I don’t think we challenge ourselves enough, as writers. I don’t think we give ourselves enough room to grow. I think we use comfort and happiness interchangeably, when in fact, being happy as a writer is an end goal, while being comfortable as a writer is a quick recipe for making sure you never reach your writing goals, ever.
There’s a big difference between being happy and being comfortable. As a writer, you can work hard, question yourself and have bad days and still be happy with what you’re writing. Comfort is soft and fluffy and never stresses you out, but it will silently suffocate you.
Your creativity needs constant challenging
Some of you are already forming arguments in your head about how writing is supposed to be whatever you want it to be. It’s supposed to be fun and abstract and it’s supposed to make you feel good. Well, of course it is. That doesn’t mean you should never push yourself to write something different, or try something new. Challenging yourself as a writer doesn’t mean you have to go from writing YA fiction to 900-page nonfiction history books. It means, every now and then, you should veer from the norm. You might not even know how much fun and addicting that can be, if you’ve never let yourself go there.
Comfort is that book you keep going back to rewrite because your characters are familiar and easy. Comfort is only writing about topics you’ve studied or written about before. Comfort is writing in the same format and style through the same medium, working with the same people and interacting with the same audience. Challenges, on the other hand, make you think and research and, yes, are a little bit stressful. But that’s the way writing should be. Really.
You don’t know everything
It really doesn’t matter how many degrees you have, how many times you’ve been published, how old you are or where you’ve been. If you try to make the argument that you know everything you need to know, you are not an expert: you are inflexible and unteachable. Unwillingness to open your mind and heart up to new ideas and experiences is probably the aspiring writer’s most prominent tragic flaw. If you close yourself off from those things, you’ve pretty much already decided your own fate. And it’s not a good one.
Each client I work with, possibly unknowingly, teaches me something new about writing or editing. I don’t believe anyone should ever stop trying to learn, no matter how often they do something or how much experience they claim to have. It’s dangerous to waltz around believing you have as much knowledge as you’ll ever need to be successful. Writers who get too comfortable in their tiny bubbles of knowing, they’re not going to last very long. Part of what makes writing good is its ability to challenge not only a reader’s knowledge and beliefs, but the writer’s as well.
Your brain doesn’t know how to handle boredom
Yesterday I avoided doing work for three hours by drawing a picture. It’s one of those straight-to-the-trash creative things I do when I have too much energy and can’t focus on what I need to get done. However, it’s not at all what I would have spent my time doing if I had been bored. When you’re bored, you end up watching Netflix, or eating ice cream, or taking a nap. Many of us, when we’re stressed, turn to creativity to balance out our positive and negative energies.
Your brain doesn’t know what to do when you’re bored, which is why sticking to the easiest writing projects, working with the same people, doing the same thing over and over again for extended periods of time, stifles creativity. Whether we realize it or not, a good number of us would rather be a little stressed than pace around the room afraid we’re going to die of boredom. So even though it seemingly might not make sense to take on more writing projects than necessary, getting too comfortable, not having enough creative stimulation, that’s probably the worst thing you can put yourself through as a writer.
It’s important that we all understand why writing is so hard … and why, therefore, it’s still worth it. Sometimes, you don’t want to challenge yourself. You don’t want to learn something new. You’re tired of being stressed – really, you’re just tired in general. You WANT to be comfortable. I get it. I really do. But that also tells me you don’t want to grow as a writer.
That’s your choice, of course: I’m not here to tell you what you can and cannot do. But the writers who push past that lack of motivation and exhaustion and do what they have to do anyway – they’re the ones who make it. Today is Monday. You want to stay in your pajamas and curl up with your laptop and avoid adulting for just one more day. Your brain needs you to write, though. That’s how you get past that “I really don’t want to leave my comfort zone” feeling.
We’ve all been there. You can get up and go on. Do your work, then come home and have a pajama party. Don’t stick with your same old characters; write ones that really challenge you. Write what you’re afraid people won’t like. Writing isn’t always comfortable. That’s why we call it work. It’s tough and sometimes cringe-worthy. But it’s worth it.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.
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