Monday, July 19, 2010

The Discomfort Zone

I just had to accept this challenge. Even being far pregnant, I can't turn down something like this. So, here I am, eight months pregnant, racking my brain to come up with what to say about writing outside of your comfort zone.

First, I do want to acknowledge my friend and critter Nina Rose who organized this blog chain. She's a wonderful writer, as are all of the writers who joined the chain. If you haven't had a chance to check out what they have to say about the Discomfort Zone, I've got links at the bottom of this post.

Getting outside ones comfort zone is something I feel is important if you want to be even remotely successful--whether that's in business, life, or, in our cases, writing. It takes guts to send your hard work out into the world, to be critiqued, criticized, pulled apart, and hopefully published. If you can come through all this and still stand with your head tall and planting one foot in front of the other, moving towards your goals, more power to you. Well done!

With writing, though, it can get pretty easy to get into a funk, especially if you write genre novels like I do. You follow a set pattern that's generally acceptable to the genre (dead body, red herrings, near-death scene when your hero discovers the bad guy) and push repeat, changing scenarios as needed, but basically write the same story five, ten, fifteen or more times.

How do you get out of that funk though, even if you're a multiple-published author?

Switch things up.

Change genres. Do something completely out of the ordinary.

For the better part of 15 years, I've been writing. For most of those years, I've written what most people would consider solid, traditional mysteries.

That is, until about two and a half years ago.

Having grown up on Star Wars movies and Star Trek television shows, my heart has always been in outer-space. I started wanting to write a book with a space setting. But, I had to have characters and plot to do that.

I've also been involved in politics for longer than I've been writing. I follow issues, politicians, and talk radio. For many years, one of my senators has given updates on human trafficking and ways he's been working to stop it. All it took was one of those writerly moments and, Bam! I had a plot, characters, setting.

This is where the discomfort zone kicks in. I write what could be called a cozy mystery--maybe some violence, but not a ton. Not a lot of overt sexuality. Other than my occasional use of swear words, I tend to write a fairly clean book.

I found, at least in my first draft, that in order to tell this story, I had to get out of my comfort zone and write scenes that were very uncomfortable for me. I wanted to show what was happening through my victim's eyes. It was almost impossible to accomplish without being graphic. Very different from what I usually write. There was more than one time that I wrote a scene that nearly turned my stomach.

But I pressed on. It was necessary for the story. While all of these scenes that turned my stomach in the first draft may not last the next round of edits and rewrites (when I can get them done with a toddler and an infant in the house!) I know that by writing these scenes, I've pushed my own bounds and, hopefully, made myself that much of a stronger writer.

So, what do you need to do to push your own boundaries? Do you need to take a certain risk in the story you're writing? I challenge you to take that risk--you never know how it may impact your writing later on.

Until next time,

The following writers either have been or will be participating in the blog chain. Please check out their websites to see their thoughts, join their followers, and generally chime in. Some of the writers you should recognize as part of my ongoing summer substitute teachers. Enjoy!

Ruth Rockafield -- July 1
Nina Rose -- July 4
Edward Lewis -- July 6
Tracy Kraus -- July 7
Kat Connolly -- July 8
Linda Yezak -- July 9
Lynn Mosher -- July 10
Nona King -- July 11
Victor Travison -- July 14
Janalyn Voigt -- July 15
Adam Collings -- July 17
Chris Solaas -- July 27
Suzanne Hartmann -- July 30


Anonymous said...

Liberty, I think your blog-chain post is among the best, especially since you wrote it during the "discomfort zone" of pregnancy. I admire your dedication to your art. Thanks for being a great friend.

~ VT

Victor Travison said...

I forgot to put my name and url in the above post. I'm not anonymous.

~ VT

E G Lewis said...

Great post. If you don't stretch, you'll never know how far you can go.
Peace and Blessings

Janalyn Voigt, escape into creative worlds of fiction. said...

You made me smile to think of you, great with child, wondering what to say about writing in the discomfort zone. :o)

It sounds like I'd enjoy your books, since I like cozy but intriguing writing. I'm in another blog tour with edgy Christian fiction writers right now. Your boundary-pushing story would fit right in with that group.

If it's not too much trouble, could you please add my blog link to my name at the end of your post? The site is

Good post, and I really like your background.

TraciB said...

Great post, Liberty! I know what you mean about writing outside the genre you're most comfortable with; I'm facing a similar situation.

Unknown said...

Thanks, everyone!

Well, it's any day now with the baby--but no later than Wednesday! I'm happy I actually wrote something last night--I thought my brain was shutting down for the last month!

I think that K.M. Weiland has really helped me learn to stretch myself with my writing and encouraged it, even if not overtly.

@Janalyn, I'm really borderline on the cozy thing... I like mysteries with some violence, but I still try to keep it toned down. But this latest project really has stretched me because it's got so much in it that I'm not used to writing. Reading, yes. Writing, no. The second draft in some ways is being reined in, and in other ways, I'm allowing certain aspects to be taken further. It promises to be interesting!

(I've also changed your name so it's linked--I should have caught that, but I didn't do a final pass before this posted. And, thanks for the compliment on the background! I wish I could say I designed it, but all I did was modify code to suit my needs!)

Tracy Krauss said...

This is a wonderful post, Liberty. I am so honored to get to know such inspiring writers through this chain! God bless - expecially with the new baby!

Unknown said...

OMGoodness,Lib, I can hardly wait to read the book! =D You've grabbed me by the nose ring (figuratively) and I won't be satisfied until I've had a read.

Let me know if you want a critter!

Unknown said...


I'll have to get through the 2nd draft before I have anyone else read it. My local crit group has bits and pieces now, and only one is almost through it!

But last years NaNo project may need more attention, after the baby comes. I actually kinda hate having 3 projects that all have drafts complete. Knowing which to put time and effort into can be confusing!

Anonymous said...

Writing something so intense must've really taken you out of your zone. I applaud you for doing it. Good post, Liberty!

lynnmosher said...

You go girl! Great post! Keep stepping out. I think you'll surprise yourself! Blessings to you!

Adam Collings said...

Sounds fascinating. Well done. I know from my own family, that doing anything like this while pregnant and / or with existing young children can be a big challenge.

This venture out of your comfort zone sounds like it is leading to one interesting story.

Mystery is an interesting genre in that it can be combined with almost any other. I've encountered mysteries set in medieval times, through to the distance future.

Sheila Hollinghead said...

Good job. Glad to see another Star Wars/Star Trek fan! Your WIP sounds intriguing.

KatC said...

You really did get into a discomfort zone writing this latest book! Writing something that turns your stomach but stretches you is a tough thing to do, but you did it. Especially pregnant when emotions run quite high anyway. I'm impressed!

May God bless you and give you a safe and joyous delivery of that new little wee one! :)

Suzanne said...

I think we sometimes end up with our best work when God calls us to write something outside our comfort zone. Because we're not sure of ourselves and what we're doing, we rely on God more, which is exactly what He wants us to do ALL the time.

Unknown said...

I remember hearing somewhere that the best novels are those in which the author risks much. I try to remind myself of that whenever I'm tempted to play it safe. It makes for a wild ride sometimes, but I've yet to regret it.

Unknown said...

Hey Liberty.

Bet you're out having a baby right about now.

Enjoyed your post. I'm not much of a risk-taker but I've got some projects that will be pushing my envelope soon.

Congratulations on the baby! (And on your literary one too...)

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