Writing Your Way Out of the Comfort Zone

28 Jun

 My blogging partners on Gem State Writers inspire me. Janis started a loop in my head last week (thank you soooo very much) with the serenity/rage blog. Peggy honed my thoughts with her overview on managing stress. Johanna wrapped the sequence of blogs by anchoring my internal dialogue. Yeah, I know; danger lies in mental rants and conversations. But, as Meredith noted from Ms. Meyers’ workshop a few weeks ago, where would we be without the voices in our head?

So, I took the collective wisdom of the bloggers and those who offered comments. The crux of this blog site and our shared interests is writing. Challenges, from both personal experiences, and what we form in the plots of our work, create the impetus for fiction. However, too much conflict overwhelms readers and erodes a writer’s motivation.

In keeping with my ongoing geekdom, I turned to organization theory and scholarship. Wouldn’t you know it – a gem or two of insight popped up.

Facing Conflict

In the sixties (quick, show of hands, who was alive then?), scholars sorted our response to conflict of interest, need or action into five categories.

Competition is the default for conflict management in the United States. One person wins at the expense of another’s unwilling loss. This win/lose, victory-at-all-costs mindset is integral to American culture. Most people don’t enjoy losing and the residual frustration can lead to bigger disputes.

Accommodation is a type of ‘willed loss’ when we accede to the demands of another. Reasons vary, of course. Is it worth the trouble to fight? Are the stakes great enough? Am I willing to risk failure?

Avoidance occurs when one or both parties ignore the conflict. There’s really not a ‘loss’ if one person refuses to play, nor a true ‘win’.

Compromise suggests partial satisfaction (and dissatisfaction) of negotiated needs. This captures much of the political process – and probably many marriages. Compromise seems to rate collective disdain in American culture. One scholar argued we view compromise as vanilla bland in a sea of dark chocolate.

Collaboration is the ‘win-win’ approach. In theory, if two people can come to terms without sacrificing important values or personal interests, then the outcome doesn’t frustrate participants. Collaboration, though sometimes a pain in the keister, is a healthy long-term approach.

Managing Stress

We tend to use ‘stress’ as a dirty word, but it’s merely a disruption in a static system (obtuse, yet palatable . . . gotta love academia). My friends in psychology reference three general stress scenarios:

Eustress incorporates a disruption or unusual event in our mundane existence, but these can be pleasant. A vacation induces eustress. A RWA National conference (kinda). Weddings, birthdays, and even new jobs populate the desired/voluntary events with positive energy. Just as too many desserts can give you a stomachache (I’m told this is the case, I’ve yet to experience the downside of dessert), too many positive events can overwhelm even the most competent, balanced writer.

Distress comes from unpleasant, unplanned events outside our influence. Distress can evolve from extended eustress or any long-term pattern of events (perhaps this captures the paradox of family reunions and holidays).

Finally, stress deprivation is harmful. Absent disruption, your life is static. Intelligent people need a degree of stress; boredom damages the creative mind.

Danger in the Comfort Zone

I don’t want to distress anyone further, but I need to talk about math and graphing (gotcha, didn’t I?). Judith Bardwick depicted how worker productivity increases or decreases depending upon personal anxiety. This was a central point for me from Johanna’s blog on the job of writing.

 Bottom Line

Unmanaged conflict creates anxiety. Unchecked anxiety impedes our productivity as people and writers. Unending peace and stability can lead to the entitlement mode. A lull in anxiety is often reflected in a productivity decline. The adage ‘if you need to get something done, ask a busy person’ rings true. Absolute complacency destroys productivity as quickly as abject fear.

My loop (and blog) begins and ends with Janis’ juxtaposition of the serenity poem with Dylan Thomas’ caution against giving up.

Do we acquiesce – to the demands of others or to personal demons – OR do we fight for our work, relationships, and values?

Does too much peace, too much ease, too much comfort inhibit our growth as writers? As people?

Can a comfort zone damage our creativity as much as fear?

What do you think?


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8 responses to “Writing Your Way Out of the Comfort Zone

  1. Meredith Conner

    June 28, 2011 at 5:07 AM

    Wonderful post Liz! As always you’ve given me something to think about.

  2. Liz Fredericks

    June 28, 2011 at 5:32 AM

    Let’s thank Janis for starting this loop of thought.

  3. Johanna Harness

    June 28, 2011 at 5:55 AM

    I love the graph, Liz! I would add that life is generally more interesting when we push ourselves out of our comfort zones. When I hear kids talking about being bored, I know they’re not growing or learning. An afternoon at the water park provides an escape from boredom for a few hours, but learning something new and challenging has the potential to remove boredom for the rest of the summer.

    • Liz Fredericks

      June 28, 2011 at 4:02 PM

      Good point, Johanna – although I have to confess that a trip to the water park would be a journey into boredom for me. The kids love it, so lucklly, I’ve a few good books to read.

  4. Janis

    June 28, 2011 at 6:08 AM

    Liz, fascinating. I’m glad you punctuated what started a few blogs ago. The uniqueness of who we are and how we operate never changes. Thanks.

    • Liz Fredericks

      June 28, 2011 at 4:03 PM

      You’re so right, Janis.

  5. Carley Ash

    June 28, 2011 at 5:37 PM

    This was a fascinating blog Liz. Thanks.

  6. Mary Vine

    June 29, 2011 at 8:26 PM

    Thanks, Liz. I can think of instances where I felt like I was being plunged into things I feared the most, and ended up being stronger and more confident in the long run. It was good for me to look back and realize how far I’ve come because my apple cart got turned over a time or two (figuratively speaking, of course).


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