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Monday, April 9, 2012

Balancing on the Edge of Your Comfort Zone

by R.C. Lewis

Last week, Jemi posted about writing what you read. It's a matter of choosing to write what we're familiar with, what we're passionate about. In a way, it's our comfort zone—a good kind of comfort zone, the kind that gives us power and authenticity.

There's another kind of comfort zone that isn't necessarily so good. It consists of the aspects of writing that we're most secure with. Our strengths. For some, maybe it's world-building. For others, dialogue. Or weaving in backstory, or evoking emotion.

Strengths are good. Embracing them, playing them up helps create our individual style as a writer. But what happens if we stop there?

What happens when we shy away from aspects we know lie outside that zone of strength?

We should always challenge ourselves, push to improve and learn more about all areas of our craft. That means going to the edge of our comfort zone and taking a small step over that line. Weaknesses can't be ignored and left alone.

This has been on my mind a lot lately. There are particular nuances within the context of characters' emotions that I struggle with. I used to be downright afraid of it. I've been edging myself into that realm, trying to get more comfortable, trying to handle it more deftly. I think I've been making progress, but once in a while I get a reminder of how far I have to go.

At the same time, it's important to be true to ourselves. We each have our identity as a writer, and it's possible to push ourselves not just outside our comfort zone, but outside of who we are. For me, it's important to convey emotional context more clearly, but I also know I could take it so far that I'd be attempting to write something not authentic to who I am.

It's a matter of finding balance. Moving outside our comfort zone—and thereby expanding it—without wandering too far from the core of our writer-selves. How to find and maintain that balance ... that's something I'm still working on.

What aspects of writing lie just outside your comfort zone? How are you pushing that edge out a little further? How do you hold your identity as a writer while still learning and growing?

R.C. Lewis teaches math to deaf teenagers by day and writes YA fiction by every other time. You can find her at Crossing the Helix and Twitter (@RC_Lewis).

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4 comments:

Jemi Fraser said...

Great post RC - stretching our wings is the ONLY way to get better :)

Jean Oram said...

I'd have to say... building a platform for myself and telling people in my 'real' life that I am a writer--that's outside my comfort zone. But I'm getting better about telling people that I write. I'm slowly letting that cat out of the bag (it's been five years) and so far no pianos have fallen out of the sky and landed on me. So far. If I suddenly go 'silent' you will know why. ;)

How am I doing it? I'm borrowing writing books from the library. (I know the librarians.) I am inviting 'real' people to friend me on Goodreads (where I have some writing and reviews of writing books). Not skirting the issue when people ask what I'm up to these days. Letting them know I do editing and sometimes I even reveal that I have an agent. (Depends on the person and how the conversation goes.)

It's just little steps over the past year or so. No need to leap in and freak myself out!!! And I'm also coming to grips with this 'fear' I have--even was so "bold" as to blog about my emotions revolving around that the other week!

ProfeJMarie (Janet Rundquist) said...

The ring outside of my comfort zone is description... physical appearance, setting, etc.

I really love showing characterization through words and behavior, but I know, and sometimes forget, that a lot can be shown by describing a character's surroundings. What knick knacks do they have? What is on the walls? What style of furniture or car? What books are on the bookshelf. These are things that might be in my head, but I do not necessarily put them to the page. Some readers really prefer that...and though you're right, we need to still be true to our writer selves (and this is what distinguishes author style, after all), it is good for me to stretch and try out that descriptive language, too.

E.B. Black said...

I'm a planner, so I'm usually great at coming up with an interesting plot and foreshadowing, but awful at characterization. My characters sound generic and juvenile sometimes, but ever since I pushed myself to improve in this area, I think I'm getting better at it.