Writers aren’t known as the most flexible souls in any sense of the word. First of all, we spend way too much time on our ass, which is horrible for the bendiness. Second, we tend to create these arcane and mysterious rituals that we swear help us stay in touch with the muse or the flow or whatever magical force we credit for our creativity. Here agin, not so flexible. The slightest thing that knock us off our stride.
An example. for years I refused to quit smoking because I swore it made me a better writer. Ridiculous, right? Try telling me that a year ago when I was mainlining nicotine under deadline. I am happy to report that today, I am more than capable of writing lots and lots of great words without the aid of carcinogens. Of course, I’ve replaced them with wine and Oreos, but that’s neither here nor there.
My point is, lack of flexibility can be a good thing when we’re putting our foot down something we believe in. It is not a good thing if it stands in the way of production.
On Monday, I had to go drop my beloved Macbook, Precious, off at the Genius Bar for some triage. Her logic board was on the fritz, which was leading to some terrifying crashes. I can’t imagine the look of loss on my face when the guy told me I’d have to leave her. It was not unlike asking me to leave my child behind. This computer is not just my portal to all of you, it’s also the epicenter of my career.
Luckily, as the wife of a computer dude, I was not without access to another computing device. But it didn’t have all my files and programs loaded on it the way I like them. It didn’t have Twitter or iTunes installed. It didn’t have Scrivener, which is my preferred drafting program. I couldn’t hook it up to the external monitor I prefer to use because it fills my vision with the document I’m working on.
You guys, I was so productive. I had to work at stopping working to go check email and twitter. Instead of getting distracted by trolling iTunes for the perfect song for the scene I was working on, I flipped on a Pandora station and forgot about it. I focused on working for longer stretches than I’ve work in probably months. Holy shit, y’all, I didn’t multitask and it was awesome.
Few things. First, the lesson here is that comfort zones are wonderful, but also safe. If you want to see a change in your work, you’ve got to run far away from safe. Second, if what you’re doing is working for you, then feel free to ignore me. Just be honest with yourself. Third, inflexibility can prevent you from making wonderful discoveries about yourself and your writing.
Of course, the example I gave was pretty mundane. I mean, yes, the means with which we get words on the page is important, but it doesn’t get to the heart of this issue, does it?
How about you try a story that scares the hell out of you? The one you’re worried your family will disown you over. The one that makes your stomach clench but also makes your inner rebel perk up.
What if you stopped insisting that you are a diehard plotter/panster/outliner/scene writer and test out the waters of the complete opposite approach?
What if you took the advice of that critique partner? You know the one. She glares at you over her horn rimmed glasses and corrects your grammar and thinks she knows everything about the craft. Maybe she does. Maybe you should listen to her instead of getting defensive and silently imagine strangling her with her beaded glasses strap. Or maybe you’ve been listening to your critique group and they’re a bunch of idiots. It happens all the time. We take advice because we lack confidence in ourselves. In that case, you’d need to get out of your comfort zone by being less flexible.
Or hell, maybe you need to be flexible about what you write, period. I started out thinking I would write historical fiction. I had aspirations for being a very serious writer of poetic prose. Clearly I was smoking some literary crack. I had to be honest with myself about who I really am and in what key my voice really sings. So be flexible about your chosen genre. Finding your authentic voice is more important than some marketing term, anyway.
Terrifying, right? Being flexible means leaving the comfort zone behind. But ask yourself this: Does the prospect of falling on your face scare you more than dying without ever really trying?
Go make yourself uncomfortable today.