Writing Outside of Comfort Zone

It seems the writing bug is contagious. As I am writing this, my wife has informed me that she is starting a story of her own, and has already managed to get a decent head start. So, in a way her writing endeavors are my direct inspiration for today’s post.

Today’s topic is, of course, how to approach writing, and how to write outside of your comfort zone.

I have always found it easier to write with a set minimum daily word count. As much as demands of real life, family, and career create limits on what kind of word count I can realistically accomplish, I try to keep to at least 1,000 words per day when time is at a premium, and up to 4,000 words per day when there is time. In fact, the ability to reliably generate a word count is very helpful in meeting deadlines and getting that hardest task of all new writers accomplished, finishing what you have started.

But then, there is the question of inspiration. In other words, what do you write when you try to meet your word count even on the days when you would much rather relax, watch TV, play a video game, or, hell, insert your favorite activity here?

A few days ago I was faced with that issue when a unique opportunity came my way. I work for a major financial services organization, and the company had decided to run a short essay contest. Naturally, the topics for such essays were limited to those relevant to current company initiatives – a far cry from science fiction I prefer to write, or from the types of papers I used to write in college, but it was an interesting challenge to write something completely different from my usual fare. As a result, I decided to follow on John Scalzi’s suggestion not to limit my writing endeavors to a specific niche, and decided to go for it. Plus, knowing that the top prize happens to be something I actually want could not possibly hurt, and I have quite a few good things to say about my experience with the company.

So, I had something to say, I had the ability to do the word count (let’s just say it was easily doable), but had to write a very different piece from what I would normally do, and had a hard time finding the right way to put the essay together. As tempting as the prospect of winning looked, the challenge felt a bit daunting, if only because it was a bit far from my comfort zone. And then, the epiphany came out of the blue.

It is really not that different from submitting a story to a prospective publisher.

In fact, it was even easier, because there is very little ambiguity as to who the target audience is, and at the very least I could expect that my entry will be read fairly quickly instead of warming the slush pile. And while the end result is not a paid publication, a success is certain to be an ego-boosting experience. Best of all, the process is fairly similar to what I would expect from a professional publisher – the finalist entries are selected on their merits, and a winner is chosen from them. It is really not that different from the process by which a magazine might pick a short story for inclusion, and if anything, it is a great dry run for my future attempts to push my stories out there.

The point of the story is that I could get this project done quickly by approaching it the same way I would approach a potentially publishable story, something that is much closer to my comfort zone. By equating a challenging project with something I am already more comfortable with, it was possible to write it using the same approach I normally take, producing a finished essay quickly.

So there it is, my little experiment with the very different kind of writing. There might even be a point to the story!

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