Friday, November 6, 2009

Comfort Zones

I listened to a radio show this week where four women were thrown into crazy situations to see how they would react. One scenario was a day of skydiving. In the next, their life coach stripped naked and jumped into Lake Michigan and instructed them all to join her and they dutifully and joyfully followed suit. The tests seemed to have a few things in common: the element of surprise, facing a fear, and leaving your comfort zone. It made me want to do something different and cool too, until I thought about my novel. For whatever reason, I've been stuck in my same habits lately with no plans to change. And it's not working.

Writers, just like anyone else, sometimes have a hard time in leaving a comfort zone. We work very hard to classify ourselves as “YA” or “Women’s Fiction” or “Mystery” and not to cross any lines. We sit in the same chair in the same room at the same desk and write, basically, the same stuff, over and over. If we have poor habits we keep them. If we have great habits, then guess what? We keep them too. This is what separates the prolific from the pitiful.

And changing our writing habits is like deciding to jump out of a plane. (Note that I said ‘deciding.’ I can’t imagine it’s nearly as thrilling as the actual jump.) I switched from writing longhand to the computer after completing the first 30,000 words of The Angel’s Share, my work in progress. Then I started The Angel’s Share over after I decided that the whole thing needed to be in first person after all. Sometimes, as they say, a change can do you good. (Then again, sometimes I think maybe I just don’t know what I’m doing yet.)

This month, we here at What Women Write are participating in a writing blitz called National Novel Writing Month (or in some cases, our own versions of the challenge). The official goal is to complete a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. For some of us, it’s been uncomfortable. Or rather I should say, for me it’s become uncomfortable. Daunting. Overwhelming. Even, shall I say it, stupid. I don’t want to scribble a bunch of crap. I am stressed because I'm not supposed to edit as I go (and I'm great at editing while I go). I tell myself that I have no time for that kind of commitment. The thought of doing something a different way feels so weird that I can’t even fathom it will work.

And then I realize with all my internal grumblings that the problem isn't NaNo, the problem is simply me and my crappy habits. That’s when I think that doing something like write 50,000 words in a month might actually be a great idea. It could breathe fresh air into my novel. Frankly, what I’ve been doing (which is brooding, thinking, outlining, and daydreaming) hasn’t been working so great lately anyway.

I am going to do it. I’m going to step out of my comfort zone and do something that I wouldn’t otherwise do, and that’s committing to writing 50,000 works in the next 30 days. I’m not jumping out of a plane (though I might some day) and I’m not jumping naked into Lake Michigan (though it’s completely possible that one day I could), but I’m jumping into The Angel’s Share with a newfound goal- and the goal is as simple as getting the words on the page. I can’t think of a single thing that I have to lose.

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