Getting Out of Your Writing Comfort Zone

I’ve been digging this song on this fine Super Bowl morning, so enjoy it while you read my post:

Here’s my usual throat-clearing when I write something about writing and the writing process: I’m just a dork, who is currently wrapped up in a red and black blanket at my house drinking coffee. I haven’t been published in The New York Times (although I did get a shout-out and they linked to one of my stories!) or The New Yorker, or even some of the small prints that get love on Writing Twitter. I come at writing from the vantage point of being an avid reader, like many, and someone who writes, like many; thus, I have thoughts and musings I’m going to share with you and if it helps you, great! If not, no worries (unironically)!

Speaking of coffee, that’s where this latest revelation I’ve had about writing comes from. I have something of a Pavlovian response (which is a funny way to think about it because the story I ended up writing was inspired by Russian events and Pavlov was a Russian psychologist) to coffee and my relationship to writing. If I’m drinking coffee, I should be writing something. If it’s work-related, a blog post (like now), or something else, I ought to parlay my caffeine high into something productive and for me, productivity almost always means some form of writing.

Like, I ain’t using coffee to then go jog four miles. I’m using it to “jog” four miles on the blank page.

So, I drink coffee in the mornings and in the evenings, with the occasional substitution for hot tea or hot chocolate instead. Thus, my Pavlovian response is that I only write in the mornings or the evenings when I have coffee. There is no deviation from that comfort zone.

But maybe I should get out of my comfort zone? Who says I have to write at those specific times aside from my goofy brain (sorry, brain)?

The Molotov Cocktail, one of my favorite online flash fiction literary magazines, holds regular contests with a horror-inspired theme to write toward. In the past, they’ve done monsters, phantoms, beasts, killers, etc. The current contest is “folked-up flash,” inspired by folk horror. The sweet spot for these contests is 750 words. And the soft deadline is approaching: Feb. 15 (they do a procrastination deadline extension).

Themed contests can be difficult because it can feel claustrophobic as a writer trying to write toward a theme and especially in an original way. But it’s also fun? Bittersweet indeed.

Last night, I had a vague idea for a story and thought, Okay, I’ll tackle this in the morning with a fresh start and coffee.

And then, it occurred to me, why wait? I have the idea and I’m feeling it. Let’s go now.

Admittedly, I was also spurred on by a few beers and a nice buzz, but still! Let’s write now!

I busted out the laptop, braved the blank page and started writing. It always helps when I have the thought of what the first line is going to be; everything after that is bloody gravy (think horror more than British).

Sometimes I run out of steam short and don’t have a way of ending the story. I’m happy to say I not only didn’t run out of steam — I ended up around the sweet spot at 773 words! — but for once, and I do want to emphasize how rare this is, I had an ending that felt right. There was nothing more to say and it didn’t feel like a weak landing.

Endings are rough!

Next, I’ll let my story simmer and return to it probably later tonight or tomorrow morning/afternoon/evening and then submit it to the contest and hopefully I’ll finally win the darn thing! Or at least get a shout-out, not that I’m settling, but even a shout-out has been hard to achieve. Top place gets $300 to sweeten that satisfaction.

How are ways that you’ve gotten out of your writing comfort zone? And what is your writing comfort zone?

Attacking the blank page like …

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