Dare to Leave Your Comfort Zone
Hey Swoon Writers!
New year, new adventures, right? Don’t worry, I promise you won’t even have to get out of bed for this one if you don’t want to, because the kind of adventure I want to invite you on is to challenge yourself by taking new risks and unexpected directions in your writing and your stories this year. So I’m going to share five tactics for breaking out of your writing comfort zone—challenges I foresee you meeting with great fortitude, overcoming with perfect grace, some heart-stopping close calls, and all the while making a bunch of friends and allies on the way, like any good adventurer!
Let the quest begin!
1) Take a leap of faith. Especially helpful for those (lol *points to self*) who are completely dependent on outlines for writing, try flying blind for a chapter or two, or even just one scene. Introduce a new character with no plan for who or what they mean to your main characters. Derail your protagonist’s plans for the day. Send them off on an unnecessarily annoying or dangerous side quest, and just see where it takes you. Even if you end up throwing everything out, you may be surprised where your imagination will lead you, and what you may discover about your characters or world when you let your writing lead you, rather than the other way around.
2) Write from the POV of a deeply flawed character. This has always been super hard for me, because the only way I can really get excited about my own stories is if I like my characters, and want to root for them the whole way through. The benefit of an exercise like this one is that it encourages you to really dive deep—can you find something to like or sympathize with about even the most imperfect people? Enough to write a deep and nuanced piece about them? At the very least, it could be helpful for exploring potential flaws for your more heroic characters. After all—nobody’s perfect. :)
3) Ask yourself this. What is the one thing your protagonist could never bring themself to do? Betray a loved one? Sacrifice their morals? Support a cause or an authority they don’t believe in? Make them commit that crime against themself. Or at least put the choice before them. There’s no better way to put the stakes and your character’s priorities in sharp relief, than to confront them with a terrible choice. Loyalty is a strong theme in many of my stories, and I can’t imagine what it would do to my protagonist if she were forced to betray one of her family.
4) Write where your weaknesses are. Is dialogue your toughest challenge when writing? Take two of your action hero characters and sit them in a cafe where the only action they’re allowed to take is talking to each other. You can make them as uncomfortable with each other as you are with writing the scene—discomfort makes for good dialogue! If you really struggle with setting and worldbuilding, browse through some photography or history books or even landscape paintings in a museum. Take inspiration from the world around—often the best worldbuilding and scene-setting happens simply with a lot of research! As frustrating and scary as it may be to write where your weaknesses are, don’t be discouraged! You don’t have to build Rome in a day and overcome your weaknesses all at once. Sometimes, it just helps even to be aware of where there is room for improvement, and where your strengths lie.
5) Last but definitely not least. SHARE YOUR WRITING. Perhaps the scariest part of the journey, the boss you need to defeat to clear the next level, don’t forget this is also the part of the adventure where you make friends. :) Allies who will always have your back, in all your future writing endeavors. When you find a reliable writing partner or beta reader, as you build a community and a trust of people you can depend on who get you and your writing, they will carry you through the rest of writing career.
So take a deep breath, believe yourself, and good luck!