How to Write Stories Outside of Your Comfort Zone

One of the easiest traps to fall into as an emerging storyteller is the one you set for yourself – the writer’s comfort zone. The reason for this is simple to understand. As beginning writers, we are obsessed with the idea that we are not “good enough” or still have “so much to learn” that instead of treasuring that new perspective, we focus completely on developing and improving our work.

Such a focus isn’t bad. In fact, it’s highly beneficial as it leads you on your journey to becoming the storyteller you were always meant to be. But it does come with some downsides.

To start, as soon as we storytellers reach our level of “perceived goodness” – maybe not perfection, but a point in our writing career that leaves us satisfied – we tend to get trapped doing the same thing over and over again.

While writing the same stories over and over again can make you exceptionally good at them – and they very well may be a representation of your style and voice as a writer – over time you’ll find that coming up with fresh storytelling ideas is harder than it used to be simply because you are not in a position where you are forced to be innovative.

You’re in a position where you are at ease, and very very comfortable.

Of course, it’s one thing to talk about writing outside your comfort zone, but another thing to actually practice it.

Why is that?

As mentioned, as early, new writers, we often dream of finding our writer’s voice, mastering prose, penning a powerful scene, or imagining an innovative character arc, so that as we get closer and closer to mastering these things, we feel we have no good reason to want to return to those early writing days when we didn’t know what we were doing.

And why would we? Those days were filled with anguish, thinking of all the things we imagined ourselves writing but couldn’t actually “do.” Now that we can, why would we want to step outside of our comfort zone and return to that insecure and vulnerable place once more?

What Does the “Comfort Zone” Mean?

The “writer’s comfort zone” is a place in a storyteller’s life where they feel most comfortable. This is not to be confused with only writing with what one “knows,” but instead writing in the same way and approaching the same themes and narrative structures over and over out of habit.

Often this comfort zone is hard to recognize, but if you feel you are repeating the same story over and over, it might be a sign you should mix things up – if only for a little while.

This comfort zone is not to be understood as something inherently negative all the time. Often times, the writer’s comfort zone exists to ensure we writers continue powering through our work and quit doubting ourselves needlessly!

However, when we as writers tend to rest in our comfort zone for too long, our storytelling skills can do things like plateau or feel boring and stale to us, stripping away the excitement of writing!

Why It’s Important to Write Outside Your Comfort Zone

Now that you understand what the writer’s comfort zone, it’s time to talk about why it’s so important to mix things up!

1 | Keeps your work from plateauing

As mentioned in the beginning of this post, one of the most disheartening feelings as a writer is the notion that all your ideas are the same.

Often this “idea plateau” comes from a place of confidence – something that writers spend years crafting – mixed with our comfort zone.

However, when we plateau for too long, we can often lose that confidence because we come to believe we are not innovative and a "fraud," but stay in our comfort zone, which isn’t all that great either.

For that reason, when you take the time every once in while to write outside your comfort zone, you’ll continue exercising your storytelling muscles, but without the plateau effect.

How is that?

I like to compare it to sports. If you were to go to the gym every day and do the same exact fitness routine, you’d like see results and eventually even get to a place you’re happy with.

However, after a few weeks of doing the same routine, you not only will likely grow bored, but you’ll also stop seeing results! That’s why athletes make such a point to mix up their routines – so they can keep from plateauing and continue challenging themselves! And that’s exactly why you should too!


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2 | Forces you to see storytelling in a different way

By stepping out of your comfort zone as a writer, you automatically become a temporary newbie once again, allowing you to perceive storytelling in a different way than usual.  

Despite what you may think, being a newbie at something is a wonderful thing.

This is because whenever you do something new, you look at in an innovative way that you’ve never see things before.

And that’s something to cherish, not banish!

As a result, whenever you step outside your comfort zone as a writer and do something different, you’re experiencing that frightening feeling of being “new” all over again, only this time, you already have the fundamentals of storytelling under your belt.

This newness, then, is the best place to be. You know you have all the skills needed to tell a story, but you’re learning how to use them in a different way! Because of this, you have the confidence you need to tell a story, allowing you to truly absorb your new and uncomfortable experience as a writer!

3 | Helps you perceive your writer’s voice faster

One of the most overlooked benefits that come from writing outside your comfort zone is your ability to quickly realize what your writer’s voice is.

