Writing OUTSIDE My Comfort Zone

I took a Salsa dance class on Monday night. It wasn’t just any class, it was a small class taught by one of the best Latin dancers/dance teachers in New York and it was a follower’s styling class — not a lead & follow and learn new steps kind of environment with partners. It was and hour & a half of gals facing the mirror with wild & crazy moves for improvising on the dance floor. Sure, I have a little Salsa/Mambo in my past, but years of Argentine Tango make those memories seem like prehistoric cave paintings. Still, there I was in my Tango shoes (heels too high & narrow for those grounded Cuban movements) and teetering on the edge of insanity from the syncopations within syncopations.

It was a little dangerous and I loved it. I was dancing OUTSIDE my comfort zone.

I write outside it, too. It’s a challenge that I give myself periodically. I simply push myself to write a story in a new genre, to play with limitations on language or to use a setting or voice I’ve yet to explore. Some of these challenges have resulted in good stories, others…not so much, but I’m convinced that the exercises — even the failures — have a positive impact on my fiction.

Most of my experiments are short stories, but there’s a partially written screenplay, a couple of dreadful novel-length mysteries and even a vampire romance novel gathering dust. Even the ones I wrote, rewrote and loved before I understood they were awful were worthwhile experiences. Bits and pieces of them float into other work and the terrible screenplay morphed into a good short story a few years later. Writing outside my comfort zone, expanded my comfortable turf and is making me a better writer.

If you’re game, here are a few ideas:

If you always write in an omniscient third person voice, try first person voices — maybe the perspective of a naive character OR an unreliable Poe-style narrator?

If you always write police procedural style mysteries, try writing a paranormal or a romantic suspense story.

If you always write stories in contemporary settings, try a historical setting.

If your protagonist is always a woman, try writing a story about a man.

I’m not suggesting that you set aside two years and write a gothic ghost novel if you’re a science fiction writer, but giving the ghost a short, short story might help you add a little fear to your next science fiction novel.

And when you really need a sudden change of direction — write a Haiku!

I almost fell off my shoes on Monday. Writing outside your comfort zone is safer! So give it a try.



  1. I seem to write on the edges quite a bit. Something new and different on a regular basis. I guess if I tried to write outside my comfort zone I should write something safe and the same as everyone else?

    • Candy Korman

      A contrarian after my own contrary heart!
      Keep experimenting…. Keep writing… Keep confounding yourself!

  2. I’m a bit like Jon, I like to try new things with each new project – but I definitely won’t be writing in 1st person any time soon. I have read some great stories written in that pov but generally I don’t enjoy reading it so can’t imagine writing in it. Haiku however… now there’s a thought. 😀

    • Candy Korman

      How about Haiku about NOT writing in the first person? LOL… just a strange joke.
      The undead deadline for my contest is only hours away and I’m punch drunk with anticipation.

  3. Sometimes I wish I had played around more with various genres via short stories before delving into writing my first novel, but in any case, when I am able to come up for air, I do like to try on different genres. Someday I’m determined to try something romantic since my stories are so far from that 😉 My secret passion for a jolt of energy is to pick a challenging poetic form to tinker with.

    • Candy Korman

      I think writing short stories WHILE you write a novel is essential. It’s like switching out your work-outs at the gym or having oatmeal for breakfast on a Tuesday after yogurt every morning for weeks. Write a quick short, short story that’s a complete departure or write a poem in a crazy-ass form and use the experience as a creative palate cleanser. (You don’t have to show anyone the results.)

  4. Great suggestion! I think as a writer it’s very important to keep an open mind and ever changing perspective. You have to put yourself in uncomfortable situations sometimes to expand your characters, settings and conflicts. I will definitely try to push myself outside of my comfortable box more often. Thank you!

    • Candy Korman

      I firmly believe in traipsing outside my comfort zone — especially in fiction. BUT… I don’t want to give the impression that I’m as brave as the characters I create. I do a lot of research by speaking to people who dwell far outside my comfortable places. If I need information about guns or poisons or what happens during an autopsy, I seek out experts. (My forensic pathologist friend said she’d only answer my questions if I watched her in action. I did. And now she answers ALL my killer questions.) But I’m clear about NOT putting myself in danger of bodily harm. Why am I blathering about this? A long, time ago I went to a big Mystery conference and the venue had huge escalators. I was stuck behind to major editors talking about a famous mystery writer. The conversation went something like this.

      “Poor dear, she has to do first hand research for everything.”
      “Oh, yes, she jumps out of airplanes, does night dives with special scuba gear, learns how to fly a helicopter… doesn’t she know how to do research?”

      I don’t jump out of planes — I just talk to people who do and then I WRITE outside my comfort zone. LOL… dancing Salsa in Tango heels was danger enough for me!