My mother used to teach little kids. One year she taught them how to write a story about an object or an experience. If I remember correctly, the kids must have been grade one or maybe two, and the story consisted of five lines or so. The example she used was a story about a cow: “There was a cow in the meadow. The cow had four legs and a tail. The cow loved to eat the grass…”
A few weeks later, Mom gave her class a test: “Your family took you on a picnic. Write a story about the picnic.” Nine out of ten kids wrote: “My parents took me on a picnic. There we saw a cow. The cow was in the meadow. The cow had four legs and a tail. The cow loved to eat the grass…”
I will never forget that. It taught me so many lessons and one in particular that I want to discuss today: going out of your comfort zone. So many of us are comfortable with whatever our strength is—writing an essay, writing a service piece, writing a novel—that we refuse to even tackle a new medium, saying it will be to hard. We could never do it. And if we tackle it, we try to use the same things we know about and apply them to the new challenge. But it won’t work that way.
I am trying to write a novel. I am an essayist and writing a novel is just about the hardest thing I have done. I kept using the “essay” style to write the novel. Essentially, I kept writing about the cow in the meadow. A friend read it and told me all that was wrong with it. And you know what? She was right.
I read it again and trashed more than half of it. I am now rewriting by learning new techniques and trying to build new skills. I am no longer seeing the cow at my picnic.