Freedom of Writing, inspiration

Leaving the Comfort Zone

How ambitious are you? If I traced my ambition on a graph over the course of my writing life, it would look something like this:

I won’t go into a boring explanation – suffice to say that I turned my mid-life crisis into mid-life hubris, worked on a novel for 26 years, and eventually found a very enthusiastic publisher who barely a year later went bust. I like to think that’s not a cause and effect relationship. 

Naturally, the ambition took a nose dive. But it takes more than that to cure a writer’s compulsion, so I was perfectly happy to start again from scratch. And why is the curve creeping upwards again? Well, it’s partly due to a remark on this site by GD:  The easy formulas grow stale. I’m bored by antagonists still damaged from childhood trauma. Antagonists fighting others because they want something only one can have are maddeningly repetitive. Antagonists who can’t get along with others who are different from them annoy me. And don’t get me started on stupid conflicts arising because the antagonist simply misunderstands reality. It’s time for better antagonists.

At that point I was undecided what I was going to write next, with the favourite being a science thriller centred on virtual reality. Nothing wrong with the theme itself, but looking at my outline, it struck me that it didn’t break new ground, let alone develop a better antagonist. Scientists with a hidden agenda – what’s new in that? Virtual reality might be fascinating, but the conflict at the heart of the story has been done time and again. The Island of Dr. Moreau was written in 1896.

So now I’m planning a trilogy set on another planet. The possibilities are endless. It so happens that the planet bears an uncanny resemblance to Earth, so although I’m having great fun with the world building, it’s not really another planet at all. You may be thinking, ‘OK – but again, what’s new?’ Nothing probably, but it gives me a space in which to develop a large cast of characters, several different story arcs, and deeper issues than those of a crime novel or thriller. So yes, for me at least, it’s more ambitious. In fact I’m pitching it (to myself) as Lord of the Rings meets Animal Farm with a hefty dose of Game of Thrones thrown in. (Did I mention hubris somewhere?)

When I say ambition, I don’t of course mean sales or readership. Sure, that would be nice, and it’s certainly something to aim for, but we all know better than to have any expectations. All the more so as from a marketing point of view, leaping into a completely different genre is probably a leap into oblivion. But I don’t write in order to repeat myself. I once read a rather snarky comment to the effect that Danielle Steel hasn’t written 140 novels but the same novel 140 times. Which is fair enough. If you’ve got a formula that works, why change it? She’s found a comfort zone and is very comfortable in it. But I suspect most writers don’t have a comfort zone – every book is a new beginning, beset with anxiety and doubt. Which I’m all too happy to embrace, because even if I did find a comfort zone, I wouldn’t want to stay in it. That’s not what writing is about. So I’d like to conclude by thanking GD, who without knowing it rekindled my ambition.

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34 thoughts on “Leaving the Comfort Zone

  1. Curtis! You hit me in the writer feels. As I read I kept nodding my head and murmuring exactly, or Yes! or I know what you mean and ooooo new world and world building. Christmas morning present unwrap anyone?
    You textualized (spell check says this isn’t a word … too bad, I like making new ones) exactly what I feel about writing every single day!
    I’d love to hear how your world building process is going. I feel like a mad scientist as I build my “encyclopedia of world history” for which ever world I’m creating.
    I often think writers are blessed or cursed, however you look at it, with a vision reserved for the gods … we can see whole worlds and universes unfold in our minds eye. Yet the only tool we’ve been given to create those worlds are a bunch of words to string together, in just the right manner to make sense. I guess it keeps us humble and provides a certain amount of filter so that not every piece of bad creation gets published … oh wait then there is social media.
    Then there is George Lucas … he had better tools.
    At any rate, you got this Curtis. The universe is endless. Us humans have only tapped a tiny bit. Go forth and create. We’ll be here waiting to celebrate what you bring back.

    Liked by 6 people

    • Thanks, Sandy. Yes, I’ll definitely do a post about the world building. Moving into this genre has been most liberating – no longer tethered by the plausibility issue! Internal consistency, yes, but apart from that the imagination roams free. For today, writing is a blessing. Only later will it turn into a curse – the struggle through the slough of doubt and anxiety. But right now I’m making the most of the moment.

      Liked by 4 people

  2. Good luck, Curtis! May you take satisfaction (which is different from merely having fun–though please remember to HAVE fun!) from every moment of the journey. Send missives from the front line occasionally.

    PS. Thanks, GD; for inspiring Curtis. I know you’ve inspired a blog post or two from me . . . and helped keep me writing, through the years . . .

    Liked by 8 people

      • His spirit and great heart have thoroughly permeated this site and set the tone for we who gather here. It might sound corny to outsiders, but for those of us who came over from Book Country–or joined later and helped substantively contribute to the site (Sue, Victor, Mama Squid, Perry, et. al.)–we acknowledge our debt. A lot of us drop in and out but GD has always been here: like a stubborn blood stain on your favorite shirt that fades over time but reassuringly never vanishes. A crimson badge of honor and evidence of extreme effort that fore’er exhorts: Try harder!

        Liked by 6 people

  3. mimispeike says:

    You’ve got ambition and cynicism. Where’s plain wanna-slit-your-wrist-and-get-it-over-with despair? I don’t know about the rest of you, but that plays a large part in my writing life.

    I’m now researching the Enochian Dictionary (for most of the day) to put together my next Showcase. Want to drive yourself crazy? Try to find something that sounds like ZERO. (I’m on the right track, but I don’t have it yet.)