The writer’s voice is an elusive part of every storyteller’s journey simply because you cannot teach someone how to find their voice. There is no secret trick to finding your writer’s voice or developing it, it just reveals itself to you the more you write.

That being said, anytime you try and challenge yourself to different types of writing you are working on your writer’s voice in a more realized way. This is because challenges often require you to do things you don’t necessarily want to do or force you to write a way you might not usually.

When you do this, you instinctively begin to react to the way your writing is changing for the sake of stepping out of your comfort zone. You think about how you’d do things differently if you weren’t being forced to step out of your comfort zone, or maybe you realize that you actually prefer this new way to approach storytelling!

This then works as a direct compass towards your writer’s voice because it makes you think about the process more and see everything as a choice.

However you react to stepping out of your comfort zone, you are taking steps to understand what you as a writer prefer, giving you a stronger sense for your voice that you might not have discovered as recently had you just stuck to what felt comfortable!

The Easiest Way to Step Outside of Your Writing Comfort Zone

Though there are many ways to step outside of your comfort zone as a writer, one of the easiest ways to do it – and my preferred approach – is by writing in new storytelling mediums.

For those of you who are new here and are maybe not sure what “storytelling mediums” means let me lay it out to you really quick:

Storytelling mediums are the different ways you can tell a story. They are books, movies, television shows, video games, theatrical plays, and so much more. It is my wholehearted belief that if you can a tell a powerful story as a novel, you can tell another story that is equally as powerful as a TV series.

There is no such thing as not being able to write in a different medium. If you can tell a story, then you can write that story in any different form. (I know because I’ve done this myself and have seen the possibilities!) But if you're still skeptical, be sure to check out my free Storytelling System ebook which goes into this belief system in more detail.

The reason writing in new mediums is such an easy way to step out of your comfort zone is due to a few different factors:

There is no research required.

This means you don’t have to fret about whether you’re writing a certain period of time accurately or a different perspective respectively the way you might if you were attempting to write outside your comfort zone in other ways.

This doesn’t mean research is a bad thing, but more so that if you’re in a place when you quickly need some inspiration or to see your story in a different light, writing in a new medium is a fast and easy way to do just that without spending countless hours researching.

You can repurpose old content and perceive it in a new way.

Oftentimes if you’re dealing with writer's’ block, you can kill two birds with one stone and take old content and repurpose it for a new medium all the while stepping outside of your comfort zone, something that can often be the perfect fix for any sort of storytelling problems you are facing.

Just like with avoiding research (and therefore excuses that could get in the way of you stepping outside your comfort zone), in this way you know that the story idea you have in mind works, you just need to perceive it in a different way.

Some of my BEST stories came from me taking an idea and rewriting it in a different medium, so even if you’re a teeny bit skeptical, I recommend giving the repurposing route a try since it’s such a low-risk endeavor and so emphatic on seeing a story you already LOVE in a new way.

You can write stories similar to ones you’ve already written.

Unlike with other ways to step outside of your comfort zone, when you write in different storytelling mediums your focus is on how to tell a story in a different way using the medium you’re writing in – be it a novel, screenplay, play, and so forth – so if you’re still anxious about trying something new out, writing in a medium is actually an easier jumping point than a regular prompt might be.

Say for instance you write character-based stories focusing on the feminine experience in the modern age. If this is a topic you love and feel passionate about, it might be really hard to motivate yourself to write a story with a different theme or focus.

Because of this, taking a topic you love – keeping with the example of exploring the modern girl – and bringing it to a new medium, such as a video game, will still yield the same results as writing a story about a different topic simply because the medium alone forces you to think in a different way!


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The Simple 3-Step Plan to Writing Outside of Your Comfort Zone

STEP ONE: Omit all fears of being bad or “sucking.”

Without a doubt, the first step to getting out of your comfort zone is omitting the fear that what you write will “suck.”

While this fear is many ways very rational – you are writing something different than you are used to that you are not sure will work – it also is founded on the incorrect assumption that when you write something new that isn’t what you are used to, you completely lose the skills to write that which you are good at.

But in reality, this couldn’t be farther from the truth!

When you step out of your comfort zone, you are taking what you are already good at and challenging it to become even better, not starting from scratch! For that reason, before you can begin writing pieces – or exercises – that challenge you, you’ll want to overcome the fear in the back of your mind that your work will “suck.”

Of course, this is easier said than done. But there are means to overcoming this fear more quickly than you might realize!

