Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Jumping in the Deep End: Writing Out of Your Comfort Zone -- or When Self-Doubt Tries to Rule the Day

[Today's MuseJust where do writers summon up the courage to write about subjects that are entirely new to them?  Who do they think they are, anyway?]

No pain, no gain, so goes the cliche.  While that's certainly true with working the body to get it in, or keep it in shape, it's also true with writing, drawing, dancing -- all the arts.  If you write about the same subject for many years, you feel fairly comfortable starting another project on that subject, even if you're taking that subject in a new direction or putting a new twist on it.  While every writing project is an adventure, an exploration, there's a familiarity when you stay in one general area that buoys you up to some extent as you reach out for the new territory.  That's where journalists and other writers have succeeded.  They've become experts in their chosen subjects.  However, when you decide to write on an entirely new subject, that's where the true "pain" comes in.  And the fear.  And the "can I do this?"  And the "just who do I think I am, trying this?"  Etc.  Etc. and on and on.

That's where I'm living right now on a fairly regular basis with one of my projects.  I've changed writing subjects dramatically and am currently climbing the ever-so-steep learning curve.  What keeps me motivated I wonder, after a dark day when I've just about convinced myself that I don't have what it takes?  What keeps me returning to the subject to learn more, ask more, read, read, read, and think, think, think?  What does that for any writer who does the same?

Certainly what motivates me in many ways, I think, is curiosity.  I become so curious about a subject that I want to know more about it in an intense sort of way.  There's a deep desire there -- the source of which I don't always understand -- that makes me simply want to know more.  Questions keep coming, fast and furious. Responses to questions from one source lead me to want to seek out other sources.  Responses there lead me to more and more questions.  A web of questions.  And responses.  And more digging.

When my curiosity is stronger than my fear, that's what keeps me going, you know?  I think that's a big part of it, anyway.  Today, that's what I think.  Tomorrow I may crawl back into my fear-place again.  But I won't stay there.  That's what I have to remind myself of on those days.  If I stay there (which I won't, but when I'm there I fear that floundering feeling) -- if I were to stay there (which I won't, again I assure myself!) I would fail to learn any more.  So that's just not going to happen.  Not with me.  The day I stop learning is the day I start learning something new by existing in some other state on the other side of life as we know it here.

I should relax on those fretful days when I wonder what I think I'm doing, and self-doubt creeps in and tries to take over my thoughts.  Getting more sleep helps.  And the work, of course.  The work, preparation -- all that helps.  But it's curiosity, I think, that rescues me in the end -- that, and the happy willingness to chase down the questions that this intense curiosity raises -- aka putting the work in, which I do.  Pretty powerful.  Curiosity + Hard Work + Lots More Hard Work = Success over self-doubt.  Doubt -- be gone!

[You can muse, tooWhat keeps you motivated when you're out of your comfort zone on a writing project, artwork, new hobby, etc.?]