Getting Outside Your Comfort Zone (part 2): Changing genre

Hi, and welcome to the RADblog! I’m Rani Divine, back for the rest of the year to talk to you about whatever I choose. You’re at my mercy, friends. But don’t worry; we’ll have some fun.

For the next seven weeks, I’ll be talking to you about comfort zones, and why they’re both a good thing and a bad thing. We’ll also be looking at a few exercises I’ve come up with to help you get outside your comfort zone and to grow as the amazing writer you are. We’re all in a learning process, every step of the way.

So we’ve decided, by now, that though comfort zones can be a good thing, they’re also a thing that can be extremely detrimental to us, if we don’t keep ourselves in check. We need to keep going, keep growing, keep learning, so our craft will grow along with us and we’ll discover newer and newer versions of ourselves and our writing along the way. And today, we’re going to look at both my favorite and least favorite exercise, for getting outside those comfort zones.

 

Comfort Zones: Getting outside your genre

 

I love science fiction and fantasy. You probably know that, if you know anything about me at all. I only have one book I’ve written that doesn’t fall in these categories, and I’m literally dreading editing it. I’ve been holding off on editing it for years, because I don’t want to work with that hot mess. I just don’t. It’s not my genre, not my style, not my cup of tea—and though every single one of my beta readers loved it and wants me to edit it and publish it… I just don’t want to.

Why? Because it’s not my genre.

In part, I wrote that book because of this exercise, because I wanted to try to get outside my comfort zone and write something completely unlike anything I’d ever written before. And it is that. Very much so, in fact. I would also say that the writing is decent, only that it isn’t me, at all.

But that’s a part of why I want you to try this exercise.

 

Whatever genre you love, whatever genre is your favorite, whatever one you find yourself drawn to constantly, the one you write in whether you want to or not because all your ideas fit snuggly into this lovely little genre… ditch it. Just for a while.

I’m not saying you should never go back to that genre. No! In fact, I’m not even saying you should spend as long as I did, on your adventure. What I’m saying is that you should try it, and learn to be proficient in it. Learn to better your writing skills, in a genre you don’t normally write. Learn to write, in a way you generally don’t enjoy.

Why? Because you might need it, later on down the line.

 

Have you ever noticed how genres really meld into one another, how each genre really has elements of five or six genres worked into it? Romances have thrills and adventure, science fictions have histories and mysteries, fantasies are filled to the brim with romance, intrigue, and even cowboys. No one genre can fully describe any single book. Not one. Which is why you need to be good at writing genres you don’t enjoy writing, because someday you may need to.

Someday, you may be plugging along in your historical comfort zone, and wake up to realize there’s a romance blooming right under your nose—and you have no idea how to write two people who are falling in love. What do you do? How do you resolve that? Well, you could’ve fixed it to begin with by using this exercise, by writing romances from the start, just little stories here and there that teach you how two characters fall in love. And that might just be what you have to do now, because practice makes better (or so my brother always said, since perfection doesn’t really exist).

 

And that, my dear writers, is why I challenge you to write outside your comfort zone. Write in time periods you’re not used to, write with archaic words and newfound ones your characters made up. Write in ways you never imagined yourself writing, so you know you have the skill waiting for you, when the need arises.

 

Rani Divine
Associate Editor, etc.

Getting Outside Your Comfort Zone (part 1): Why leave?

Hi, and welcome to the RADblog! I’m Rani Divine, back for the rest of the year to talk to you about whatever I choose. You’re at my mercy, friends. But don’t worry; we’ll have some fun.

For the next eight weeks, I’ll be talking to you about comfort zones, and why they’re both a good thing and a bad thing. We’ll also be looking at a few exercises I’ve come up with to help you get outside your comfort zone and to grow as the amazing writer you are. We’re all in a learning process, every step of the way.

 

Comfort Zones: Why leave?

 

Let’s get the basics out of the way first, shall we? Why are we even talking about this? What importance do comfort zones have, and why is it just as important that we get outside them, now and again? That’s what I’d like to delve into, today.

 

They’re a good thing!

I realize that this is probably not something you hear very often, that comfort zones are a good thing, and that it’s good if you have one. But it’s true. You should have a comfort zone. You should have a repertoire of writing, and a place where you’re comfortable writing. For most of us, this includes a specific genre, point of view, and even gender of character, in which we write. It also usually includes a specific kind of writing, whether that be short stories or novels, and, let’s face it, for writers… it also usually means a place where we’re alone and not bothered by other humans. We tend to be introverts. We all know it. We like our lives the way they are, and we’re not fond of change. Don’t worry; I’m right there with you.

See, having a comfort zone means that you’ve gotten good enough at writing that you know what you’re doing, in some of those areas. It means that you’ve written in this genre more than a few times, and have a good idea of how things work, there. It means you’re accustomed to this point of view, and could write in it without really trying.

It means that you (at least partially) understand yourself as a writer, and have concluded that you know what you like, what you’re good at, and what you’re comfortable doing. It means you’ve been writing long enough to know what’s comfortable for you, what your strengths are, and you’re happy there.

 

They can be a bad thing, if you let it go too far.

