Write out of your comfort zone

13 Jan Write out of your comfort zone

Do you always fall into the same writing habits? The same tone, the same phrases? You’re in good company.

At my lovely Creative Writing class yesterday I was explaining how writers have tics – not facial ones, although perhaps we have them too – the ones that crop up in language. In my first book I kept using the word chocolate brown. I read a friend’s early draft and half her characters were nodding.

Often we don’t notice our own tics, which is why we need a writing buddy or editor to point them out. But seeing your own habits and pushing yourself to change them is an important way to expand your craft.

A screenwriter recently told me how challenging it is writing for commercial television where the adverts dictate programme content.

‘You need to setup a new character and end on a cliffhanger in 30 seconds,’ he was told.

Surely not, I hear you say. How can you do all that in 30 seconds? At first he struggled, then he found inventive ways around it. In the process he learned new tools which he’ll carry through to other projects.

I’m finding this with my new novel. I am happier writing from the third person point of view (pov) and personally I prefer reading third person pov stories. However, my main character ‘wants’ to be told from the first person. While first person can be very engaging and immediate, it’s harder to sustain.

‘Tough. You’ve just got to learn,‘ my writing buddy told me.

She’s right. Keeping it fresh is part of what we need to do as writers. That’s why I switched from journalism to long form non-fiction, and now to fiction. I like to mix it up.

Here are 5 ways to stretch yourself:

  1. Change your voice. If you’re chatty, become formal; if you always talk about yourself, reduce the number of ‘Is’ and focus outwards. See what you learn by doing so.
  2. Switch point of view. If your story isn’t working, your narrative position maybe wrong. Take the plunge and write from another pov and see how that changes the narrative.
  3. Try a different genre. If you’ve always loved fantasy but you’ve been too scared to write about aliens with blue heads and five arms, do it now. What have you got to lose?
  4. Read your work out loud to someone you trust. Be brave enough to get feedback.
  5. Kill your darlings. As writers we are often attached to our pet phrases, our favourite opening line. Sometimes we have to throw them out because they stifle a story. Don’t be afraid to try new approaches.

As author Neale Donald Walsch puts it, ‘Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.’ I look forward to seeing you there…