Comfort Writing

Sometimes the most important part of being a writer is finding what you’re comfortable doing…and then doing something completely different.

The simple fact of the matter is that, like any skill, writing-or any art form-only grows through adversity. By forcing yourself to work within the constraints of conditions that you’re not used to, you grow as a writer.

I hope that I sounded nice and intelligent saying that, because I’m sure I haven’t looked like either of those things over the past couple years that I’ve spent ignoring that advice. That’s why comfort zones exist, after all; they’re what gets you into writing in the first place. Whether it’s the grand worlds of fantasy novels, the grim reality of your average mystery, or the passion of a romance novel, all of us have a starting point that got us interested in writing in the first place. It’s the center of our creativity, and the safe space whenever we don’t know what to write.

Which is nice, for the most part. But if overused, it goes from being a safety net to being a crutch; suddenly you can’t write anything else. It might not even be a genre that you like to write, but a method. Have you found that freewriting is an utter impossibility? Does the idea of writing an outline for that story you’ve come up with kill your creative drive? Are you just not comfortable opening up that word file if you can’t hear sustained screaming in the background? At the end of the day, these preferences are a just a few bad choices away from being requirements, and there’s nothing that’ll kill the creative process faster than the realization that it only works some of the time.

Now, I’m not saying that you need to constantly be trying different genres/methods/etc. But, occasionally, forcing yourself to do something you’re not used to is exactly what the doctor ordered. I myself am a seat-of-my-pants kind of writer. My method goes something like this:

Sit in front of a computer. Stare at a blank document for a minute or two. Start pressing the keys in a vaguely sensible order. Continue to do this until something halfway decent materializes from the void.

And while that is all kinds of fun, the simple fact of the matter is that it doesn’t mix well with plotting out a fantasy world. This semester I decided to change that; one of my writing challenges was to write an outline, and carefully plot my characters (as I talked about here). And, I’ve gotta say, it sucked. Hard. But, after I finally stopped whining and sat down to hammer it out, there was a feeling of relief after the writing was done. I haven’t felt that before: a feeling of utter happiness at accomplishing something that I had long ago convinced myself was going to be the bane of my existence. I succeeded at taking the first step of properly plotting out a novel, and I did a damn good job, if I do say so myself (I know, I probably do).

That feeling only came because I forced myself to do something that I, for the most part, hate with a passion. It felt nice; doubly so because it really is important for the writing process. So, for anyone out there that might be feeling writers block, or that your ideas just aren’t as clever as they used to be, try going outside your comfort zone. You might hate it, but you’ll still get something out of it. And, who knows? You might even find your new preferred way of writing.

But you’ll probably hate it, though.