Writing Outside Your Comfort Zone

Every now and again, a writer needs to explore the unmapped territory outside their comfort zone. This is how you learn new things and gain confidence. It is a strategy that prevents boredom with doing the same old thing day-after-day. Of course, there is a risk of failure, but even then you’ve learnt something new.

Content:

Content doesn’t mean you have to write something salacious or violent (unless you want to, of course). If you never feel comfortable while writing romance – like me – then maybe you should try writing a thousand words in the romantic genre. Think of it as a ‘stretching’ exercise, to limber up the writing muscles.

What is it that is making you uncomfortable? The emotions? Are you embarrassed? A lack of personal experience? You have only a weak understanding of the genre markers for romance?

All of these are excellent reasons for giving the challenge a go. I find I get embarrassed writing romance, as if my family are sitting over my shoulder and judging me. I have to learn to ignore that sensation, as it will restrict the fluidity of my writing.  And I can’t avoid putting romance into my narratives forever.

Style:

Are you the sort of writer who avoids descriptive prose? Dialogue? Actions scenes? Then maybe you should spend more time in practicing those skills. I used to be rather frightened of writing dialogue, as everything I wrote sounded unnatural and clunky. I spent some time actually listening to television shows with the vision turned off, and radio conversations, to learn more about the rhythm and flow of language. I wrote a lot of dreadful dialogue, trying to capture the ‘trick’.

There is no trick. It is just something that comes with practice. If I hadn’t decided to write outside my comfort one, I would still be writing clunky dialogue. And the same goes for any stylistic skill that a writer might lack. Unless you are a genius (and I’m not saying you aren’t) it is only natural that you have to take baby steps before you can run a marathon.

Genre:

I write in several different genres, because I write both fiction and nonfiction. However, I know how easy it would be to pick one genre and never write anything else, particularly if you are good at it. You know all the tricks, and the writing comes easy. But – and this is a big but – does your writing keep improving?

I try to read books from many genres, even though my preference is for textbooks, and Science Fiction and Fantasy genre fiction. Often, I am reading for entertainment. At the same time, I am becoming acquainted with the genre markers of these other sorts of books. Every book you read has something to teach you – even if it is only in the negative sense of ‘don’t ever write like this’.

So, logically, writing in a different genre will teach you new skills. As an example, writing biographical nonfiction or historical fiction will train you to do research. These new skills will enrich your writing when you return to writing in your usual genre.

Don’t treat these exercises like schoolwork or punishment. There is a certain thrill in trying something different. It can be fun, if you let it. Think of yourself as an explorer, and head off into the great unknown.

Here be dragons!

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