Outside your comfort zone

When I decided to try my hand at writing back in 2009 I really didn’t know what I was doing.  I had a lot of ideas, hot opinions, and unfounded confidence that all combined generated a lot of excitement and energy.  When I started really researching, interviewing and framing my first book I quickly realized I would have to work extra hard to deliver the ideas I had to the page.

There’s a lot of information out there, and generally speaking, you could go in a lot of different directions when prepping a nonfiction book.  I jumped neck-deep into countless books, articles, interviews, videos, sites and other materials to try and find my way.  The great thing about that process is finding new perspectives and discovering those little scraps that change or reinforce your ideas on a particular subject.  Eventually you hit a sort of saturation point and feel like you’ve reached your brain’s limits for ingesting new knowledge about your topic, and that’s totally normal.

Interviewing was a little trickier in my experience, especially for a new author.  People don’t know you.  They don’t have a body of your work to look at to decide if they feel you’re trustworthy or not.  Some are very eager to talk to you, which isn’t always necessarily a good thing.  Likewise, you soon might realize you’ll need to shift your focus based on the availability of people and places to visit.  I found that putting yourself out there helps.  I found that the more vulnerable I was, the more open and transparent I could be through the entire process, the better.

Sharing your questions openly, allowing people to share their stories and help lead the conversation seemed to help quite a bit.  I always made it a point to let each and every person interviewed read their portions of my books before it ever went into the editing phase and even throughout the editing process.  You’d be surprised how a single word choice or unintended tone here and there can slip in and have a negative impact on what you’re trying to accomplish.  I’ve often found that by sharing with interviewees they often will open up further upon seeing where you were going and can help you refine things to be closer to their experiences, and ultimately better for the reader.

All of that said, I had to “learn by doing” as they say.  As it turns out, you can be really great at some things you never tried; and on the other hand, you may not be as good at some things as you might have thought.  In writing I have personally found it helps to start with an overall framework early on to keep you on course.  A basic story outline, a detailed overview of chapters or topics to cover really can help you focus your efforts.  It’s nice to have something tangible to use in assessing how much you’ve accomplished and what else lies ahead.

Getting outside your comfort zone, for me, means following the story and that bigger idea.  Sometimes your ideas can get away from you, sometimes topics or people necessitate a change in direction, and sometimes it’s good to stop altogether and reassess where things are going.  Writing is a process, and a really personal one at that.  I’ve recently been writing short stories just for fun to see if I like it (I was fairly sure I wouldn’t!) but I surprised myself and enjoyed it.  I don’t get paid to write or draw the little things that pop-up on Facebook and my blog, but creatively it’s something I have found I not only seem to need to do, but also provides me with an avenue for continued discovery about the things I love and myself all at the same time.  Sometimes little projects turn out way better than I had thought, and other times they leave me feeling as though they fell short of what I had aimed for from time-to-time.  Occasionally I get those positive comments from people that brighten my day and encourage me to do more, and other times it can be pretty lonely thinking you’ve done something awesome but only hear silence in response to it.

I encourage you all (if you’ve even made it this far) to follow the things you love, because as luck would have it you may stop and find that you’ve made it much farther than you ever thought possible.

Best,

– Nate

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