It has the word “comfort” in it, so you’d think it must be good.
Instead, the comfort zone is the place that we should all make an attempt to break out of every now and then if we want to make real change and growth. Embracing the weirdness and healthy anxiety that comes out of leaving this zone is part of the process.
Now, there are some easy ways to exit the comfort zone each and every day. You could take a new route to or from work, listen to a musical artist from a completely different genre than you’re used to, and a host of other ways (big and small) you can challenge yourself.
But how do you do this as a writer?
After all, it’s one thing to try little things from the unknown into your orbit, but what about getting into unfamiliar waters with something (writing) that for many writers is a big part of their purpose and passion in life?
I won’t deny that it isn’t easy. I’m not an expert, but from my understanding, humans don’t really like anxiety (even though anxiety–in some situations, is a totally healthy emotion that can motivate you). So not only is it challenging to work outside your comfort zone, it’s difficult to even want to do so.
But if you’re still on-board with this whole getting-outside-my-comfort-zone thing, read on with these ideas you can incorporate to leave that zone and grow as a writer–and a person.
Read outside your comfort zone. If you call yourself a writer, it should be inherent that you’re a reader. What better way to challenge your writing comfort zone than with your reading?
Read from a genre you don’t normally choose. Read something long, dense, and difficult.
Read poetry and nonfiction.
If you think of a book or an author and think you’re not going to enjoy it because you don’t typically read those books, then do the opposite of your intuition and jump into it.
I’ve started reading Joyce’s Ulysses because stream-of-consciousness has been out of my reading-style rotation for quite some time. (Note: just because it’s from something you don’t normally read from doesn’t mean you have to keep reading it if you don’t like it. No one is making you finish a book if it just isn’t working).
With writing, you might want to start small with working outside your comfort zone.
Have you always written in first-person? Third-person could be a good change for your writing–think of the new objectivity you’d have with the story. Or, if you rea-a-a-aly want to smash that comfort zone to smithereens, go for second person (gasp!).
The comfort zone exists with the types of stories we tell, too. I have a bad habit of sticking to high-drama stories with my writing, even though they tend to make a mockery of realism.
While rewriting/revising one of my novels right now, I’m trying to tone things down and write about the more mundane aspect of my main character’s life. She can still keep the big problem that helps drive her narrative, but that problem isn’t expressing itself in such melodramatic ways.
Another writing comfort zone can be format or style. I used to be SUCH a fan of stream-of-consciousness–and the obligatory italics–back in the day. All my stories would be these brain-splats of character’s thoughts.
But I grew as a writer when I finally forced myself to tell stories in different voices. Now, ironically, going for a stream-of-conscious style would be outside my comfort zone, which means I’d be doing myself a favor if I returned to it.
The biggest thing to remember with any comfort zone, writing or otherwise, is not to overthink it. Experimenting with what you read, how you write, and what characters you use doesn’t mean you have to stick with that if they’re working for you. It’s not as if with my music example, someone into alternative rock would have to become a die-hard emo rap fan just because they started listening to 808s & Heartbreak (completely random example that has nothing to do with my tastes or personal experiences, I promise).
Follow me on Twitter at @ethan_nelsonwrt for takes on reading, writing, and mental health, all under 280 characters.