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Writing at the Edge of Your Comfort Zone

I don’t really love public speaking.  I like to think I’m not bad at it, but it is something I do with sheer determination rather than any sense of delight.  Last weekend, at the marvelous NOLA Written in the Stars conference, I gave two workshops with the lovely and talented Kim Law – with a determined smile on my face.  And you know what?  It was pretty dang great.

I remember the first conference I ever went to.  How blown away I was by the workshops at the Moonlight and Magnolias Conference in Georgia, lo these many years ago.  The authors seemed so incredibly wise and I learned SO MUCH.  It feels like a pivotal moment in my writing career – a time when the world opened up.  And now I get to pay it forward.  I get to take the things I’ve managed to glean from my last decade in this industry and pass it along.  Was it nerve-wracking?  A bit.  Totally worth it?  Absolutely.

I firmly believe we have to be willing to push ourselves in order to grow as writers – and this doesn’t just apply to pushing ourselves into public speaking.  Whether its trying a new subgenre or a new premise or a new narrative structure, we need to keep reaching so our writing stays fresh.

Writing is a constant exercise in pushing our limits.  We had to be brave the first time we showed our work to another human.  The first time we submitted to an agent or an editor.  The first time we put our work out there for the public to read and review.  Writing is one act of bravery after another.

I have a new book out today – Little White Lies.  A few months ago, when I was in the early stages of this book I kept saying things like, “I don’t know how I’m going to do it” and “I’m worried about pulling it off.”  Signs that I was at the edge of my comfort zone.  This wasn’t my wheelhouse.  I was pushing myself to write a story that was layered on itself, with complicated histories and dual timelines.  It was a challenge and I spent several months scared I was going to flub it all up.  (Just ask anyone in my family who got to hear me say, “I’m pretty sure it’s stupid” when they asked me how my books was going.)

How did it turn out?  Well, I’m a bad judge of my own work and I’m still nervous about it as it releases today, but a couple of my beta readers have called it “the best thing” I’ve ever written and their “favorite book” of mine – so it can’t be too terrible, right?  🙂  I know other readers may disagree (not everyone is gonna love it, I know that), but how many of us would publish at all if we stayed safely inside our comfort zones?  We have to stretch!  We have to push!  We have to be brave!  Because the best things in life happen when we put our comfort zones in the rear view mirror and keep on going.

How are you going to be brave today?  What can you do to push your writing to that next level?

*****

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Lizzie Shane is the Golden Heart-winning and two-time RITA nominated author of over 30 romance titles.  She loves to travel and push her comfort zones in that way as well and also writes paranormal romance under the name Vivi Andrews.

17 responses to “Writing at the Edge of Your Comfort Zone”

  1. So true, Lizzie. What would anyone ever accomplish if they stayed within their comfort zones. All authors, but especially Indie-authors, have to undertake things that scare them silly. We sit at desks in front of our computers for a reason. Stepping out into the public, professing ourselves to be ‘experts’ at our craft, letting strangers read our work, that all takes a very brave soul. Congratulations to you! I’m sure you were great at the conference and I can’t wait to read your new book!

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    • Thank you, Jacie! I think that is why I have a tendency to cling to my moments of validation – they can be rare in this business and we need them to shore up our bravery. And a group of cheerleaders is absolutely indispensable! We’ll keep cheering one another on to success. 🙂

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  2. Susie Warren says:

    I agree but it can be difficult to take chances and put yourself out there. I think writers become good at repeating internal mantras ‘the world will not end’, ‘mistakes can be fixed’, ‘be brave’ etc…
    Good luck Lizzie with Little White Lies!

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  3. jbrayweber says:

    YAY! Happy Book Birthday! Congrats on your newest release, Vivi.

    I’m with you on pushing the boundaries on my comfort zone—public speaking, writing, teaching, etc. I may look like I got this, but so often I feel like a hot mess.

    Currently, I’m stepping out of my historical genre and into urban fantasy. While I’m loving it, I worry if I can pull it together. The project has more moving parts than I’m used to.

    Great post!
    Jenn!

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  4. Cynthia Huscroft says:

    Participating in the WWF has been a voyage to the end of my comfort zone. I’ve always thought that I would like to make a serious attempt to write. This is the first time I’ve really put “pencil to paper” and have gotten past getting down just a paragraph or two and then sticking it in a drawer. If I had a $100 for each time I’ve done that I could probably buy new car:) But here I am getting it down, revamping, rewriting…all the “re’s” that seem to come with the craft and I’ve not yet stuffed it in a drawer. It’s hard but, as someone said, if it was easy everyone would do it.

    Congrats & best of luck on “Little White Lies”!
    Cynthia

    p.s. I have a magnet with “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone” on my ‘fridge.

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  5. I’m clicking the buy button as soon as I’m done here, because you know I’m a fan. Happy Book Birthday, sweetie. I love that cover. It says so much.

    And I totally agree about the need to stretch ourselves outside our comfort zone. I’ve been on a journey for nearly ten months (you know this because you were with me during my first baby steps) to learn how to plot. I’ve always been a pantser, but after listening to many seasoned authors say plotting can cut your angst and writing time, I decided to try it. I’m learning and forcing myself to do more thinking ahead before I start a project. In my first attempt, the project will be completed within 11 months, Before a 80K novel normally took me over a year. And I also completed and published a novelette. I’m happy. WINK

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    • That is incredibly brave. I’m scared to mess with my process, scared the entire thing will fall apart like a house of cards, so I really admire you pushing yourself to try a new attack. And congrats on slaying the first attempt!

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  6. Happy book birthday!!! It looks like a good one!

    I’m always so proud to see Ruby names on workshop announcements! Congratulations on spreading your speaking wings.

    I’ve been stretching a bit, mostly because there’s this one crazy WIP that I can’t stop thinking about, and the WIP I “should” be working on — the safe, smart one that would fortify my brand — isn’t holding my interest at all. Since I’m the one making all the rules about my career, I do feel free to break them at any time. 😉

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  7. Congratulations on the release, Dear Vivi! I love broken characters in desperate need of the healing power of love.

    Thanks for the little pep talk above! I’m working on a project with multiple timelines and a couple of hefty subplots, the biggest, most complex project I’ve ever attempted. I keep telling myself…one word, one page at a time. It’s so encouraging to see one of my Ruby Sisters muscle through. 🙂 Onward!

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  8. Tamara Hogan says:

    Happy book birthday, Vivi!

    Stretch goals are so important, aren’t they? Late last year, I challenged myself to develop and propose a series of plotting workshops I could teach at The Loft Literary Center, which is a literary and arts center in Minneapolis where I’ve taken classes and workshops for many years. They’re beefing up their genre fiction offerings, and my workshop proposal was accepted! The workshops take place once a quarter – not a lot of class time – but doing something public-facing during a time when I was feeling crappy about not publishing new work was a great shot in the arm. It feels awesome to add “Loft teaching artist” to my resume.

    And speaking of resumes…I think the most challenging aspect of the proposal process was writing a resume for myself as an author. Being traditionally published, and award-winning, definitely helped.

    Now, if I could just get this dang POD manuscript formatted… Grr. That’s a challenge for tomorrow, I guess. 😉

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    • This business does have its fair of challenges. Congrats on becoming a Loft teaching artist! I kept telling myself this weekend that I have credentials – as if saying it often enough could make me feel like I really had something to offer. I think that’s why we need the resumes – to remind ourselves how much we rock! 🙂

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  9. Pushing oneself is hard, especially when we’re self employed. Congrats for all you’ve achieved. Also on your new release. Love the cover!

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