• Get *Further* Out of Your Comfort Zone

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 26 comments

    A couple of weeks ago we challenged you to write outside of your comfort zone, however you choose to define that — location, posture, time of day, etc. Most of your responses were about location: public vs. private, outside vs. inside, that kind of thing. Some of you detailed your hesitance to ever write inside of any kind of comfort zone. I can get behind that idea.

    And although none of you shared the results of this exercise in the comments section (tsk-tsk), a few of you emailed your experiences to me, and within one of those, I found an idea for this week.

    (That hyphen in “tsk-tsk” comes courtesy of Merriam-Webster, whose Twitter account, incidentally, has become a Trump-taunting delight, for those of you who might enjoy such a thing.)

    (Oh look, fourth paragraph and I’m nowhere near my point.)


    Which Is…

    Anyway, so this writer, who has allowed me to quote her email but not her name, had this to say about getting out of her comfort zone:

    “And I was stuck on this one scene where [character name] is having an argument with the 14-year-old version of himself, and the dialogue was terrible in all my attempts. Then I read this thing about form and experimentation, and I went back and rewrote the scene in screenplay format. WAY outside my comfort zone, for real.

    “But it worked really well. After just one draft the conversation was so much better, and the action was easy because it doesn’t require much detail, in a script. But that’s the easy part anyway (for me.) What I was worried about was the dialogue, and just by trying it in a different form, it worked. I don’t know if it was b/c of the mere fact of a different form, or if it had something to do with how it looked on the page, or what.

    “That’s how I got out of my comfort zone. Next time I have a problem with a scene, I’m going to screenplay mode. And I bet it works in other ways too.”


    Your Challenge:

    Get out of your comfort zone by writing in a different form.

    Are you struggling with a prose conversation? Try it in screenplay format, like our writer above did.

    Struggling with a scene in your screenplay? Write it out as prose fiction!

    Having trouble with the introduction to your persuasive essay? Write out your thoughts in poetry.

    Agonizing over the next word of your poem? Write a short story about a poet agonizing over the next word of her poem.

    Can’t achieve the right tone in your blog post? Write it out as if you’re delivering it as a speech instead.


    Tell Us About it

    Let’s continue to shake things up, folks. Because trying new things is a sure way to discover new things. And discovering new things — and then describing those discoveries — is the fuel that keeps we writers running.

    (We writers? Us writers? We writers. Wee writers. We wee writers. Us tiny writers. It’s what keeps us tiny writers running.)

    Your turn: This time, report back! Tell us today how you intend to play with form, and then play with form, and then tell us how it went. Don’t just leave us hanging like sad, forgotten monkeys.

    Good luck!


    David LinkedFULLWriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is copy editor and fiction editor at the Texas Observer and has written for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2016 writing project that you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coaching, private instruction and writer’s block counseling services. Join our mailing list and get a FREE writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer.”

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    Jerry Schwartz

    I usually write in the simple past tense, and mixing up tenses and times is one of my pet peeves. Something like “He went to the store and buys some apples.” grates on my nerves no end. I don’t even like it when the narrator’s viewpoint jumps back and forth. In one of my current efforts, I decided to give the latter a try. I cast certain bits in the present. My thought was that this would introduce some urgency or immediacy—punch it up. Here’s a little abstract from the beginning: “The car loses traction on the wet snow and… Read more »

    Bruce Carroll

    I’m not sure if I like it, either, but that isn’t the point. What did you learn by writing it? Do you have a new insight into the scene? Or the characters?

    Jerry Schwartz

    I wouldn’t say I’ve gained any insights, per se, but it might help solve a technical problem. In some of my scenes, I get criticized for having too much exposition (show, don’t tell). In other scenes, I get criticized for using too much dialog (reads like a play). Since nobody’s offering me money for my work, I’m not under any obligation to value that criticism; but I’m thinking that inserting bits of present tense narration might be a way of finessing the problem in certain circumstances. When my narration is mostly past tense, three or four sentences in the present… Read more »

    Jerry Schwartz

    Most of my stuff is first-person narrator, so internal monologs don’t accomplish much. I do throw in an occasional unvoiced thought such as “You idiot, what did you do that for?”

    The particular piece I quoted is one of two third-person buns I have in the oven.

    One challenge I’ve thought about, but never dared attempt, is to write something with a first-person narrator of the opposite sex. I don’t think I’ll ever have the nerve for that.


