Thursday, July 9, 2009

Stepping Out of the Comfort Zone

Are you comfortable with your writing? If so, there's nothing wrong with that. In fact, I think every writer should have their own comfort zone - an area of writing where they enjoy writing and submitting work. Psychologically, we need that comfort zone to turn to when things aren't going as well as they could be. But are you purely existing within your comfort zone?

One of my students, Jackie, recently said to me that she found it difficult looking for new markets. I'd commented that the work she was submitting for her assignments was mainly aimed at the specific reader slots - where editors ask for reader's contributions. Think back to the Observer's 'My Crap Holiday' slot that I and so many of my students had success with last year. These are great sections within a magazine to target because you know that the editor is actively seeking material for that section.

Jackie was targeting these slots and having some success, however, this meant that she was writing relatively short pieces - most of these reader slots are between 250 and 500 words. In my opinion, this had become Jackie's comfort zone.

We need to break out of our comfort zones as much as possible. Without stretching our writing muscles, we don't learn new techniques. We don't know what we are capable of. Being self-employed certainly helps you to step outside that zone. If ever I'm asked what inspires me to write, I simply hand out my credit card bill!

I'm currently writing a correspondence course. Now this is something that had never even crossed my mind when I became a full time writer over five years ago. But when someone rings you up and says, "Could you write this for us?" the self-employed section of the brain utters the word 'Yes' before the rest of the brain has a chance to catch up.

The correspondence course I am writing now is my second. Having completed the first earlier this year, when I was asked to do another one, I wasn't quite so scared saying 'Yes' this time. Which brings me to my next point.

What starts out as being outside of your comfort zone, could soon become part of your comfort zone. If you succeed in pushing your boundaries - then the comfort zone inside them becomes much bigger. This means that over time, we become more relaxed about writing in a wide variety of styles and formats.

I suggested to Jackie that she needs to get back to writing longer articles. If you find yourself in a similar situation, start analysing the magazines again for those freelance written articles. Find out where in the magazine those slots are and then come up with an idea for a feature. Have a go at drafting a piece.

If you get stuck, stop what you're doing, go back to your comfort zone and write something for a market you're happy writing for. Then come back to this piece that is stretching you, and continue. Eventually, you'll produce a piece that you can submit. And when you've done that, reward yourself by writing something else in your comfort zone.

So if you write cosy romantic stories, have a go at writing a thriller, or a twist in the tale. If you write humorous articles, try writing something more factual. Could you write something for a national newspaper, if you're used to writing for magazines?

Step out of your comfort zone from time to time and expand your markets. It won't be easy, but you will benefit from it. Do it enough times and your comfort zone will get bigger. The more markets you write for, the better your chances of success. Limit your comfort zone and your narrow the writing opportunities that are out there.

Good luck.