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Stretch your writing comfort zone

“One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.”
-Abraham Maslow

As I grow into being a prose writer there are times when I feel like a fraud or a fake. I feel uncomfortable in this new territory. Sometimes, I want to run away from it all. Throw down my pen. Burn all those awkward sentences. When I start to feel this way—like an absolute and utter failure—I go back to poetry.

Poetry is my comfort zone. I feel safe there. I know I can create there. When I write poetry, the words, images and metaphors are my abacus, my rosary, my worry beads. To me, poetry organizes my world. I feel most comfortable in that space. But how can I use this comfort zone to help me grow as a prose writer?

Years ago, I read a little business book that promoted the idea of building on our daily small successes. When you have a success, use that to build your next success.

Example: I’m horrible at submitting my poetry to literary magazines or contests but recently I submitted one to the Surrey International Writer’s Conference (at the prompting of my writing and blog partner, Carly) and won Honorable Mention. This success motivated me to write and submit more poetry. Since that success in October, I’ve submitted to two more places (a record for me).

A friend once admitted to me that he felt like a failure in his new sales job. He’d just started his training but said he didn’t think he’d ever be a success. Before this, he’d been a decorated commander of a submarine.

“So,” I said, “When you first joined the Navy, did they just throw you on the boat and say, ‘Here, drive this?’”

He laughed and said no.

“I didn’t think so,” I said. “You probably had years of training and working your way up, right?”

He nodded his head and said he got my point. He needed to give himself time in his new profession in order to grow a new comfort zone. Now, when he feels overwhelmed, he can think back to his previous success and that gives him the confidence to move forward.

Recently, I had a rough couple of days on my novel-in-progress. Stepping back for a moment to write a poem made me realize that I CAN write, regardless of what my inner critic grumbles. Because writing poetry makes me feel good AND makes me feel successful, it’s a good place to go when I need to build my confidence.

How did I reach this comfort zone with poetry? Through continual practice—I never gave up—and I continued to read and learn.

When you’re learning something new—whether it’s prose, poetry, plays, another art form or a new job—and your inner critic flares up, make a list of all the other things you’re good at. Maybe you play a musical instrument, write legal briefs, or command submarines. Whatever it is, you can use that comfort zone to help you grow a new one.

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