Writing Outside Your Comfort Zone



As writers, getting into the “groove” is the name of the game more times than not. But what if that groove is actually a rut? What follows might be creative stagnation we label “WRITER’S BLOCK” and subsequently sob our sad lack of production into our nightcaps.

I’m a novelist. I have no qualms about saying (writing?) that. I prefer to read fiction in the form of novels, I have studied the form extensively through university and then graduate school, and it’s what I write the most. It’s my groove, if you will. I like it. I’m happy here.

But I was recently given the opportunity to write outside my novel-shaped comfort zone, and I’ve been genuinely surprised and pleased by the results. These opportunities included three comic books. Here is what I learned about writing from working outside my groove.


It was FUN

Yep, this was a big one. I got the comic book deal right in the middle of a major life mess when my stress levels were high and my productivity low. By giving myself permission to step away from my current work for a few weeks to focus on a completely unrelated project with unrelated people, I won a little breathing room. More than anything else, writing outside my comfort zone felt like playing. I was able to write more like I did as a kid: I focused on ideas and dreamed big, then put those dreams on paper. It felt good.


I’m more pleased with my output (with less effort)

I want to be careful how I word this, because I care very much about everything I write and slap my ever-loving name on. However, perhaps due to my less-rigorous personal prejudices regarding the type of writing that should be found in comic books (aka “I dunno”), I actually liked what I wrote for these issues pretty much from the beginning. I wrote slower, asked for feedback, and revised simply. There was very little agonizing over every word, which leads me to my next point.


It silenced my inner critic

Hoo, boy. Okay. My inner critic is a jerk. He yells a lot and pretty much NEVER approves of the so-called “finished” product. We argue all the time. However, apparently even HE is silenced by writing outside the groove. I think this silence (FREEDOM) stems from a lack of expertise. I’ve read my fair share of comic books, but I haven’t studied them. I don’t know narrative theory or story structure or ANYTHING even approaching a critical writing understanding of how comic books are put together. No idea. No experience. No expertise.

So throughout the writing process, I depended heavily on my publisher for help in understanding the basic frame of a comic book script, as well as what “works” in this form. I’ll discuss this more in a later post on writing for comic books, but just know I learned from scratch over here. It felt like writing in a totally foreign land, but I loved it. My publisher was super patient and helpful, and if he told me something worked, I believed him. Because, hey…he actually knows.

I guess with novel writing I am so opinionated about and well-versed in what makes “good writing” that outside opinions of my work generally carry little weight…if they’re positive. The negative stuff I hold onto and try to improve. But those “hey, this is great!” type compliments? I tend to disregard them because I AM THE EXPERT AND I AM NOT SATISFIED! And, well, that’s tiresome and kinda sorta more than a little arrogant now that I type it all out like that.


Expanded the way I look at storytelling

Again, I plan to expand on this point in a later post, but being forced to look at stories and how they’re told from an entirely new angle was a vitally important exercise. I believe it has and will continue to have a positive influence on my writing overall.


Created a ton of new contacts in the publishing world

Did you notice how I was casually throwing around that whole “my publisher” bit? I really like the way that sounds! But in all seriousness, I had the opportunity to work with a team of people dedicated to putting out fun, quality work in this medium. How cool is that? Novel writing is so very solitary by comparison. It was good to be reminded that stories can be a collaborative effort. I hope I have the chance to work with these awesome folks again (artists, man…it’s so cool what they do).


Replenished my excitement

So here I am, returned from my writing (working) vacation with a fresh supply of enthusiasm and inspiration. I am ready to approach my WIP with new eyes now trained in “showing” a story, rather than telling. I’m excited about stories again, and that, Dear Reader, is truly a gift.


So what about you, LadyNerders? Have you ever needed to take a step back from your main work in order to gain fresh perspective? How did that work for you? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. You guys ROCK! 

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