Daily Writing Challenge: How to Escape Your Comfort Level – Is it Time to Get a Bigger Pond?

One of the greatest killers in the world of writing is complacency.  It is a contagious “disease” of the mind, a cancer that grows from the tiniest seed of self-satisfaction.  Wow.  Did I write that?

So, look, I don’t mean to say that being proud of a story, an essay, a poem or a novel you wrote makes you a bad person.  Not in and of itself, at least.  But know this, if you are resting on your laurels, your laurels are in the wrong spot.

We know that there are writers out there who manage  to discover a formula and never leave the shelter of what they know… and who make a decent money doing it.  These are writers who will, over their lifetimes, make a good deal of money, and it is hard to fault someone who has “made it” in the eyes of the world.

See, the problem is that much like Rock Bands, the fans don’t really like change.  When a band that has made its name with a particular sound tries something new, the fans revolt.   Certainly the managers, or in the case of writing, editors and publishers, would rather count on you producing the same book over and over with small variations as long as the public is willing to buy it.

Some readers will want to stop me here and ask, “…well, why not?  I’m writing for a living.  What’s wrong with that?”

Today’s topic will confuse some UhW readers who have heard me go on and on about writing for your audience rather than for yourself (or words to that effect), and I still stand by the idea that a person who writes ONLY for him- or herself has no right to ask anyone for a critique… but, I think we owe it to our readers to push ourselves daily.  To continue to work on our craft, to expand, to explore, to get out of that damn silly little pond that we may have become a big frog in, and go looking for a larger venue. 

Getting out of your comfort level, is a personal thing, and by its very nature difficult in the extreme.  Most people, when they claim to have escaped their comfort zone have only put new labels on old practices, and then, smugly gone on to recreate themselves in their own, tired image.

What defines your comfort level?  Is it your genre?  Is it use of dialogue?  Are you stuck in a single narrative mode?  Are you weak in description?  Is action your thing?  Are you into (r afraid of) controversy?

Growing up we had a rule at my house.  If a new food was brought before us (fairly picky eaters) we had to try it.  Whatever it was.  Give it a shot, see if it was something we would like.  We were never allowed to say no to a new taste just because we didn’t like the way it looked.

…and that’s today’s challenge.

Step up, step out.  Write a poem if prose is your thing.  Do a short story if you are a poet.  If you write adventure, try romance, or something deeply cognitive.  Look for a new taste, try it out.

You may, in the long run, choose to stay with the style, the genre that you’ve grown used to, but having tried others things you’ll better know that the place you’ve settles is the place where you belong.

Just note, when you graduate to a bigger pond, you have room to grow.

Your thoughts?

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15 responses to “Daily Writing Challenge: How to Escape Your Comfort Level – Is it Time to Get a Bigger Pond?

  1. I had a feeling that you would mention ‘writing for yourself’ as a viable ingredient somewhere in the post, and you did. But this can take many modes. You can write from sheer pride at producing, as you say, something that you have already proven to yourself that you are good in. OR, you can write to discover yourself, and consequently expand the potential and writing ‘techniques’. Then writing, like life, becomes an opportunity to grow.

    • With respect to myself, my ‘philosophies’, also continue to expand as a perspective on the possibles with the world.

      • In other words, I THOUGHT I was agreeing with you, and making a similar distinction. Perhaps this will not be true of my critique of the critique-er! But in my acting days, I had yet to meet anyone, who didn’t have some objection to make about something in the ;latest review’ in the paper!!!!! Is it ‘just human nature!’ After all, it occurs ‘enough’ in plain ordinary ‘life’. As I said, I thought I was agreeing with you. grin grin.

    • Don’t get me wrong, Loreen. I have nothing against writing for one’s self. And I agree that exploratory writing is a powerful process, one I personally use often.

      When I talk about people who say they “write for myself”, I wonder. In most cases, and especially back in the WEbook days, these were people who claimed to write for themselves as a defense once they got reviews they didn’t like. Rather than listen, consider changes, consider improvements, they suddenly “write for themselves”

      The best writers I know often make mistakes, they learn from their errors, they learn from others, they continue to grow.

      I speak (er, write) from experience. When I began writing I would listen to people critiques, and then refute each idea, point by point. I was not parcitipating in a critique, I was holding a civilized argument. And I wasn’t learning.

      WEbook changed that for me. I started to listen, and I think (I hope) I’ve been growing in my craft every day since.

      • I don’t think I got you wrong, (hopefully my interpretation understood what you were saying, but you never know). And that’s the point with accepting critique or criticism. Is it so ‘wrong’, to question the critique of an individual, to argue a point, in an attempt to find out just what the perspective is behind the critique. Should the critiqu’er be free from critical scrutiny him/her self? After all, he/she is merely offering another form of writing, and it is possible that his/her perspective may be ‘off mark’, or not conform to acceptable principles, etc. etc. etc. Cannot both, in other words, learn and develop in the process. After all, it can be just a ‘protection of ego’, to use a familiar phrase, )and consequently the reason for the defense of the writing), whether it be the ego of the writer of the work, or the writer of the critique that feels the need to ‘protect’ his/her point of view. On the other hand, perhaps nothing ‘essential’ was said either in the writing or in its review!!!!!