As someone who has written in tons of different storytelling mediums, though, I can say one of the BEST things for me as a writer and storyteller was creating my “genius.” This is a concept Elizabeth Gilbert discusses in Big Magic, a book I recommend for ALL storytellers, but especially those ready to start taking risks in their writing.

Additionally, remember that nobody needs to see your work outside your comfort zone besides you if you don’t want them to. So even if your story does “suck,” it’s not like you have to show it off to anyone and brag about it!

You can even burn it if you want since the main purpose of writing things that challenge you is the experience itself, not the end result.

STEP TWO: Figure out in what way you’ll step outside your comfort zone.

The ways to step outside of your writer’s comfort zone are ENDLESS and completely dependent on the person.

For example, I love to write stories with three different characters who are all related in some way. I also love to write stories that have a strange, minuscule, but odd quirk that the plot revolves around.

Since I have noticed my trend to tell these two types of stories – literally all my novel and screenplay drafts have three characters and all my shorter pieces rely on a strange quirk to orient the plot around – when I want to challenge myself, I look for a way to write the complete opposite of what I am used to.

That’s why I recently made myself write a character study piece focusing on just two people – and not a massive cast like usual – set in the real world without any oddities. Often when writing this script, I felt very very confused and impulsively wanted to add more characters or make things “weirder,” but I forced myself to stick with my self-imposed challenge, and as a result I learned that I need to work on writing strong characters who can intrigue an audience for a long period of time.

However, had I not challenged myself in this way, I may not have realized this about my storytelling patterns!

Of course, challenging yourself in this way isn’t always obvious, which is why I recommend writing prompts as a way to quickly force yourself to write stories and scenes in new ways that you aren’t used to. My sixteen storytelling prompts are a great place to start because they focus on different storytelling mediums, giving you a great chance to both challenge yourself by writing in a different medium and doing it with a simple writing prompt.

In addition to prompts, challenges like my upcoming challenge, Seven Swanky Scenes, work to make you think in a different way all the while encouraging you with the large community that comes with challenges. That way, if you are nervous about trying something new, you have the backbone of a large group of people going through exactly what you are to support you!


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Most importantly though, remember there is no wrong way to step outside of your comfort zone besides reverting back to what you usually do! Find something that speaks to you and yields results and go with it!

STEP THREE: Set aside time to write about that topic or storytelling medium. Write without rereading your work.

After you’ve decided how you’ll challenge your writing life, you’re ready to finally get to the fun stuff – writing!

How you decide to approach this writing schedule is up to you. It can be a one time 700-word sprint or a month-long affair. Just choose a way to tackle the unknown and the difficult in a way that works for you, but also doesn’t diminish your overall confidence as a writer.

The line is different for everyone, but using simple one-week challenges like Seven Swanky Scenes can help you pace out your approach more easily.

Once you’re done writing, set the work aside. This last part is very important because it keeps you from dwelling on what you got wrong and instead focusing on what you learned and how you were challenged!

After a week, return to your story and observe the following:

  1. What surprised me

  2. What I loved about this story

  3. What I hated

  4. What I learned

Often your new experience as a writer will be so stimulating and so challenging you won’t need to take notes like these. In fact, you very well may internalize and observe them yourself without any efforts. But, should you like to dig deeper and better understand new ways you can utilize your writer’s voice, questions like these can help you out.

For instance, take my feature film idea I mentioned earlier in step two. When reviewing it according to the above standards, I noticed the following:

  1. What surprised me: How easily I was able to create conflict from dialogue and human interaction alone. (Usually, I rely on weird, mystical, happenings)

  2. What I loved about this story: The themes I was exploring and the way I was playing with the typical romantic comedy structure to explore friendship instead

  3. What I hated: How some scenes felt super cheesy or boring because my characters just had to “talk” everything out since they were in the “real” world.

  4. What I learned: I need to hone in on my main characters and make them stable enough to be interesting and real for an entire film.

As you can see, I learned a lot about writing and storytelling just from trying out something new.

I have written many scripts before, so while the medium wasn’t new to me, I was approaching it in a different way using a story that wasn’t as typical for me.

However, no matter how you decide to approach challenging your writing life, it’s important to remember that even if your story does “suck” – it won’t, by the way – you’re still learning a ton about yourself as a storyteller and therefore developing ways to improve your typical writing style.

And that’s exactly the whole purpose in writing outside of your comfort zone!


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