That unmistakable sound of jingling pocket change on Friday can only mean one thing: It’s time for Ned’s Nickel’s Worth on Writing! Unless Friday is your laundry day. Or the day you treat yourself to breakfast from the vending machine at work.
But let’s assume you’re here for my weekly writing tip, which is offered up from 15 years as a newspaper columnist. And let’s further assume that kind of writing pedigree was extremely impressive. Then you would understand why some of today’s most respected fictional writers and equally fictional educators have referred to my NWOW as:
Advice you’d expect from someone who is indeed a professional. Wait, I said in need of a professional…
Required reading for my students whenever I’m mad at them or too hung over to actually teach…
Admittedly, I am a bit embarrassed. Not only by those gushing accolades, but also because I am writing this post while naked — which brings us to this week’s Nickel’s Worth. At this moment, you’re probably asking yourself, “Why is he writing naked?!” Unless of course — and this is understandable — you didn’t actually notice. I should clarify the sum of 5 cents and my being naked aren’t related. At least not directly. What I will say is this: If I were a stripper, I would be the only one with a change belt instead of a money pouch. And we’ll just leave it at that.
Ok, so why am I writing in the buff? To make a point about the importance of getting out of your comfort zone. See? Aren’t you uncomfortable? While there is a lot to be said about maintaining a writing routine, it’s important to avoid a rut by challenge yourself to drift out of your comfort zone from time to time. That’s the place where we discover aspects of our writing voice we hadn’t considered — or even knew we had. Think of it as being in a choir; while it’s comforting to know you can lip-sync if you forget the words, you can’t develop your own sound until you risk a few solos. (Note: It isn’t necessary to perform your solo naked. I just wanted to make that clear…)
While I have developed a certain style as a columnist that readers have come to recognize, thus allowing them to immediately turn the page, I make the most of my blogging opportunities by contributing to different sites whenever I’m fortunate enough to be asked. This weekly post is one example. Until I was asked by Sara O’Connor at Gliterary Girl to contribute a weekly feature on writing, I never would have considered offering my insights and potentially stalling the careers of thousands of other writers. What I discovered is that spending a few hours each week thinking about what it takes to be a writer has forced me to examine my own writing. Which is a welcome distraction when I’m naked.
Recently, I became a contributor to The Grimm Report, which is a truly funny blog dedicated to “hard-hitting” news from the fairytale world. While it’s written in a vein familiar to me because of my journalist background, I still have to do my fairytale research and step outside my normal writing “zone.” In short, I still feel like I’m risking a solo whenever I push the “post” button there. But I know it’s good for me to feel a little nervous. Which is why I make sure I am fully dressed when I submit my posts.
Getting out of your comfort zone can be a simple as participating in any of the “Daily Writing Challenges” hosted by WordPress or other bloggers, responding to open submissions on blogs or websites, or reading and commenting on sites you wouldn’t normally visit. The one important factor is that it should involve active participation, i.e., it should involve some level of “risk” by being open to a response or feedback — positive or negative. That’s where the line between “comfort” and “discomfort” is drawn. It can’t be expanded if it isn’t crossed.
One final thing about comfort zones: The more you push them, the larger they get. The end result is an expanding level of comfort within different types of writing, from subject matter to style. This leads to new perspectives, writing opportunities and a stronger voice — which is why, as writers, we need to keep expanding.
As long as we don’t have to show up to any book signings naked.
(Ned is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. You can write to him at email@example.com, or at Siuslaw News, P.O. Box 10, Florence, Ore. 97439)