For nearly the exact same reason, comfort zones can also be extremely detrimental to our writing. If we’ve gotten comfortable, complacent, content in our area of writing, well then… we’re not pushing ourselves to grow beyond that, are we? And that’s the problem. Writing is a career of learning, a career of exploring and discovering new things we didn’t know could possibly exist. It’s a career that means we never really get to stop learning, because language is always changing, the world is always changing, and story is changing right along with it.

So comfort zones can be a bad thing, because they can get you stuck in a rut that you honestly don’t even want to get out of. Comfort zones can be that happy place, that little box we’ve made around ourselves, where we know we’re good, where we know what we’re doing, and where we know we’re safe. We’re good at writing first person thrillers, for example, and so we don’t want to delve into something else. We probably won’t be as good at that anyway, right?

Wrong.

Well, probably right for a while, but it should be wrong.

 

We need to know how to get outside our comfort zones, and we need to make sure we’re doing it, frequently. If we stay inside that little box, if we keep ourselves locked up in that place where we’re comfortable and we know what we’re doing and we’re happy and we’re just… not really learning anymore, then we’ve stagnated. We’ve stopped being writers. We’ve stopped growing. And that’s not okay.

As writers, we need to grow. We need to challenge ourselves. We need to better ourselves and our craft, from one story to the next. Because if nothing changes, if everything stays the same from book to book, you’ll get bored, your readers will get bored, and there just won’t be a point anymore.

So, for the next few weeks, I’m here to help. I’ll be telling you a few of my favorite ways to get outside my comfort zone, so you can join me in the adventure.

What do you say?

 

Rani Divine
Associate Editor, etc.

My Love Letter to Writers: To the burnouts

It’s the middle of summer here in the northern half of the planet, and the third coast has no scarcity of surf, sand, woodlands, and all the amazing things that make life, well… amazing. Unfortunately, I’m a full time employee of a company whose busiest times of year are the summer fair/festival season and (you may have guessed it) Christmas. And if you’ve read me at all in the past three years, you’ve heard my lamentations regarding my sleeping arrangements, housed as I am with a 90-year-old dementia patient, a toddler, his working and stressed out parental units, my over-worked hub (see parent with dementia), oh and now the spare to the Boehm fortune is dating. And you’re murmering about writer stuff? PU-LEASE!

Truth is, I get it. Even if you do what you love to do as often as you can, relationships—all relationships—ebb and flow. We humans need periods of rest, even from the things we love, and if we don’t give ourselves permission (or more often, life itself gets us over committed) we burn out. And then? Everything is a drain on our spirits.

There is a person in my life who is dear to me, who even at the passionate beginnings of her career as entrepreneur/editor/author is experiencing a bit of burn out. She would deny it, selfless and committed as she is, but I see it. And even though my own needs for validation rise up because, well… she gets me like no one else does, the voice of experience, of wisdom, and of empathy today is a little bit louder.

Dear One, I get it. I know where you are. Surrounded by the very thing you’ve fought and cried for and right now? You fight the urge to get up and walk away. You force yourself to digest one more paragraph. One more page. And it’s like? It’s like… being dipped in acid. So move closer to the screen while I whisper an itty bitty exhortation: it’s okay to walk away.

Burn out is a real thing and requires real attention. It’s not like powering through a bout of boredom or a pesky bit of writers interference (because writer’s block is a lie). Burn out is a killer. Just like a fire out of control, it sucks up all the fodder in the room, chokes the light, and destroys the oxygen. And it will take your creator soul with it.

So give yourself permission to get up from the desk, put the project down, and walk away. And if you are able to do so, don’t sit back down until you’re itchy and twitchy and bursting at the seams with ideas and thoughts. If you’re overcommitted in the rest of your life as I am, put a time limit on your hiatus. Maybe you just need to go get a waffle cone full of chocolate studded, caramel drizzled, hard serve ice cream. Or maybe you need to pack a change of clothes and indulge yourself with a road trip. Or maybe you just need to curl up with your resident feline/child/underappreciated spouse and binge watch something on Netflix.

Whatever the escape route, take it and don’t apologize. Unlike powering through, stopping to breathe deeply is the best fix I know for burn out.

My friend will probably struggle with this concept. Even her “down time” is planned to the nanosecond, because she is a dynamo. I’m a hot mess, and I struggle with it. But dear ones, if we do not learn to give ourselves the break we would never deny those around us, we will come to resent the very thing for which we are so passionate.

Your “gift” should not be your “burden.”

A special thank you to Kristina and Rani for trusting me with your writer hearts these past few weeks. If I’ve imparted nothing else, I leave you with this: You are deeply loved and treasured. Now go take over the world!

Peace.

Tammy Boehm, Associate Editor

My Love Letter to Writers: Dear Anthropophobia

It seems that all my life I’ve been under the authority of those who primarily used me to fulfill their own agenda, caring little about my own small dreams and aspirations. I remember specifically, as a child making cards for my mom, carefully choosing a color palette, writing a few lines of stilted poetry and drawing a pastoral scene on the cover. It was only natural for me to try to please a parent. It is what kids do.

