Monday, June 7, 2010

Confidence: Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone, Part One

“Everything you want is just outside your comfort zone.” Robert Allen, author of bestselling book, The One Minute Millionaire.

This week, I asked Little Rock political journalist and author, Suzi Parker to join in on our Confidence in a Writer’s Life workshop. Our focus this week is breaking out of comfort zones, creatively and professionally. This will be a two part workshop; the second installment will be out Wednesday.

I’ve known Suzi for a long time. She was one of my first clients as a literary agent and her stop-at-nothing to get a good story and write a good book attitude has always amazed me. The woman knows how to get things done, sells books and has fun doing it.

I asked her, how has breaking out of your own comfort zone helped you creatively and professionally?

SP: In order to be a good writer, you cannot play it safe. When I first worked at a newspaper, I could have chosen to stick with what I knew – hard news and features about the South. Instead, I made it a goal to land a story in every section of the newspaper. I knew very little about food but wanted to land in the food section. I could write profiles well so I asked if I could profile chefs. The editor gave me the go-ahead and I began writing a monthly feature on local chefs. I left the newspaper after three years but not before I had landed stories in every section including on the editorial page, which was a tough page to crack.

People often ask me if I should have written my non-fiction book “Sex in the South: Unbuckling the Bible Belt” using pseudonym. The book is an edgy, racy look at what happens in the South when the preacher isn’t looking. I never considered writing the book under a pseudonym. If I had done so, people wouldn’t know me as the political/sex writer. I have never been embarrassed a single day for writing that book. You have to push yourself into new adventures in order to keep your writing and ideas fresh. Sticking to what you write best – whatever that may be – could lead to success but it will not take you to the next level as a writer.

TLC: Right. You always hear in writing workshops, “Write what you know.” That’s great advice to start with, but eventually, to grow as a writer you must take the next step into the unknown not only to further develop your craft, but broaden your senses and mind. That isn’t to say a cookbook author needs to take a crack at writing a children’s book. Maybe that cookbook author needs to explore new combinations of flavors and spices, develop totally new recipes and take a crack at crafting a cookbook focusing on cuisine they’ve never written about.

Suzi’s Tips: Try writing a story about a subject you have never explored. Write a short story about something you have never even imagined. Force yourself to explore places you would never explore – a homeless shelter, a dark alley, the state capitol. Whatever makes your uncomfortable, try it once and then write about the experience.

Your exercise this week: Take a tip from Suzi and workout your mental writing muscles. If you’re a short story writer, write a poem. If you regularly write nonfiction pieces, try a short story. If you’re thinking about writing a second novel and don’t know where to start, pick a subject you know little about but are interested in (that’s the key) and start researching. Draw up an outline and see where it takes you.

As always, writers, let me know how it goes! Stay tuned…more to come this week.

Suzi Parker is an award-winning journalist and author, focusing extensively on politics, sex and Southern culture. She is a regular contributor to Politics Daily and its Woman Up blog, The Economist, US News’ Washington Whispers column, and The Christian Science Monitor. Her stories have also appeared in The Dallas Morning News, where she worked as Arkansas’ correspondent for seven years,,,, The New York Times Magazine, The New Statesman, Penthouse, The Washington Post, The Atlanta Journal Constitution, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Memphis Commercial Appeal, The Washingtonian and several other national and international magazines. In 1999, Parker won a Society of Professional Journalists Award from the California chapter for her investigative story about tainted Arkansas prison plasma and its connection to dying Canadians. Her Washington Post essay “When Death Was My Muse” was re-published in Shop Talk & War Stories: American Journalists Examine Their Profession (Bedford Books, 2003.) Parker is also the author of Sex in the South: Unbuckling the Bible Belt and 1000 Best Bartender’s Recipes. She has appeared on numerous television and radio shows discussing her books and national politics including “The Dr. Phil Show.”

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