        • Loreen, you make an excellent point. Just because someone has an opinion, nothing makes it right perforce.

          I was leaning toward those who ask for critique and opinion and gainsay it without consideration.

          Thanks for keeping me honest.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Richard. Something like this perhaps could happen in ‘real’ criticism.
    I, too, am aware of those writers (and people in life, and in this respect I too can fall into this ‘trap’) who are only looking for praise, not ‘good’ criticism. They live in a kinda ‘la la land’, yes. Not being realists.
    But then some critics, also are not ‘realistic’, and are only looking to criticize.
    In both cases good reading, in life or in art, takes discernment, and it is also discernment I believe that we need to develop in order to better our craft.
    Thank you for the ‘feedback’. We can keep each other honest!!!!.

  3. Ricky,
    I always wondered why at the beginning in Webook you were so “against” (need a better word for this) writing about your personal experiences that, how I have expressed before, are fascinating for me as a reader.
    For example, that line where you talk about the rule in your home. Great! It makes the reader go to that time and travel to that place in your family. I imagined your parents and your siblings being picky about the food. Great imagery!
    I wondered how your house would look like, what type of food you ate, etc…
    But to the point.
    In my house, my Father’s rule was very different. He had experienced physical hunger, he was a Man who practically made himself beginning with minuses.
    He got pissed every time we said “We are hungry”, he always said “You don’t know what is hunger”.
    Anyways, he worked very hard for us never to experience hunger and he made us be very picky at the same time.
    He said “If you are not hungry, you don’t eat. If you don’t like it, you don’t eat it”.
    I tend to do many things in my life like that, and also in regards to reading… There are pieces that I give them a try and keep a commitment of finishing a book once I have started (to keep discipline).
    If there were only one book I didn’t like to read, well, I read it… but if there are thousands of books to read; I’ll go for my tastes.
    If there is a “new” food, I try. But I don’t eat what I already know I don’t like.

    In regards to what Loreen says about ego…
    I’ve observed frequently how the “egotistical”, “selfishness” is accusatory from people who seem not to have taken a look at themselves first.
    Buddhist philosophies have “stomped” into Western culture without all the components. Hence, we find a lot of “business” that proclaim these “ideologies” to make business or because it sells.
    Who, in America –or any other Capitalist country– would get rid of “everything” to go and live like a monk? Who? Who would go and sit down Yogui-like in a total contemplation of nature?
    I think ego is not the problem, and the ego gives a sense of identity… The problem with ego it is when it has nothing to do with reality (a person doesn’t know his/her limitations and potentialities), when it is a hyper-inflated or hyper-deflated ego as Jung would say.
    If we didn’t worry about ego, we would “sign” and “publish” everything with just a big “anonymous”.
    People who appear on TV and “accuse” others about “narcissism”, I think they should get a better look at themselves first. And by definition “narcissism” is not a matter of being able to look at yourself in the mirror (that gives you a true sense of identity and who you are) but the incapacity to look at others and see their differences, that is to look out the window.

    P.D.: What I wrote is nothing personal or against authors, nor Loreen or Ricky or the other writers.
    Just some observations from media.

    What do you think?

    • I think you make several good points. I am especially touched by the one concerning hunger. People around me are always moaning about being famished, starving, because lunch was 30 minutes late. While I know there are Americans who really are hungry, I think those people are too busy working out how to get a next meal to moan about it.
      Mostly we do not know what real hunger is. Frankly I do not. Even if I fast for a period–and occasionally do–hunger isn’t real for me because I know I could end the fast at any time. There is no shortage.

      Your points about ego, I feel, are right on the money as well. I’m pleased you have decided to join our conversations here.

    • Thank you M. Here is my quote on ego which might have been the ‘beginning reference for your remarks’. I would like to qualify what I said, if you don’t mind, because I believe there is a lot of misunderstanding, as I understand you also believe, with respect to what constitutes ‘ego’.

      “After all, it can be ….. a ‘protection of ego’, to use a familiar phrase, )and consequently the reason for the defense of the writing),” That quote is from the beginning of what I said above – to place it).

      This use of ego would apply for instance, to occasions when I, (and possibly other people if they would look at themselves) get upset because someone has either offended or upset me, or crossed my self-protective barriers. (The barriers of what is defined at least for me as my self). However, often such ‘reactive’ behavior can also be described as anger. Often it could even be justified as warranted. (If self-defense is still acceptable in courts of law, grin grin)

      Ego is a word coined by Freud, which is supplemented by two other factors of personality or self; the Superego, and the id. These are in Essence Plato’s trilogy of self; the appetitive, the rational, and the will.
      (I believe I have this right).

      The quest for self-hood, has to my understanding, been a prime focus within Western Traditions. Ironically, once again in Modern Philosophy, the idea of Self, is once again disintegrating, this time lost again within the hypo-stasis of language and/or science and the state.