    Jerry, if you want to be inspired to write first-person opposite sex, take a look at _World’s End_ by Joan Vinge. It is the second novel in a trilogy, and it is first person male, while the author, and also the protagonist of the other two books in the series, are women. And it is truly excellent.

    Barbara Mealer

    From the time I started to write, I’ve been writing full length novels. One of my issues is what I call wandering where I go off on a tangent. In my second draft I catch a lot of that and correct it. On another website, they had a challenge for a short story using a prompt concerning newpapers. I took the challenge and actually managed to keep it short and focused. I liked my grumpy cat who was actually a reporter from 2200 who did time travel with his human partner he had gotten separated from on an investigative assignment.… Read more »

    Jerry Schwartz

    I can’t say I’ve ever written a novel as a way of getting a short story, but I’ve certainly written twenty thousand word pieces that should have been five thousand. :)


    That’s an excellent question, David, about writing a novel on the way to a short story. I can think of two cases. The most famous one is J. R. R. Tolkien. Before he managed to write a publishable novel or short story – which he always wanted to do, he had to invent entire languages and a vast mythical world. Only years of pressure from C. S. Lewis to “tell us a story” helped Tolkien focus enough to create _The Lord of the Rings_. He also reduced novel-length stories to verse, turning the story of Beren and Luthien into verse… Read more »


    I can see one possibility. Suppose, as a writer, I have an idea that seems good for a short story or even flash fiction, but I can’t find anything with the core punch to make it really good. I could go stream of consciousness, write a whole lot in and and around the issue, and also be playful or do exercises – come up with lists of settings or lists of characters, or change an aspect of one of these. I’d dump out lots of words and ideas without any reflection at all, then let it sit, probably for three… Read more »


    A very simple way of writing differently that works for me is to read my writing aloud. I even record my reading and listen to myself. This lets me see if the words on the page are conveying the feelings I want to convey. I tried an experiment this week. My comfort zone is material that will go into my stories and novels. I do take brief outline notes, mostly for the novels. But I don’t develop the backstory of the piece in writing. I do that in my head – if I stay in my comfort zone. I realize… Read more »


    Thanks, David, for the support of my backstory work. At a grand level, yes, the material I draft as backstory may be published. At a specific level, I very intentionally say to myself that I will decide that later. For each specific item, I feel some conflict. On one hand, I don’t want to see it in print because background is not as dramatic as foreground, and I don’t want to publish epic tomes worthy only of gathering dust. I also know that some of the writing will be so bad that it can’t be improved unless completely rewritten. So,… Read more »


    I decided to say to hell with form…, ha, ha….. yeah, I’m telling a story and I’ve been struggling, fighting to keep it straight and linear. It was good for a while, made me discern to what is important and discard the rest…, but then it seemed i was overlooking a great part of my story comes with the stories my own charactors tell, and well, once again, “form” is thrown out with “las aguas”, because whatever it is I’m doing may lose readers, confuse readers, make it tough on them to keep track, flashbacks spidering out with stories within… Read more »


    This sounds really cool to me. I think we should make lots of room for things that may not work for readers – even things we know won’t work – during the writing process. Getting the work out of the mind and onto the page is step one. In that, all that is called for, I think, is being true to ourselves. Getting what’s on the page in shape for the readers is, perhaps, steps 2 through seven, rewriting, revising, editing, and more.


    Sometimes stories are simply not linear, sometimes the linearity of say, the Hero’s Journey form, which is almost always used in an epic piece. With my story, I am using multiple points of view, flashback and multiple time spectrums, (Celestial time/Earth planet time are not the same). But … as I might lose the reader uninterested in following along with this underlying non-linear dynamic, when I might go back in time, and then back in time again, then go back to the present, etc…., I promise to hold the reader throughout a chapter, (I hope), as one would be when… Read more »


    Sounds like you really know what you are doing! Using a form familiar to readers in a fresh way is a great way to get your story through to readers and give them something new at the same time. I do this kind of work as well. I find it really helps to build multiple timelines, such as in-story chronological, as presented, and timelines of each major character, as well. Tolkien did this while writing Lord of the Rings and it saved him a lot of time and made for a story that followed three different groups of people in… Read more »


    Thanks, David


    you’re right David. I look at photographs of people on Tumblr and I can tell you a story about them and then I get lost, because by the time I wake up, I’ve been across the continent with their ancestors and back again. Crazy.


    Joe, that’s good crazy, if you ask me.

    Would love your thoughts, please comment.x