check out my books: Night Oracle, Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time and, Forged in Grace. For a dose of optimism, read my column, The Persistent Optimist, at Sweatpants & Coffee.
The Second Annual Plot & Scene Writing Retreat with Martha Alderson is open for Registration at Mt. Madonna Retreat Center, May 1-3, 2015.
Photo, “Leap” by Javier Morales is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 International License.