      In Christian (mediaeval) times it was the seven virtues and vices which were considered aspects of self that had to be controlled. (after Aristotle and St. Thomas)

      Today, it seems, the ego is often treated as if it were some kind of vice. However, at the same time, practice is making the term ‘ego’ an umbrella of many possible human limitations, rather than something specific, like a virtue or a vice. If somebody today has a human failing, it has become very easy for another person to put them down, (right of wrong in their judgment) because they have a big ego or something. The word, too, is often applied ‘Willy-nilly-, without being specific, and thus to many different things, as though it were the specific ‘vice’ of having an ego, that is to be criticized. But people don’t specify, and I’m not sure too many of them would like the distinction between vice and virtue anyway, because a lot of people want their spiritual ‘freedom’. They want to ‘choose’ for themselves what is ‘for them’ a virtue and/or a vice. Vices, by the way, within this context are disappearing, unless they are recognized by another person as constituting an ‘ego’. We live in very confusing times, where language is used without a set cultural or ‘religious’ norm, and thus one word can apply to various and contradictory ‘facts’ of personality.

      Buddhism has indeed, like many other spiritual practices been taken up into the cultural mainstream. But I studied Buddhism thoroughly, for many years, so my understanding of it contradicts what I generally see in the mainstream, assuming my understanding is by mere time spent on the matter, more comprehensive. (It is very easy for people to set themselves up as ‘experts’ in our society, and to speak of their experiences with reading etc. according to their lights. ) In any case, to my understanding!, the word ‘ego’ is not to be found within Buddhism. and the concept of ‘self’ is very different in Buddhism, (again as I have experienced it) than what is being taken up within such movements as New Age for instance, as well as other spiritual practices. It is after all, the spiritual practice produced within a very different history and cultural context. To really live, the real Buddhism, then, one would have to absorb that practice. In many cases, I do not see evidence that the references have specific designations again, so that ‘again’, word meanings can get tossed and turned at pleasure, or ‘leisure’, grin grin. One’s ego, therefore, ironically, can turn out to be one’s spirituality, within the reference of another person.
      How much any of this is true, would have to be analysed, and reflected upon (do people do that any more?) Perhaps they don’t reflect, but rather meditate. I don’t know what ‘meditation’ means to a lot of people. I’m not sure whether it is always the disciplined practice that I met with in my study of Buddhism, for all people who say they meditate). Again experiences differ. There does not seem to be a coherent, and comprehensive meaning to even the word ‘ego’…..

      In other words, to make a long story short, we have a lot of ‘words’ out there, but I’m not always sure there are ‘principles taken’ with regard either to their reference (if there is still ‘reference’ in a post modern society), or to social significance, or personal ‘meaning’.

      The term ego it would seem means many different things to many different people.

  4. Loreen,
    As I said before, my thoughts were not to contradict anything of what you or Ricky said; but just in general to point something I have observed.
    It was possible that seeing the word “ego” prompted those things but by no means were intended to question you, your Buddhist training or knowledge.
    There are people who call themselves “Buddhists” because they just do Yoga, not embrace the Whole of Buddhism (which I’m very limited to understand given my Western education); eat hamburgers, don’t relate to others well, etc.
    I admire Buddhist monks and what they do, their level of spirituality, wisdom and enlightment.
    I am not one of them, I can’t and have no purpose in becoming one.
    I like writing about contradicition and coherence; human contradiction and coherence.
    Hence, you can see the Religion teacher at a Catholic school that preaches about forgiveness and doesn’t talk to her husband for years never getting divorce (sort of revenge?) because once, years ago, he cheated on her.
    You can see Freudians who claim to be Atheists, when they follow “Freud”, his teachings by the word and give everything a psychoanalitic point of view. They have a “religion” and a “god” and are even willing to get divorced to follow their Masters (understood as “Amos” and not “Maestros”).
    Also, and not being a fan of TV, I have watched not only one but several people pointing out about the “selfishness” of others and I could give you specific examples but I’m not going to.
    In regards to Freud, I like many elements of his theories and reading him as a writer (very captivating) but I don’t agree with several of his premises.

    The eastern literature I have superficially touched and as I understood or misuderstood, in translation to English or Spanish gives the idea that “you have to get rid of your ego”.
    I don’t agree with that. I think the development of the ego is crucial to an individual growth; and the basis of creating identity.

    In regards to Freedom, I adhere to Eric Fromm. It is circumstancial. I wasn’t born in the U.S. and that gave me differences in regards to “my” freedom. We are determined by place, history, genetics, language, experiences, etc.
    Human beings don’t have freedom as an absolute but to make decisions –right or wrong– time only tells.

    And I like many of the things you write, just in case it wasn’t clear.

    • Hi Maria. Please understand that I really responded to your final word – What do you think. I attempted to elaborate on the use of the word ego, and to place it within historical context. Never did I even suspect that your remarks were directed towards me personally. I appreciate your desire to learn and study. I too have had this impetus in my life. As for my involvement with Buddhism, it was another ‘study’, but in the end I could not form a commitment, because I felt like ‘a stranger in a strange land’. Thank you for appreciating ‘many of the things I write’. That itself is a real compliment, to my mind. Thank you.

  5. Thank you, Loreen. I wasn’t sure if I was conveying the message clearly.
    Ah, and when you have posted the lyrics, that has been very helpful too.
    =)

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