As a writer, I am often advised to leave my comfort zone when writing. The tension I create within myself by doing so will help to shape a tense and dynamic story.
Last year, I followed that advice. I wrote a story which almost constantly pulled me from my comfort zone. All the way through, I voiced concerns about what I was writing, but I kept on anyway, as we must be pioneers in the dark.
Once the manuscript was finished, I found I had nothing I could work with. A writer must have confidence in her story if she is to edit it properly and offer it for publication. But I had no confidence; I had no comfort with what I had written. I knew it was a relatively well-told story, but it had nothing of my true self in it. I'd breached my personal values as I exited my comfort zone to write it.
Recently there has been discussion amongst writers online about the fear involved in writing, and the procrastination and self-sabotage which results. The solution to these fears? Stay outside your comfort zone, fight the uncertainties, and plough on. But I found that my own procrastination and deferrals disappeared overnight when I re-entered my comfort zone. From a place of settlement and safety, I was able to welcome in new inspiration and take risks with words and ideas. Within a month, I had two dozen poems written, all of which expressed something I truly felt and wanted to say.
Why do we writers not honour our fears and believe they may be telling us something helpful? I certainly listen to my fears when I'm walking along a dangerous stretch of road. I trust them to be my guide, keeping me safe. Why then would I ignore them, bash them away, when it comes to the soul work that is writing?
My comfort zone is a safe place in which I can be my true self and tend to my true heart. In writing, and in life generally, it's a place I want to be. I don't have it barricaded with high walls and barbed wire - I let things in all the time, albeit with careful consideration for my own protection. Infact it's easier to be open-minded and willing to see things from other people's perspective when I feel secure in myself.
Of course, the requirements of life drag me out over and again. I've been mainly outside my comfort zone for three years now, and I've noticed a definite change in me and in the way I manage my life. Not a good change. And always beneath it all I have longed for the things which comfort me.
Society tells me it's important ... imperative, even ... to step outside my comfort zone. We are the descendants of adventurers, and we still value the wild brave spirit which allowed people to pursue strange and alluring horizons - forgetting that they did so mainly in order to secure land and settle down. They took the risk for the sake of finding a safe place, earth to nourish them, shelter to protect them. And that has been the true goal of humankind since the beginning - to create a comfort zone.
I can be within my safe place and still abseil down a cliff face if I want to, if I'm satisfied all the protections are in place. (Where is the fun in thinking you might actually die if you do something?) I can certainly still listen to arguments about moral issues and change my mind - knowing that I have been convinced on the strength of the argument, not my own fear or need to find protection. To me, staying inside my comfort zone means being true to myself and the things I hold as sacred. It is walled all around with my ideas about what is fundamentally right and wrong. It is the best of me.
It seems to me though that certain words - comfort, safety, right and wrong, are no longer considered good words or valuable ideas. I read about how we can't keep our children safe (although for the most part we actually can.) I see people being castigated for holding personal beliefs. I post this today knowing I will be perceived as weak, both as a writer and a woman. Which is strange, since I feel weak only when I leave comfort, self-protection, and instinct behind, and step out of my comfort zone.