Working Outside Your Comfort Zone

The Venn diagram to the right represents my writing life for the last few weeks. No matter what I’ve done, those two circles simply aren’t intersecting for me on the new project we’re working on.

Ann and I now have two novels in our forensic mystery series under our belt. To keep things fresh and to expand our range, we’ve moved on to a proposal for a new standalone thriller. But it’s become very clear to me in the last few weeks that I’m having a major disconnect with this project.

I know exactly what my problem is, and a lot of it stems from my own process. When it came to learning the background for our forensics series, it took me years to learn the field of forensic anthropology to the point that I felt comfortable in my own knowledge base. I’m not a certified forensic anthropologist, but I play one in fiction. Also, by this time, the characters we crafted for the series are like old friends and practically write themselves. Ann and I often have conversations around current world news from the angle of what would Matt and Leigh think of this? They’re real people to us.

To make things worse, while working with a partner is amazing, there are some moments when Ann can’t help me, and this is one of them. Ann is an equal partner in research, story planning and editing/revising, but I do all the writing. So for me to feel comfortable in that role, I have to have all the required information in my head, and that’s where I’m hitting a wall. I’ve spent weeks researching, but the scope of what we’ve got planned is frankly scaring the heck out of me. The bottom line is that I need a solid basis or I can’t write. Currently, I’m not there yet and I know it. I know what the issues are—new material and characters, a huge story scope and, most of all, the fear of getting it wrong. So far this project feels like walking over broken glass and my gut instinct is to simply stop in my tracks (when I’d rather go weed the garden than write, I know I’ve got a problem!).

So what’s next?

Well, first of all, a serious kick in the pants is in order. Time to stop waffling and get my head in the game. Next, I need to give myself permission to get it wrong. This is a first draft, not the galleys. If I make a mistake, Ann will almost certainly catch it. In the meantime, getting some skilled people on board as technical consultants in areas where both of us could use some assistance is already in progress. Also, it’s a proposal, not the full manuscript. If we sell it, there are certain people I need to talk to, people that are too busy and important for me to bother until we make a sale; those people will absolutely have the information I may not have myself at this time. I need to give myself a break and get down to some serious work, keeping in mind that it really is a work in progress, and recognizing that sometimes the magic can happen outside of my current comfort zone, if I let it.

Have any of you had problems starting a new project? Is perfection an issue for you? How did you get over the hurdle of actually getting the ball rolling?