Saturday, August 03, 2013

Working out of your comfort zone

It's easy to fall into habits that then become a kind of invisible trap. I think it's the flip side of the practice to mastery effect. If you're not very careful, what you do becomes the only thing you can do and a way to break out of this is to deliberately push yourself to stretch into something new and different.

When I'm not writing, I spend time crafting ceramics and throwing at the wheel is a skill I've been practicing for over 5 years now. I had gotten fairly good at throwing 1-2 pounds of clay, which can make anything from a large coffee mug to a small bowl. Whenever I tried to throw larger, I would have a difficult time and end up with either cow plops of clay on the wheel, or the death wobble and a warped pot.

But in the back of my mind, I had this goal of making a tea-pot. At the end of last term, I was determined to throw 3-4 pounds of clay and make the $#!@ tea-pot.

It was tough on my hands and back (throwing takes a lot of leverage and strength), but I succeeded in making a tea-pot large enough to hold over 2 8-oz cups of tea. (Except for one minor problem. . . )

When I started the summer session, I went back to my 1 1/4 lb mugs, as I had promised a friend I'd make a set for her. What I discovered was I had made a huge leap in my skills with smaller amounts of clay. Suddenly, it was even easier to control the clay and create consistent shapes. Somehow, my hands had learned the shape I wanted.

I attribute this to pushing out of my comfort zone and trying something I knew would be hard for me. When you then return to the familiar, even that has changed.

I'm in a similar place with my writing. After completing 8 novels, most in the YA or 'NA' realms, I've been drawn to a very different story that I had started and abandoned a few years ago.

It's something well out of my typical comfort zone: it's an alternate-world fantasy that is also fairly explicit erotica. When I stopped working on it a few years ago, it was for very good and practical reasons: I want to focus my career on YA writing. I suspect few YA writers are also able to successfully publish erotica. (I imagine irate parents marching en mass with torches and pitchforks. . . )

And, well, I'm an intensely private person and wasn't comfortable with readers reading my explicitly sexual scenes.

So why did I go back to this story? (Working title: The Sisters of Lilith)
  • Because I like the central idea and the characters. 
  • Because if I'm uncomfortable with writing something, that's a sign I need to figure out why. 
  • Because if I master the sexual tension that this story needs, I'll be able to bring appropriate elements of that into my other writing. 
  • Because a writer writes and shouldn't shy away from what's difficult.
I haven't decided what I'm going to do with this story when it's complete, but I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.

In the meanwhile, I'll be here, struggling with a larger lump of clay. :)

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