Writers in the Storm

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May 3, 2013

How to Step Outside Your Comfort Zone – Without Freaking Out

By Laura Drake

Sorry to have been absent awhile; I was finishing my last book under contract. Now, before I jump into the next one, I’ve vowed to take a break.  Not from writing – If I’m breathing, I’m writing. I’m taking a break from writing what I’m committed to. I’m stepping onto the wild side. I haven’t visited there in a long time.

I planned to try something new; maybe a short story, or a novella. Of course I assumed I’d write what I know; bull riding or motorcycles, romance or WF.


Photo Credit: httpwww.flickr.comphotosstephaniemassaro

But I’ve had this random idea now and again over the past couple of years. I take it out,  play with it for a few minutes, then get scared and shove it back in the box, tape it up, and cram it under some old furniture in the attic of my mind.

But now it’s clawed through the box, and is crawling up my leg. It’s a whole different genre, a setting I know nothing about, and a character so damaged, she scares even me! Yikes!

Have you ever done that? Been cruising along in the comfort zone, and all of a sudden, you get beamed down an idea that’s so ‘out there’ you think the Universe sent it to the wrong mailbox? But still,  it intrigues me. Besides, the damned thing isn’t going back in the box, so I have to find a way to deal with it.

Maybe you’re starting you first novel. Maybe you’re querying for the first time. Or pitching, or . . .

Everyone gets scared when they try something new. I am so uncomfortable with this idea that I can’t even look at it, except out of the corner of my eye. I need tools to deal with the fear, so I’ve compiled the following. Hopefully, they’ll help you, too:

  • Decode the message – Why does this idea intrigue me? There’s a kernel, under all the stuff I don’t know, that has captured my imagination. There’s a moral, or a high concept in there somewhere. Once I know what that is, I can put together a roadmap of where I want to go.
  • You do know something – Start with the piece that IS in your comfort zone, and work out from there. What captured my imagination is the character. I know how to write a good, deep character. If I focus on that, it’ll give me a solid base to face the rest -- the unknown.
  • Play with the Research – Thank God for the internet. It costs you nothing but time, right? So go play. I’m going to look up details– decide what city to set the story in, then dig in and get a feel for those mean streets.
  • Give yourself some time – Don’t expect that this will come as fast as your normal writing. My son married a Panamanian, so his kids were raised bilingual from birth. It took them longer to speak – but when they did, they not only spoke two languages, they knew which to speak to each person. Give yourself permission to crawl instead of run.
  • No expectations -- No one is making you do this; it's not homework. It’s supposed to be fun. Remember when you were a little kid, and you didn’t know the definition of ‘fail?’ You tried something, and if it didn’t work, you dropped it, and tried something else. Give yourself permission to do that again – keep no scoreboard. If you don’t like it when you’re done - you have a ‘delete’ key – no one ever has to see it.

So, what do you think? Are you ready to walk on the wild side with me?  Yeah, I’m scared too. But I’m going to try it anyway!

What are you dying to try that’s outside your comfort zone?

Cover - The Sweet SpotLaura's debut book, THE SWEET SPOT, has been selected as a Top Pick by Romantic Times Magazine!  Here's the review: "From the cover and title you expect a sweet contemporary western, but this is a sensitive, honest look at a family destroyed by loss, a family that must try to rise from the ashes of their old life and see what they are now -- different, certainly, but pieces or a unit? Drake's characters are so real, and so like us, that you will look at your own life and count your treasures."

THE SWEET SPOT releases May 28th! It's available for preorder Here.

30 comments on “How to Step Outside Your Comfort Zone – Without Freaking Out”

  1. What a wonderfully inspiring post. I love your reminder that as little ones we never considered the prospect of failing; it simply didn't form part of our consciousness. Must try and remember this piece of wisdom. Wonder when the concept of failure crept in through the cracks? I also like how you map out an approach which is closer to a gentle hill walk than attempting to scale a steep mountain! Congrats on your novel, it sounds like just the kind of story I want to read. xxx

    1. Thanks, Edith . . . I've found every stage of the journey is filled with fear - different fears, but hell, fear is fear, right? I'd guess that failure crept in around Junior High...or was that just me? 😉

  2. Outside my comfort zone. You mean besides breastfeeding in public??!! 😉

    Ok, I'll let my closeted critter munch on this one today. I too, have been shoving a few ideas to the back rack for a few months, you know, behind the clothes that don't fit.

    Finally, instead of ONLY concentrating on editing other writer's stories, I'm going to let my brain play with my own story during my off time. Not just jotting down the idea, or a chapter, or short story (although, those are my favorite to write... .) I like your idea about dealing with what I know first - because that is all I have time for.

    Thanks, Laura! I've been getting signs from the universe for a few weeks now to start on this project. This post was perfect kick in face to do it 🙂

  3. Hey Tiffany! Good to see you back! The editor writing? I'll volunteer to edit the editor!
    Oh no, wait - That's scary, too! Jeez.
    Never mind.

    Kiss Scout for us!

