Writing Outside Your Comfort Zone

Looking to brush up your writing skills or learn a new trick or two? You've come to the right place! Check back weekly for helpful tips and articles that make your writing better. 

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February 25, 2024

Write what you know. Have you been given that advice?  Most likely. And it can be great advice. If you’re a neurosurgeon and you’re writing hospital thrillers, you have an inside scoop on the details that can make a story rich.

If you live in New York or Paris or a tiny rural town in British Columbia and you set all your stories there, you have insight into the smells, sounds, and sights that can make your setting come alive in ways that someone who has never been there cannot.

If you have lived experience in something, writing about those topics can make it easier to create believable settings and story arcs. You might be less likely to rely on clichés or stereotypes if you’ve had experience dealing with the truth of living in that identity.

But what if you have limited experiences? What if you’ve only lived in one place? Are you doomed to a life of writing about it? What if you’ve never been to college, experienced a parade, witnessed a murder, lived in Dallas, moved through life as a queer person? Are you prohibited from writing about any of those things?

There is value in diversity and that holds true for your writing, as well. Your work can benefit from a wide range of voices, of tastes, of locations. If your comfort zone is in writing about a middle-aged white woman with three cats who solves mysteries in a small town because that’s the life you know best, there’s nothing wrong with that. But what if you want to step outside of that comfort zone? Where do you even start?

First, find your why. 

It’s not enough to just write something new—you want to investigate your why. Is it because a topic is trending right now? That’s probably not enough. Is it because you love the topic, you’ve always wanted to learn more about it, and you feel ready to try writing about it? That’s a great place to start.

Do your research. 

Talk to people, read blogs, use Google maps, watch documentaries. Be prepared to spend time learning everything you can about it before you write it. This is another reason your why is so important. If you aren’t interested in the subject, the research can be onerous. If you’re excited about a topic, the research will be fun.

Gather a team. 

A writing community is valuable in general but having folks who already write about (or live) the experiences you’re writing about is an imperative. If you’re writing outside of your lived experience, consider hiring sensitivity readers. (I also address this in my blog on writing queer characters.)

Most importantly, relax and enjoy the process. 

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Writing outside of your comfort zone in any way can be a big step and having the courage to do so can only improve your writing. Whether that comes in the form of trying a new genre, writing in a different point of view, changing your setting, or including characters with different lived experiences than you, every time you step out of your comfort zone, you are stretching your writing skills. 

True improvement comes with practice and while it’s great to become an expert in the familiar, being willing to try something new leads to growth. Allow yourself to grow—always.

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