I’m working on a new project, which was not the project I meant to work on but it wouldn’t leave me alone after I did some thinking about the Kindle Vella (which will arrive…eventually).
I had to reach out to a gun nut friend (far gun nuttier than I, alas) to get clarification on something to do with bullet velocity. I appreciate knowing her and the time I worked at the range where I met her, not just because it was interesting and fun, but also because it has been very useful for writing.
A lot of things in my life have been like that. I did not choose to stick to my comfort zone, which was in a comfy spot, reading, with a beverage. I went out and did things, including things I wasn’t comfortable with or even good at doing. Sometimes I grew comfortable, sometimes I got better at doing them, but sometimes I never did either. Or I grew comfortable but am still terrible at some stuff, like video games, which I enjoy but am not good at.
These experiences have made me a better writer. I’m not an adherent of the ‘write what you know’ school. How dull that would be, at least for me, though God knows the modern suburban woman’s dramatized life subgenre is a best seller often enough (bonus points for her being a victim who is also a psychopath). But I do believe in knowing what you don’t know, and knowing you need to learn about what you don’t know when you encounter it, and nothing really teaches you that like having to go live outside of your comfort zone.
Not all experiences you write about will be one-to-one for experiences you will or even can have. But you can find analogues.
I don’t mean that in a trite way. Living outside of my comfort zone included multiple occasions of dragging a third of my body weight across twelve miles and still missing the time goal by half an hour all six times I tried. It meant making a public fool of myself many, many times in so many, many ways. “Living outside your comfort zone” is not a quote on Instagram accompanying a picture where some girl sits on a cliff. It is lifting an artillery shell (not. light.) in front of a crowd of cadets who are laughing at you, tiny slip of a thing, because you look ridiculous- but the NCO with his combat patch is nodding approvingly, probably because of some girl power slogan you don’t believe in. Meanwhile, you are aware that none of this means a damn thing to anybody in the long run because who in the real Army is going to ask you to lift an artillery shell?
On top of that, you get to meet different people and go different places. Human creativity never reaches its full potential alone. Others can inspire you (some of them are villains, true). The world is a place full of wonders, natural and manmade, and they can definitely give you ideas. For me, there’s something about travel itself that helps gets the creative juices flowing. You also get to really meet different kinds of people. It’s funny to me, sometimes, reading modern books from Big Name publishers and wondering if the author had ever met the kind of people they’re talking about.
Research is a key part of writing, and the best kind of research is going out and living life. You can do that and still find time to write, you know.