Unfortunately, my mom’s taste was more discriminating than anything my small hands could produce. She admonished me that she wanted a “real” card with real poetry. I complied. And I delayed my foray into writing for another eight years.

As I age, my mom has been replaced by potential editors who recommended radical changes to my writing style and genres for which I had no interest. I’ve frequented social writing groups who politely skimmed my flayed emotional innards, and as I joined the “legitimate” workforce my creativity has been relegated to the occasional process flow or informational email. I have conformed to the needs and expectations of so many other people that sometimes I lose my own identity in the morass bosses and coworkers and needy family members.

I know I could write if it wasn’t for all the people…

Dear one, the truth is, as much as I desire to exhort you, to inspire and encourage you, I must be honest with you. The people who malign you, who misunderstand you or who just plain seem to irritate the stuffing out of you until you can’t even think of picking up a pen—as much as you’d love to wave a hand and mute them all for an hour or a day—people are not going to go away.

Unfortunately, the more you write, the more you will be compared, critiqued, and categorized. And unless you are fulfilled in creating for your eyes alone (and if you are, that’s okay) you will have to come to terms with the fact that other people exist and will exercise their free will regarding your work.

So what can you do? Do you give up altogether because you simply can’t deal with one more judge in your immediate vicinity? I can tell you that sometimes, when we lay down a gift, we lose it forever. But most of the time, if the gift is innate to us, it doesn’t lay silent. It doesn’t behave. It festers and busts out when least appropriate.

Giving up really isn’t an option and stifling it won’t help you. You simply need to set parameters for your creative endeavors. Settle it in your heart that your ability is as unique as your fingerprint, no matter how often you are compared to someone else. You are the only you there is. Steward the precious work of your hands appropriately. Share it only with those whose opinions and perhaps correction matter. And don’t allow yourself to be bullied by some editor with too much to read and not enough concern for you as a real writer.

Of course, if you’re sending writing in for publication, make sure you’ve edited and re-edited and that you are writing in line with the parameters of the publishing house. Beyond that, dear writer, to thine own self be true.

People and publication and any other form of external acceptance does not make you a writer. Writing makes you a writer. So be encouraged. Writing and creativity is organic. It ebbs and flows. It and you will change over time. You can share your work, cultivate your talent as you see fit. It is yours. An extension of you. So embrace it and walk out your dream.

Peace

Tammy Boehm, Associate Editor

My Love Letter to Writers: Dear Anxiety

I remember it well. As far back as my memory goes, I was a bit precocious. Seeking attention from those in authority and admiration from my peers, my hand shot up to be picked for reading assignments, chalkboard writing, and the coveted spoken parts in class presentations. I was quick with a flair for the dramatic.

And then it happened. A well known poem. An easy presentation. An entire school. I got the first line out. And then my brain stopped. All my friends, my enemies, teachers, and strangers staring up at me as I desperately searched my mind for the next line. After an interminable amount of time, a teacher slipped me a notecard with the poem on it…and as I bent to pick up the proffered life ring I knocked over the microphone stand…and my performing days were over.

For the next semester, kids in groups of twos and threes would join up chanting the poem at me in the lunch room and on the playground. Even after I brought back a trophy for the school as an orator, the teasing was brutal.

Over fifty years later, I still experience moments of anxiety and even terror when speaking to someone I don’t know or facing something I’ve never faced. And now, my life most certainly half over, it is the thought of my very mortality that awakens me in the night, or stops me in the middle of my day causing my heart to race and my hands to sweat. It is a sinister and ever-present companion.

Dear one, none of us is exempt from moments of fear and anxiety, and perhaps a bit of adrenalin now and then can serve well to let us know we are still alive. But if that feeling crawls its way up your spine and down to your hands, effectively paralyzing you every time you attempt to write sentence, know this: you are good enough.

Even if you fail. Even if you forget the words for a moment. Even if others speak harshly the voices of those who would say cruel things to you in your moment of embarrassment, those people do not matter. Don’t place your own worth in their hands. You are good enough.

You see, as a creative soul, and even more as a human, we are not perfect nor are we really expected to be. It’s okay if the rhyme is stilted or the picture off center. It is so much more important that you took the step to follow the call in your heart, the whispering dream at your core and create something. When you take your eyes off others and listen to your own heart—this is when you will again experience joy in your gift.

Should you eventually seek an audience again, then of course preparedness can prevent a lot of embarrassment, but it’s no guarantee that as you put your art out there it will be accepted and understood. If you’re focused on fame and fortune, you’re focused on the wrong thing anyway.

Your art is an extension of you, and just like you pick yourself up after physically tripping, brush yourself off and keep moving forward, when your creation doesn’t meet the expectations of others, remember that the expectations of others are theirs. Your art is you.

Allow yourself to take a chance on yourself and as you continue to create, the anxiety will abate. If you give in and let fear paralyze you it will only bring a legacy of regret. And regret is a soul crusher.

So pick up that pen again and write. Even if your hands shake, put one word down and then another and another until the page is full. Keep writing until your heart smiles. I promise you, you will not regret it.

Peace.

Tammy Boehm, Associate Editor