The Drawer: Challenging comfort and fear to get things done

Recently I’ve been thinking about ‘the drawer’ and what lurks in there. The drawer is a special place where stories and novels I’m stuck on go to die. Well they don’t die, what they actually do is wait patiently for me to occasionally pull them out, sigh over them, frown and put them back in the drawer. The reason the pieces aren’t finished varies. Some pieces are in the drawer because I didn’t know how to end them, others because I didn’t have the technical skills to finish them, and sometimes, well, I was just stuck. So in the drawer they went.

The other thing I’ve been thinking about is being myself. I’ve just had yet another birthday and being true to my self is still an issue. I suppose being true to yourself is actually a work in progress because we are constantly changing and evolving creatures. Ideally as we progress through life we act, react, evaluate, learn and grow, i.e. adapt our actions in a more positive way for ourselves. In this way truth is refined as we are, unless we get stuck along the way and put ourselves in a dark place.

I saw a great diagram the other day. It was all about the fear zone and the comfort zone. I expect most people know this concept already. I didn’t though. It was a simple diagram which showed four zones: comfort, fear, learning and growth. In the comfort zone a person feels safe and in control. The comfort zone is pretty small. It made me think about where I’ve been with my writing recently. I’ve been comfortably finishing off some workable tales and ignoring a pile of challenging tales that live in the drawer.

Next to the comfort zone is the fear zone. This zone nicely circles the comfort zone, keeping us hemmed in. The fear zone is all about a lack of self-confidence, finding excuses, and being affected by others’ opinions. For my writing, the drawer is the fear zone. The place that stands between me and the next step.

When I put my pieces in the drawer I knew they could potentially work but try as I might I just couldn’t get them right. I knew I had more learning to do before I could finish them so I tucked them away somewhere safe and got on with other work. The other work was this website, working on this writing, running the writing group and getting work created for that, along with organising everything I had done so far and finishing projects off. And this is what the diagram was all about- as we move out from our comfort and fear zones we find learning and growth.

The learning zone, as you’d expect, is all about dealing with challenges and problems, acquiring new skills so that you can expand your comfort zone. Growth, well, it’s working towards the future you want. Recently, despite doing all these other new projects, I realised I was playing it safe with my writing. But seeing the diagram of the zones was the synchronistic kick I needed to get a grip and open the drawer. I realised that my comfort zone has actually expanded, along with my writing skills and my relationship with my inner critic, so I was probably ready to delve into the drawer and understand what to do next with the pieces of writing in there.

The first piece out of the drawer was pretty broken. The problem was I’d tried to make it palatable and safe. Obviously doing that meant the story didn’t work. I’d damaged its integrity and truth. Without those things it was just a boring tale, but when you’re in the middle of something what you need to do isn’t always obvious. So having a break, putting it in the drawer, taking a step away from it and working on different projects was the best thing to do. Looking at it this week I realised what I needed to do was to be brutally honest in my tale and stop trying to make it nice. Part of my learning this last year has also been to find people who I trust to read my work. These people are honest and brutal, two really amazing qualities in readers. So I talked to them about it, outlined my story and that really helped. And yes, I’m ready to take it on again. In fact I’ve been working on it today and after my last edit, yes, I love it. It’ll need a few more edits for sure. Then I’ll share with for critique, see what feedback comes back. Then after another edit or two it’ll be ready to find a home in the world of magazines and journals.

And facing this demon of the drawer, I can see that I need to do the same with the other pieces in there too. Trying to soften our truths is just bullshit really at the end of the day and it just leads to a complicated mess. Perhaps the trick is to trust your instincts, work with integrity towards your goals, challenge your fears and have friends who trust and demand that in you too.

Now I’m excited about the project again, and I’m older and wiser too- until the next time.

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