Stepping outside the comfort zone

I recently took up a challenge:  write a short story between 5,000 and 10,000 words for an anthology based upon a picture.  Doesn’t sound too hard, right?  Wrong.

After researching this publisher, I discovered that, while they publish mostly urban fantasy, all of their published works have a romance theme running through them.  I don’t write romance.  I stink at writing romance.  Whenever I tried, the words always sounded funny to me, forced.  Clichéd and clunky.  But I really like this publisher and I like the books they put out, and I really want to be published by them.  That put me in a dilemma:  do I continue writing my young adult fantasy pieces and pass, or do I step out of my comfort zone and write an adult fantasy with a romantic element?

I took the leap.  I stepped outside, and let me tell you, I was shaking in my sneakers.

I stared at the picture they gave us thinking ‘what the heck am I going to write about?’  The publisher laid out some rules and regulations and stated what the story could NOT be about, which made the challenge even harder because, if you look at the picture, you wanted to write about what you couldn’t write about.

So, I started with a few sentences.  I didn’t like them.  I started over…and over, and over, and over again.  Then, a week or so ago, a pretty nasty thunderstorm rolled through the area late at night.  Howling wind.  Rain pattering hard on the window.  I lay in bed around 2:30 in the morning listening, and the scene for the short started playing out in my head.  I could see my characters, I could see the plot, the theme, the motivations.  I could even see the romantic element.  But could I write it?

After taking my son to the bus stop at 6:30 am, I sat at the computer and wrote.  The words started to come.  I told myself to write.  Get it all out first and then go back. Don’t stop in the middle and revise.  Just keep going.  I had 7,200 words 10 hours later.  But the draft was just that – a draft.  The romantic element wasn’t there enough.  I needed more.  That took a few days to fix.

I’m still not sure if it or the entire story works. It’s with beta readers right now who have my permission to slaughter it.  I still have time to fix the problems.  I can say this, though:  I was happy enough with it to let it go, and I’m not fretting.  What matters is I took a chance to see if I could do this, to see if I could write outside my comfort zone.  And while the task seemed cold and daunting at first, even dreadful at times, I persevered, I survived, and I learned once again that the fear of trying is worse than the actual doing.

Have you got something you’re dreading to write?  A term paper?  An essay?  A business report?  Sit back, take a deep breath, and trust yourself.  You can do it.  All you have to do is believe.

17 thoughts on “Stepping outside the comfort zone

  1. I feel I am always pushing myself beyond my comfort zone because, honestly, I am always unsure of whether or not I actually want people to read what I write! I always find such comfort from reading that others are insecure about their craft, also!


  2. Its good to push ourselves out of our comfort zones, but I think we have to be careful about being true to ourselves. I will always be willing to try new things, but I won’t write something I don’t believe in with my entire muse.


    1. I agree, but if we don’t try, we’ll never know if we found something else we like. I will never ‘force’ myself to write something. Not only will I be able to tell the difference; so will the reader.


  3. Jenny! I loved reading this; an honest and real portrayal of the writer’s quandary. So often we SEE the characters, plot, direction, etc… but when it comes time to sit down and turn images into sound writing, the result seems insignificant and unsubstantial in comparison to the grandiose vision in our head. It thrills me that inspiration struck and you were able triumph over the dreaded fear of “Can I do it?” You are right: without belief we can do nothing. With it, nothing is beyond our reach!

    Thank you!


    1. I’m glad you liked the post. I got my first beta read back on my short. It needs work in all the areas I thought it did, but I think they are ‘easy’ fixes. Waiting for the other reviews to come back to see what they all say and then go from there.


    1. Yes, but anyone can write 7000 words of dribble. Quality is what counts and I’m not sure if the quality is there. Yet another writer nightmare.


  4. I’m with you when it comes to writing romance. I tried it a couple of times and anywhere I sent the manuscript they said there was too much story & not enough romance! I know writing romance is out of my comfort zone, but a few years ago (more like 15) someone in my writer’s group knew some people who were starting up a website for erotica. She said they’d even pay. Erotica? I gulped. No way I could write THAT! Well, after sitting down at the computer and taking a deep breath, (maybe two or three more!) I actually came up with a few stories that weren’t really awful. So, I guess, sometimes pushing your boundaries can pay off. 🙂


  5. Jen, I’m wondering if the prompt/publisher you’re writing for is the same one I am. If it’s any consolation, I was 2/3 through writing mine when I decided I hated the direction it was going and decided to backtrack to the last part I liked, and then deleted everything after that and started from that point all over again. But I agree. Writing outside your comfort zone takes courage. Even though it’s often only our minds telling us we can’t that stops us from doing. Oh, and I dread writing every darn thing I do. That’s around 80% of the challenge to me though: giving it a shot even though I don’t know for sure I’ll be able to pull it off. 🙂


    1. Really? You dread writing about Sean and Jem and Ethan and the gang? It reads so natural, like you can’t wait to get it on paper. I’m curious, what was the last thing you wrote that was way out of your comfort zone?


      1. Aww, thanks so much, Jen.
        Apart from the short story I’m currently working on now? Ethan’s novel. An entire novel of Ethan was EXHAUSTING! Way more action, far less romance. He’s quite a complicated dude to be constantly figuring out his motives/what makes him tick/what he’d do next/his reactions to everything. I’ve never been so relieved to finish a project. I even said to my editor (who now has it) that if she tells me to make storyline edits, I’ll probably have a mental breakdown, lol.
        Though, of course, I have Kyle’s/Dan’s/Josh’s stories to write yet–they’ll probably drive me nuts, too. Plus there’s that YA I want to write this year. I have NO idea what I’m doing with that, lol. 🙂


  6. Great post!! Stretching ourselves makes us grow, you’re right. I’m glad your story worked out for you and you were able to bring in elements you don’t normally write.


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