  4. Thanks for your post. So I'm not nuts?! For several years, I've been writing articles for local ethnic newspapers and magazines (I serve as Associate Editor for one small ethnic newspaper), and have contributed to 3 books. After a recent experience with a rare health issue, I wrote a book about my experience, but then another rare healthy malady put that on hold (plan to get backto that this summer). Somewhere along the way, I found myself convinced to try to adapt a short story I wrote into a screenplay. Me? A Screenplay? Well, I guess I never thought I'd write a book---it's not published, but still, a lot of work and energy went into it. When that project was put on hold because the filmmaker that was behind the idea got busy, I did think about what was next.Then I got the wild hair to write a novel. Who. me? I love a good story, love to tell stories, but me, a fiction writer? I jumped in, thinking I'd do it for Nanowrimo, but again, life gets in the way. My 6 year old is fired up by me writing this story, and keeps asking me about my progress. I must admit, while the story won't go away (it's been in my head for years), I feel intimidated by it. Me- a fiction writer? I guess, why not, right? Thanks for making me feel like I am not crazy! I CAN write in any genre. I do know where I want this story to go, what they "lesson" or overall theme is. I CAN DO THIS! 😉

    1. Mariaki, what you describe is pretty much how I started writing fiction . . . and I've sold 7 books, now. Of COURSE you can do it! And with a kid bugging you, you know you really have no choice. Resistance is futile.

  5. Laura, GREAT REVIEW ... and speaking as someone who knows ... SWEET SPOT is the kind of story that moves into your heart, sits for a while and fills you with joy. I LOVE THAT STORY.

    I love the way you describe going outside of your comfort zone. For me, the whole process was outside my comfort zone. It didn't matter that I had secretly thought of myself as a writer for decades ... I made my living "talking" ... like a snake oil salesman ... I can sell you an idea or something you didn't think you wanted. Thanks to people like you, two very kind members of my writer's group and my daughter for starting a blog for me (since I thought I was too lame) ... one bit at at time I've been able to shore up my courage.

    From journals to shorts to posts to the first really bad book ... YES for Pete's sake. I am querying.

    About that story that you can't get back into the box? The one crawling inside your gut wanting to break out? Go for it. Something deep inside of you will be set free ... again 🙂

    1. Well, when I start, Florence, I'm going to need your 'city-living chops,' so get ready!
      Now, quit hanging out on blogs (now that you've commented here, of course) and go send something out!

  6. When your own unconscious delivers a reason to write, run with it. Do SOMETHING with it.

    The minute writing (or any art) feels safe, it's broken. Doing something completely new is what keeps me from going nuts. My daily routine is intentionally calm and, well, routine, so my art can be wild and unpredictable.

    It's glorious.

  7. I usually right novels and recently I've been trying to write short stories. It`s not easy but the learning process is fun. Plus I've started reading short stories, which I used to snob. All in all, this is a great experience.

  8. I like Joel's comment: The minute writing (or any art) feels safe, it's broken. I guess we need to risk-takers and go with our discomfort and write! BTW I plan to link this post to one I am working on for the Blog Every Day in May Challenge....which today asks for "Things that make you uncomfortable...".

    1. Credit where due: it was Seth Godin who taught me to use fear as a compass. If I'm afraid of something, and can't find a reason, I run toward it, embrace it, engage it. (I'm planning a whole book on fear and art. Someday.)

  9. My brain is so out there I almost wish I had a comfort zone. But, I like your advice. Permission to play around, permission to delete it. 🙂

  10. My futuristic paranormal is thumping against the dark closet walls in the back of my brain. Everyone who knows me, knows I can't stand a mess and that closet is getting messy with added ideas. I guess I better clean out that closet and organize the mess into a story. I write historicals, so this is a scary idea even though I love Sci Fi. Thanks for the motivation Laura. I'm getting out my notes!

    1. I can't imagine flipping from Historical to Sci Fi, Sharla, but then, I wouldn't have imagined the thoughts running around my brain, either. I guess like Joel says, we're unbroken!

  11. As always great advice. As I'm in the process of signing.agreeing contracts for my first novel I'm already thinking about what will be the subject of the next so this post gives me things to think about. Maybe the next one will push that comfort boundary?!

    1. Oh, Ken, congratulations!!! I'm throwing confetti for you! This is a huge milestone! Go celebrate before you knuckle down and do anything!!!

      1. Ha ha I'll start celebrating ONCE I get that contract actually signed on the dotted line! Until then I'm holding back! On a related note, is there anything on WITS about searching for agents? I could probably do with one but just tend to come across them ad hoc and rarely see one that fits the bill exactly for what I do. Publishers I have extensive lists of and journals/magazines I have plenty of resources for but agents?...tricky...

  12. Wonderful post. First congratulations on your upcoming release!!! That is so exciting!!
    I had to step out of my comfort zone with my first villain. He was much darker than I wanted him to be. Tweeted and reblogged.

    1. Thank you on all counts, Ella!
      I'll bet you're now glad you wrote him the way you did, right? I'll bet he's compelling.

  13. Wonderful post, Laura. Congrats on your debut release!

    Ideas out of my comfort zone aggravate and scare the wits out of me because I fear it will reboot me back to the beginning stages if I sit down to write the contemporary romances and SF/F romances floating around in my brain. I've been in "historical romance author" mode for so long, it's difficult to change tack.

  14. A wonderful post ... my personal mantra comes from Ray Bradbury about "stepping off a cliff and growing your wings on the way down." I think of it in terms of learning and growth, but your thoughts on playing around and letting the scary parts steep ("crawl instead of run") are very good advice. Thanks. Would you be interested in doing a guest blog on my website at some point this summer ... being out of your comfort zone is a key theme.

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