Have you ever felt mired so firmly in your comfort zone that you know it is holding you back? This can happen both in writing and life. In writing, you can become so comfortable with a certain approach, style, or process that you produce the same kind of work over and over, or are unable to push a particular piece past a stalled point. You’re not sure what needs to change, but you’re pretty sure something does.
When that happens to me as a writer, I have a few exercises in my toolbox to force me out of that zone. I might try to write in a totally different style than I’m used to, maybe using words that feel too “flowery,” for example. I likely won’t use the work that comes from the exercise, or I might tone it down afterwards and edit it back into something that feels more like me. But just the practice of doing something completely different helps me get past that stuck place. Another approach is to free write before I get too caught up in trying to perfect a piece, to break the chains of that evil editor on my shoulder, who constantly warns me to fix grammar and improve sentences before I even know what I’m writing about. A third idea is to put away the laptop and pull out a pen and notebook, to see how writing by hand changes the way I’m working, as well as the results.
Change can also be an important step in work, and in life. I recently made the decision to give up a freelance business writing gig, even though it was a comfortable job that I had done for many years. I won’t go into all of the reasons for the decision here, but what’s important is that I realized it was time, because holding onto that work was preventing me from pursuing new things. As much as I enjoyed certain aspects of the job, it was a lingering part of my past, of a time when I was at a different level as a freelancer and a writer. Sometimes who we are drives what we do, but sometimes what we do inhibits the shape of who we are.
Still, it’s hard sometimes, at least for me, to own you who are, to step up and move forward with your life. It’s scary. You want to stay with what’s comfortable forever, to hold on to a familiar version of yourself. You want to avoid the frightening aspects of taking risks. You might have an image of yourself and your abilities that you’ve had for a long time, and you don’t think that image can change. In the end, you don’t want to fail, and you are pretty sure you’ll never fail if you stick with the things you know you can do.
But then, there’s that stuck feeling. There’s that restlessness that lets you know that you want or need something more. Or that the text you’re working on can be better, if you’re willing to stretch yourself further.
Thomas Edison, who is largely credited with “inventing” the incandescent light bulb (I won’t go into that now, but if you are interested, read more here), is often quoted this way: When asked by a reporter, “How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?” Edison replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”
I like thinking of change that way. Every effort, decision, or attempt, regardless of whether it is a “success” in and of itself, and regardless of whether it leaves you temporarily in an unsteady place, is simply a step forward. Keep moving in that direction, and you’ll never feel stuck. You’ll just be solidly on your way to what you’re looking for.