    ‘Scuse me. I’m gonna go get anther hit of Grand Marnier. Only two weeks and my Birthday Bottle is almost gone. I don’t get another until Christmas.

    It’s been a rough, rough week.

    They’re all rough. Nothing about this is easy.

    As Dorothy Parker said: Do you know a young person who wants to be a writer? Buy them the Chicago Manual of Style. Better yet, shoot them now, while they’re still happy.

    Liked by 8 people

  4. victoracquista says:

    Curtis, I’m happy that you are writing science fiction. Personally, I think the universe (choice of word deliberate) of possibility and creativity is much larger than in the thriller/crime/mystery genres. Fantasy also provides a big playground. Boring overused plots and characters, protagonists and antagonists, are fine up to a point but I am curious to learn what your creative mind creates. Please keep us posted.
    As for ambition, mine fluctuates in part due to external factors, but much of the fluctuation is internal. If you enjoy writing, the ambition never seems to sag too much.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thanks, Victor. Yes, I do agree that sci-fi/fantasy offers vast possibilities. I’ve often held back as it’s not a genre I’m familiar with, but now I’ve come round to the view that the common advice to read extensively in the genre we write in can be safely ignored. An idea is an idea, and it’s up to us to make what we can of it. And I may be wrong but I suspect the ‘expected tropes’ constraint applies less there than in mystery or crime – where in fact, as you say, they become boring (unless one possesses the rare and exquisite talent of Kate Atkinson).

      Liked by 5 people

      • Curtis, I know you write mystery or crime. Have you heard of this guy from Liverpool? His name is Anthony Schumacher. I read his first book shortly after he published and was self marketing. At any rate, his books are a “what if the Germans had succeeded in occupying England during WWII.” As for reading in genre, he combines two genres. I couldn’t get to his website, possibly a US thing. But it might help you as you world build, to see what’s out there. Here’s his FB page. https://www.facebook.com/tonyshoey

        Liked by 5 people

        • Thanks, Randy – will check it out, though the website link didn’t work for me either. The Germany book sounds like alternative history, which is also a genre that holds out many possibilities. It certainly worked for Robert Harris in Fatherland.

          Liked by 3 people

  5. No one here seems too concerned about either having or leaving a comfort zone. The group’s general recognition appears to be that comfort zones restrict our ambition to create something worthwhile — something new and different — as GD’s thoughts about antagonists inspired Curtis’s ambition to explore the infinite possibilities of setting his next series on a different planet.

    I admit my own ambition ebbs and flows with how hard I’m willing to work to accomplish my goal. For me, that willingness seems to depend on how challenging and exciting the hard work is — the more, the better. But I don’t believe I spend enough time giving credit to those who inspire me to see things in a different way or try something new or expand my thinking. I’d like to do that now.

    I have great respect for each of you who has commented here. You all give me things to think about, which, to me is a great thing. But I owe particular gratitude to a few of you.

    To Curtis, not only for publishing “Cat Artist Catharsis” (the first thing I’d had legitimately published since Quest Magazine published my book review of W.H. Hudson’s Green Mansions when I was in fourth grade. *chortle*) and making me believe I could be a real writer, but also for convincing me to start a blog in March 2016 because the imminent A-to-Z Challenge would be the perfect way to start. That’s where I found my authentic voice.

    To Victor for his fellowship, steady kindness, and calm appraisal of whatever situation surrounds us. His example gives me something more to reach for.

    To Carl for his ever-astute analysis of any topic that arises here (or anywhere else, I would guess), and his encouragement to expand okay stories into something much more fleshed-out and fulfilling. He’s helped me find that bigger world within myself.

    And especially to GD for his insightful and unobtrusive critiques, his unfailing humor, and his willingness to share his limitless curiosity. For the rest of my life — eh, and maybe beyond — I’ll be grateful for the honest and generous friendship we’re developing.

    I’d never heard of Book Country before these folks spoke of it in the past tense, but somehow, I think we have the best of it — including Mimi, of course — right here.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thank you, Sue! I didn’t know I’d given you such a boost. I thought you’d had plenty of stories published – which goes to show you already had a very distinctive voice. But I’m very glad to have been of some help in setting you on the path to perfecting it.

      Liked by 5 people

    • Sue, I love how your words transform thoughts. I like to think I write well. You inspire me to write better.
      Last night I went to a book signing by Kevin Hearne.
      I’ve heard Stephen King talk.
      I’ve heard Neil Gaiman talk.
      Both on giant stages where you need a spyglass to see their faces.
      Kevin Hearne spoke at a very small venue in Seattle and then did the traditional book signing afterward. This is my first experience. He is a very personable and chatty guy. He signed a Jameson Whiskey bottle for the guy in front of me. When it was my turn I was in awe. Wrods failed me. (Was going to edit that typo … but it seems appropriate) At any rate, one very important point he made, during his talk when someone asked the inevitable question “What advice do you give to aspiring writers” was, “Spend time with other like minded people. Other writers. Talk with them. Be a community.”
      I immediately thought of this group. This is what he meant. Again I am grateful to all of you for making this place, warm, welcome, inviting and real. Everyone has inspired me in some way. Everyone has made me feel included. I can’t express more what a blessing this group has been to my writing, and I have only been here a very short time!
      I already enjoyed getting up and getting started on my writing day. Now I get up earlier and get started earlier, because there are people like me who understand what being a writer is.
      I am grateful.
      Thank you all.

      Liked by 5 people

    • victoracquista says:

      Sue,
      Your insights and perspectives are always something I enjoy reading and thinking about. Thank you for your kind words and steady contributions to this fellowship!

      Liked by 5 people

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