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Stretching your comfort limits

Today I want to talk about comfort zones, and how important it is to stretch those limits. I’m sure there is some neurological research about how trying new things strengthens your brain (in fact, I’m pretty sure I read that somewhere), but I also want to talk about your fears and how to confront them. There was a book published in 1987 titled Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway, which I haven’t read but which is a motto we all should live by.

When something frightens you, even terrifies you, if you know it will help you in the long run, you need to feel the fear and do it anyway. Don’t wait until you’re no longer afraid to do it because that may never happen. And don’t limit yourself to doing things you aren’t afraid to do, or you’ll miss out on a lot of opportunities. You’ll find that when you do something that frightens you, you’ll gain a lot of confidence from trying something you thought you couldn’t do. And, with that confidence, you’ll be able to do that thing again, and again, and again, until you’re not afraid to do it anymore. You’ll also be able to translate that confidence into other arenas of your life. Here’s an example:

When I lived in LA in the late 90s, I took an acting class with a guy who used to star on a daytime soap opera. I loved my class, and I loved acting, but I was terrified to do my scenes. Then I went skydiving one day. Not tandem skydiving, where you just go along for the ride, but accelerated free fall, where you’re alone in the sky once you pull the cord. Later that week, I had to perform a scene in my acting class. What could I possibly be afraid of, I thought, after risking my life jumping out of a plane? That I’ll look stupid? That someone will laugh at me? The thought was so absurd that I went up there and threw myself into the character. After class, my teacher invited me to join the advance class. So that’s an example of how confronting one fear can translate into confidence confronting another. I’m sure you have many of your own examples.

So what do comfort zones have to do with writing, editing and publishing? A lot. First of all, we can always push our limits within our writing. We can write characters and situations that are uncomfortable for us. We can write in genres that are unfamiliar to us (for me that would be sci-fi or poetry). We can experiment with nonlinear writing or pour our hearts onto the page in a personal essay. Then, once we’re ready to take that work on the road, we’ll need to stretch our comfort zones in order to read our work in front of audiences, to sit on panels, to respond to radio interview questions, to stand in front of a class and teach. My first Works in Progress reading at Mills College was frightening, but now I’m comfortable reading in front of audiences. My first Porchlight story was terrifying, and I still feel sick when I think about it. Another thing I hate is getting my picture taken (despite having worked as a model for nearly ten years), or worse, having a video taken of me, in which I not only have to look good, but TALK as well. And this is why today’s editing hour was a video post. I was inspired by Gary Vaynerchuk’s Crush It (the Vook), and motivated by an article I read with a senior editor at Harper Studio, who said she gives all their authors Flip cams and tells them to start vlogs. Brilliant! I thought. I’m going to do that. So I did. And it was scary. And I don’t really like it. Because I don’t know what the hell I’m doing and just today opened a Vimeo account and used iMovie for the first time and dusted off my tripod and used my new Canon Elph and I think the resolution is too low and … and … and …. But I did it. And now it’s your turn.

What are you doing (or what have you done in the past) to stretch your comfort limits?

8 comments to Stretching your comfort limits

  • I'm stretching beyond my comfort limits every time I send a press release, request for review, or other email asking for something related to Rising Shadow. The game I've been playing with myself is not entering the person's email address at first, telling myself that it's just a practice email. Then, when it's done, I add the person's email address, stare at it for a second, and then say "Can't hurt!" as I hit Send. This ritual is helping me to be less afraid every time I send an email. Video will be the next big challenge…thanks for the inspiration!

  • Meghan Ward

    Jackie, I go through the same process when I send a query letters to agents.Thanks for your comment, and I look forward to reading more about your marketing experiences on your blog.

  • I stretch myself when I put my own hang ups and issues into my stories–and then readers think my character is an emotional idiot. That's hard. In my current story, I am putting in a very painful past that I experienced into my character, and thinking and articulating it will be a stretch for me, but I think it will make a good story.

    Sex scenes are a stretch for me. I admire yours freedom in writing those a lot because you showed me that you can do it and it's okay. (Bet you didn't know your scenes had that impact!)

  • This is a very inspiring post. I'm not sure what I should do to stretch my comfort zone, but I know for sure that I'm not taking enough risks in my writing.

    Outside of this, I would have to say that the biggest risk I took was leaving a full time, well-paying job in a library to accept a part time adjunct position at the local community college. I couldn't do both, so when I was faced with the choice, I left the cushy full time position. Of course, this was BEFORE I knew the economy would take a turn for the worse, but I don't look back and wish I'd made a different decision. I'm doing something now that really pushes me, and my previous job was just a little too repetitive and easy.

    You've given me something to think about for my New Year's resolution…thinking about a way to push my writing.

  • Meghan Ward

    Sierra, your sex scenes are way sexier than mine! (I have one i particular in mind), and have I already read about your painful past experience? I'm curious now. Stephanie, good for you for taking that teaching job! So awesome! And I have fantasies of writing a sci-fi novel (mostly for fun), so I should talk to you about that sometime. Do you ever come to the Bay Area?

  • Comfort zones are really my mortal enemy. The best things I've done in life are ones that follow my saying, "Fuck it." Also–spending an entire year sick after my stroke, definitely put me outside my comfort zone–and I am better off because of that year. Somehow, it rattled me enough that I started taking risks with my writing, and That is a Good Thing. 🙂

  • Meghan Ward

    Congrats, Jade, on turning your stroke into a positive influence on your writing. I would love to hear more about the times you said, "fuck it."

  • No you didn't read the painful past stuff (yet!). It's in my next story.

    Your sex scenes weren't steamy but they were bold, and you were unafraid to use words…well, let's just say that I was pretty much in awe when I read the bit about um, a female, um, thing with air…let's leave it at that.