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.