Thursday, March 25, 2010

Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone

Today we have author and motivational speaker L. Diane Wolfe visiting with us. If you didn't get a chance to watch the book trailer for her teen series, The Circle of Friends, you can still swing by, or visit her website for information on all five books, the latest of which is called Heather.

Diane is here today to urge all of us to step out of our comfort zone as writers. And if there's anyone who can get us to do that, it's Spunk on a Stick.

Welcome, L. Diane Wolfe.

Getting Out of Our Comfort Zone

New writers often hear, “Write what you know.” That’s good advice when just starting. Writing about familiar subjects provides confidence so we can focus on our writing skills.

However, if we want to develop, we need to stretch a little. Writing is all about growth. When we break away from predictable, we discover new things about ourselves. We prevent our readers and fans from growing bored. We provide our careers with a little longevity. Therefore, it’s essential we escape our comfort zone and enter unchartered territory.

By changing one or more of these aspects, we’ll stretch our writing muscles:

• Subject matter or genre. Writing outside of our niche induces growth. We grow complacent writing about the same topic over and over again. Consider tackling a new genre. Mastered mystery? Try an urban fantasy. Content with romances? Attempt a horror story. Tech writer? Move into motivational work. For the ultimate challenge, move between fiction and non-fiction.

• Characters. Often we begin with characters similar in feel to ourselves. However, what happens when we create someone who possesses different traits and views? It forces us to see the world in a whole new light. It helps us to create diversity in characters. Book V of my series forced me to stretch in this manner, as Heather was my polar opposite. She kicked my butt throughout the entire process, too! The story was stronger because of that fact, though, and I am now eager to tackle another difficult character.

• Setting. A location we know intimately provides accuracy and security, but unless ‘world traveler’ is on our resume, we’ll find ourselves stuck in the same setting. What happens if we move from the city to the country? Or to the beach? Or to another world? Setting applies to our character’s profession as well. Instead of a lawyer, what happens if we focus on a stock car driver? Or a foreign tour guide? Changing the setting ensures research, but we will learn so much in the process - and the freshness of our ideas will come across in our writing.

• Conflicts. These can grow stale and formula. Break out of the pattern and brew up some new struggles. Our resources are unlimited, too. There’s no end to life’s problems! The daily news can provide ideas for new conflicts, challenges, and sticky scenarios. Remember, fact is always stranger than fiction - we’ll discover new issues and concepts if we look.

• Storyline. This is a big one! Often we find out storylines contain similar themes. Boy meets girl. Someone is murdered. Evil plans to take over world. We can easily fall into a rut. Consider a new path. Brainstorm some fresh ideas. We always need new twists and turns, but deviating from our normal storyline or plot forces us to mature as writers. We prove we are not just one trick ponies!

Now that we know what to change, it’s time to stretch!

And in doing so, we will probably discover our best work is produced outside of our comfort zone.

Thank you, Diane.

Sounds doable to me. Who knew stretching was good for your writing and your body!

You can find out about Diane as an author and a speaker by visiting her sites:

You can also buy her books on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble or at Dancing Lemur Press L.L.C.

But, right now, what you can do is ask her a question, comment on her post, or give us your own experiences with stepping out of your comfort zone.
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  1. Couldn't agree more with you, Diane. In life or in writing, unless you are willing to step out of your comfort zone, you are unlikely to realise you own true potential.

  2. Right on, Diane! Tonight and tomorrow I am guest teaching for a writer friend. In both locations my class is on Writing the Places the Scare You. It is on all aspects of fear - our own, our depiction of it and the blind spots it creates in our writing when we won't go there! I love the serendipity of our blogomunity!

  3. Yes! So true, Diane! As an older writer, I was taught over and over "write what you know." Which I did in the beginning. But then I got bored. If I'm bored, my readers are bored 100 fold. So now I write about where I'd like to go, who I'd like to be or meet or who as you said, scares me.
    Stretching is so much fun, makes us feel full of zing and alive. The result shines through in our manuscripts as we share our mental adventures.
    Granted pre-internet, it was tough to do all the research: many trips to the library, writing letters to experts or people in other countries (which is still a necessary resource) but with the internet it's so much easier to get immediate feedback while we're in the midst of a scene. Thanks for posting something I've been thinking for years!

  4. Rayna, you are spot-on! Reaching our full potential requires taking risks.

    Jan, I like that topic title.

    GGray - woo-hoo!

    Thank you again, Helen!

  5. Great points here! I don't want to be a one-trick pony. Thanks for the tips, Diane. :)

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  6. Wonderful advice! I would find it hard to stick to one genre. My mind is all over the place. :)

  7. Thanks Diane and Helen, for the inspiring post! I generally write fiction, but recently completed a nf proposal. What I learned from the proposal about the entire publishing process greatly informs my fiction now too. I'm aware of the business aspects agents and editors might turn their eye to when looking at my work. So the nf definitely helped my fiction knowledge grow.

  8. Growth follows change. I read and live outside my comfort zone, and this helps my writing. I'm not sure I have a zone in writing yet. Thanks for the cool post. Cheers, Simon.

  9. I know what you mean, Joanne. I worked on a nf proposal (which I never submitted) and it showed me a new way of looking at my fiction and how it could be promoted.

