By nature, we seek out our comfort zones. We’ll try new things for a while, but as soon as something “works” and we get comfortable doing it, we run the risk of stagnating. This unfortunately affects us in so many ways. In exercise, in diet, in the day job, in finances. And even in writing.
The only way to avoid that is to make sure you never get too comfortable. You’re not going to continue improving if you’re afraid to step outside of your comfort zone.
Try a different point of view.
Do you only write in the limited third person? Are you more comfortable sticking to a first person narrative? Why not broaden your horizons and try something else. Try writing a short story from multiple viewpoint characters. Or really challenge yourself and try something in the second person.
Try a different type of character.
This is one of those places where I fail. So many of characters are too much like me. You know, twenty-something white guys from the Midwest. (And, yes, the world will remain a lovely place as long as we assume I’m twenty-something.) While it not automatically bad to write characters that fall in the same demographics as yourself, it does open up a the risk that your characters are too similar and difficult to tell apart.
So try using main characters that aren’t the same gender, race, creed as yourself and see how it goes. Just make sure you don’t end up writing to a stereotype. And to show you that I practice what I preach, the YA horror novel I’m working on has a sixteen-year-old girl in the role of lead protagonist.
Try a different genre.
I know what you’re thinking. Most of us don’t even like to read outside of our genres, let alone write outside of them. And as painful as it may seem, it’s a great exercise. And who knows, maybe you’ll find that you’ve got a lot to offer in another genre. I’ll use myself as an example here. I started writing only horror and light science fiction. My wife suggested I try writing YA. After reading a couple of the top YA titles of the year, I went out and published my first novel, which happened to be a YA novel.
Try a different length.
You may want to write epic fantasy. You may only want to focus on short stories. But I’ll argue you should try both. If you only write longer fiction, you might learn a lot by trying a couple of short stories. By doing so, you’ll learn to adjust the pacing and cut back on the description to lower the page counts. Or you do only write short stories, try writing a longer piece. Consider NaNoWriMo and see how rewarding it is to finish your first book.
Try a different tense.
Another thing you could also practice switching your style from past tense to present tense. Sometimes switching to present can improve your story and you wouldn’t even know it. Now, I personally don’t like writing in the present tense, but I have read a few YA novels and Theme of Absence submissions that worked really well that way.
These five ways to step out of your comfort zone aren’t the only five ways and I’m sure there are many more. But give a few of these a try and feel free to leave a comment and let us know what you try and you learn from it.