Comfort Zones & Writing in a New Genre
Most of us tend to stay in our comfort zones because we find them predictable and relatively stress-free, plus they give us a sense of stability and control, and as creatives hoping to share our work with the world, we feel competent and confident in our abilities within this zone.
Now, before I go on, I'm the first to admit that I'm not very good at stepping outside my wider comfort zones. In terms of writing, this would be sticking to the genres I've always written: fantasy, sci-fi and horror. But that doesn't mean that I don't try to push myself into new corners of the fantasy umbrella; I experiment with themes more than genres, and also (occasionally) with writing styles (e.g. more poetic or literary, although this depends greatly on the story).
Comfort zones are not inherently negative; they serves a purpose in providing a safe haven for us writers to relax and recharge. But remaining exclusively within our comfort zones can limit our personal growth and learning, and the development of new skills. And who doesn't love picking up a new skill? I believe that as writers it's almost our duty to explore our full potential and pursue new opportunities. If we don't, how do we ever expect to get our work out in front of an audience?
Stepping outside the boundaries of your comfort zone might be daunting - or at times even terrifying - but it can also be an exhilarating and transformative experience. Exploring uncharted territory opens you up to new possibilities and expands your creative toolkit. It challenges you to grow and adapt. I'm not very good at change and it always takes me a while to adapt to a new thing, but it almost always leads to something unexpected and interesting, whether that's new friends or a new environment, or the knowledge that I'm a tiny bit smarter than I was before (yay).
Let me break down a few reasons why pushing outside your comfort zone can be a good thing and why you should probably try it (if you haven't already):
Be Curious and Research, Research, Research
The first thing I'd do when venturing into a new genre is immerse myself in tons of research, just so that I can get a good grip on the topic. It might be a genre I've read a lot, but writing is a different beast so you need to be prepared.
You could write a list of the genre's unique characteristics, tropes, expectations, common themes, character archetypes and narrative structures. Read widely in the new genre if you haven't already, and examine the work of established authors to help you identify the key elements that makes their stories distinct and successful.
It's also a good idea to familiarise yourself with the genre's conventions and audience expectations. That should give you a solid starting point for your own experiments and explorations!
Find Your Unique Angle
Yes, it's essential to understand the genre's conventions, but it's just as important to bring your own unique voice and perspective. What draws you to this new genre and how can you infuse your personal style and ideas into it?
Seek to bring a fresh angle, subvert clichés, or blend elements from different genres to create something original. Just because you study the masters, does not mean you have to copy them. They should provide you with a jumping-off point for you to work your own voice into the genre.
Avoiding Creative Stagnation
Writing in a new genre is a brilliant way to avoid creative burnout and stagnation. Face it, if you write the same things over and over for years, eventually that repetition is going to catch up with you and you'll realise you're stuck in a rut.
Exploring new areas can be a great way to reignite your passion for writing and energise your creativity. It keeps your writing process exciting and prevents you from falling into repetitive patterns.
Master the Building Blocks
Every genre has its own set of writing techniques, pacing and narrative structures. Try to pay attention to the genre-specific elements such as world-building in fantasy, plot twists in thrillers, or dialogue in romance. Understand your new genre's pacing, tone, and emotional beats to create an engaging and authentic experience for your readers. While you can - and absolutely should! - adapt and experiment, a solid foundation will help you fit into the genre's established framework.
One of the more interesting results of writing in a totally new genre is that you'll attract a new audience, too. You're basically showcasing your writing to a whole group of people who might have never heard of you before.
A more diverse readership will help you gain valuable feedback and expand your reach, plus you'll potentially connect with other writers and readers in the new genre, open yourself up to new connections and collaborations, and make a bunch of new friends.
Study Outside of Writing
This relates to above where I talk about research and reading the established, successful writers in the genre. But it doesn't have to stop with books. You can also analyse movies, TV, plays, music, and art to identify what techniques work best. This is also a great way of finding prompts and inspiration.
Embrace the Learning Curve and Don't Fear the Reaper... I mean, Mistakes
While writing in a new genre is a great opportunity for personal and artistic growth, it also comes with a learning curve, and sometimes that learning curve is steep. Be prepared to make mistakes, and lots of them. Be open to receiving critiques and detailed feedback. Don't be afraid to iterate on your work.
If you embrace the challenges that crop up and view them as opportunities for improvement, you'll learn and progress a lot faster. Surrounding yourself with a supportive writing community helps, and you can always use writing forums and social media to find peers or mentors who can help.
It takes time and practise to master any new skill and writing is no exception.
Honing Your Craft
Writing in a new genre requires you to learn new skills and techniques, and think differently to how you've been approaching your usual genre. This is how you hone your craft as a writer and become more adept at using literary devices and plotting.
And don't forget that pretty much all of the skills you learn in your new genre can be transferred back to your primary genre, elevating the quality of your overall work.
Have you tried writing in a new genre? If so, how did you find it and what did you learn about the process and yourself? Drop me a comment below - I'd love to hear from you!