  10. Thanks Diane and Helen. Stepping outside the comfort zone may be scary, but it is also exhilarating.

  11. Nicely put Diane! I've found so much of this to be so in my own writing. Like you said, we tend to start *safe*, or at least I did, with things/places you know.

    I've moved into something I love to read, paranormals. OMG, the research involved to get the facts straight. I moved the locale to a place I know well but haven't lived, so maps, and such are in my folders. I know animals well, habits and settings, but in this it's amazing how many times I have to double check facts--both medically and biology.

    It's stretching me as a writer, but you know what? depite the work involved in creating a fictional world that fits within the real world, it's exciting and fun. :-)

  12. Good writing is good growing...

  13. This is oh so true, Diane. I'm making the switch from nonfiction to fiction and the stretch feels almost unbearable. But I haven't broken just yet. Thanks, Helen, for hosting Diane.

  14. I'll probably move out of my comfort zone with my next book!

  15. Great advice. I particularly like it broken down so I am THINKING about it... I am currently genre jumping and loving it (it is freeing, and I had never considered this angle as to why). I think maybe character is the next big stretchy piece I need to conquer... My MCs aren't like me physically, but thus far, they've processed somewhat like I do... I think I want to write a nut.

  16. Thanks Helen for sharing Diane with us. It was a very interesting post. I am stretching myself by writing a novel. I have moved away from short, one page stories and poetry.

    I envy authors who state they have written thousands of words too many. I struggle to expand my ms.

    Diane and Helen, do have that problem? Or do you write so many it becomes another book?

  17. Great interview and wonderful reminders of how we can improve. Thanks, Helen, for posting!

  18. Glynis, sometimes I struggle and sometimes the words flow. Right now, I'm tearing apart a manuscript and cutting a lot of fat. Then, I'll have to go back and put in more meat to give it some muscle. (Perhaps I'd better go eat some breakfast.)

    Non-writers tend to say, oh, you write fiction; it must be fun to make up stuff. (Oh, if only they knew the research that goes into fiction and even when you make up things, it has to be close enough to reality that readers believe it's real.)

  19. Thank you, everyone!

    I've written both fiction and non-fiction and will continue to stretch on both sides.

    Glynis, I never have a problem making it long enough! I had to do some slashing to bring several of my fiction books down to reasonable. The last few have clocked in at just the right length though.

  20. I'm working on my first mystery about someone very like myself, set in a place very like the one I grew up in, populated by characters very like people I knew. And the whole process is miles out of my comfort zone. Sigh. But onward and upward.

  21. If it wasn't out of your comfort zone, Kathy, it's completion probably wouldn't bring you near as much joy as it will because it's such a challenge.

  22. Great post, thanks for this, Hel and Diane!

    Since I'm working on my first novel, I don't feel too bad about writing within my comfort zone - Southern Horror, after all, is my bread and butter. I'm having a blast with it. But I have been pushing my boundaries and forcing myself to go farther and faster than I ever have before.

  23. Southern Horror?! This is the South, there is no horror. We're genteel and sweet and talk with a slow drawl. Horror? Okay, there might be some, but it'd be done with sweetness. "You said what about my fruit salad? Well, bless your heart, I'm gonna rip your tongue out with a melon baller."

  24. Good and interesting post. Moving out of the comfort zone is important to sustain development, for writers, scientists, dentists and ... bishops. I have done it a couple of times, and thought a little bit about it. When you move into something different, I think it's important to have some basic skills to keep you floating in the beginning. For an author, that's proably things like being a good story-teller. For a scientist, it's mathematical skills. For a bishop ... I have no idea >:)

  25. Very good advice. I can remember being told to stick to one genre and perfect the craft there, but I didn't think one would perfect craft by reading and writing only in one genre. So I read and write in a number of different ones, and find that they are all satisfying.
    Thanks for the wonderful post.

  26. Helen, there is horror in New Orleans...

    Cold as Heaven - I have no idea either!

  27. Diane, thanks for the wonderful information you shared today.

    And, you're right. There's horror in New Orleans. And maybe Houston. And Wetumpka, Alabama, and, okay, Nice, Florida, and... hmmm, I forgot Charleston....and ...

  28. Great advice as always, Diane!

    Stepping outside the comfort zone is the best way to grow and to learn. You can't move forward without taking a risk!

  29. Good suggestions. Stepping outside of our comfort zone is where growth occurs, but it also requires lots of more background work to sound convincing.

  30. I find it most difficult to write dialogues with different tone and feel. Diane, do you have any suggestion on this?

    Really Angelic

  31. Thanks for answering my question, ladies. It is good to see I am not alone Helen. LOL

  32. Enid, getting the feel of an area's dialect requires some work - visiting the location, listening to or watching news broadcasts from that area, watching movies based out of that area.
    My series takes place in the South, which is where I live, so I know how they talk. However, my characters are all educated, which negates some of the Southern slur, so I chose not to put very much in my books. Don't think I even used one 'ya'll!'

  33. Sometimes what you want is the "feel" of the region, not an exact duplication. If you put in too much dialect or idioms, you can lose the reader.

    Thank you so much, Diane. What a great post and discussion!

  34. Thank YOU Helen for the opportunity!


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