Writing Outside of Your Comfort Zone by Annmarie Miles
Join me in as we welcome back Annmarie Miles this month as she shares her tips with us about writing outside your comfort zone. Enjoy!
Are we sitting uncomfortably? Then let’s begin…
I’ve been writing outside of my comfort zone for the last few weeks.
The lovely lady who runs our local library paid a visit to our writing group some time ago, sharing with us her plans to arrange an evening of commemoration for local people (including a great uncle of hers) who had fought in WWI. She was hoping that some members of the group might write something for the occasion.
My first thought was an inward one, “She might as well be asking me to write about what it was like to grow up in the Ming Dynasty.” I knew I could google ‘World War 1 and Ireland’ and come up with a whole host of articles. I also knew that for me to write something that gave the appropriate amount of authenticity to the story, it would have to be more than about dates and names.
Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to give you a small bit of historical context here, so that you’ll understand why I felt so out of my comfort zone.
When WWI started in 1914, Ireland was still very much a colony of the British Empire, and many Irish men went to fight in the war. The Irish Rebellion was in 1916, and by 1918, when most soldiers were coming home from WWI, Ireland was in full scale revolution against England. Ireland’s Declaration of Independence and ensuing War of Independence followed in 1919. Many of the men who came home from what was then considered ‘a foreign war’, were at best ignored. Most did not feel they could speak of their experiences.
So there is the two-cent history lesson for you… 🙂
I was raised in a family where Irish nationalism was the theme of most songs and stories of my childhood; with little or no mention or connection to WWI in my culture. Now I’m sure we’ve all written voices that are not our own. I’ve written about mothers even though I’m not a mother, I have written from the POV of a man, and a child etc. I know them and read them in other books and see them on TV, in the supermarket, on the bus. They are ‘voices’ I have heard and understand.
But the voice of a WWI vet, or a field hospital nurse, or a war widow? I have no connection what so ever to those voices. I think it was the first time that as I writer I really felt out of my comfort zone; it was also the first time I’d ever said, ‘I don’t think I can write this story.
Eventually though, I did come up with something and I am happy with it, but I went through a different process than usual, and it has been a very valuable one. Most of what I’ve mentioned below works for all writing, but I’ve found writing outside of your comfort zone means taking a slightly different approach…
- Think about it for a while – I usually get a story idea and just start writing, with this story I couldn’t do that. I searched my memory for a connection to WWI and eventually found a very small one. Only then did I start writing.
- Have actual conversations with people – rather than emailing friends about it, I picked a couple of people I could talk to about it. It was much more beneficial
- Go to events on the subject – going to a historical society evening was really helpful. I heard letters read out and stories passed down. I started to get a feel for the voice after that.
- Read varied sources – I found a few things online, looked again at Downton Abbey Series 2 (with a researcher’s mindset), read some history books and listened to some music of the time.
- Read aloud when reading on the subject – I know we’re told to read our own writing aloud, but I found reading research material aloud helped me to get a feel for the voice
- Find readers who do know the subject – I only showed the piece to three people. One, my husband as I always do, the other two are writers who have both written on the subject; one a former soldier.
I’m excited about the commemoration event now; confident I’ve done everything I can to make my story best that it can be; making myself as much a part of that culture as I can,
Have you ever written totally outside of your comfort zone? How did you get on?
Annmarie Miles, part time writer, full time believer is 40something, Irish, Christian, married, and proud to be all of those things. She loves words, music & chocolate! You can find out all about her and her book “The Long & The Short of It” at the new website:www.annmariemiles.com.
Where to find Annmarie:
Personal Blog: www.auntyamo.com
Writing Blog: www.annmariemiles.com/blog