Get out of your comfort zone

Along the Danube in Austria.

Along the Danube in Austria.

Silk’s Post #54 – Last week I was in Budapest, Vienna, the Wachau Valley, Melk, Saltzberg, Passau. Today I’m in Prague. This trip has taken me to four modern states – Hungary, Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic – that all share centuries of history as territories within the monumental Habsburg Empire. While each has evolved differently, there is a stunningly clear and present theme that haunts every landmark I’ve seen throughout this trip: struggle, disruption, conflict and change.

The layers of culture revealed in the architecture, arts and various types of memorials in these cities map the military conquests, natural disasters, political occupation and religious domination that propelled Central Europe from feudal states to the modern European Union. Our herd, tethered by our earphones to our guide, would shuffle from one spectacular monument commemorating death and destruction in some form (the murder of a saint, the black plague, a bloody battle, a flood) to another.

And yet, from these cataclysms came magnificent art, spiritual seeking and inspiration. Struggle, conflict and tragedy led to revelation, change, even beauty and celebration.

Sound familiar? This is what storytelling is all about. We’re told to put conflict on  every page. Why? This pattern of human history, of struggle and survival, is deeply ingrained in our DNA.

I’ve never experienced a better demonstration of this than our trip through tumultuous European history. All the foundation tales – the classical “hero’s journeys” – are here for all to see, built into every ruin, every castle, every cobblestone street, every battlefield, every shrine, every historic trade route by water or land. Conflict, conflict, conflict. And the greatest stories ever told.

None of these dramatic tales arose from a comfort zone. All came from the gut-wrenching, life-disrupting spectrum of human actions and emotions that jolt people out of their comfort zones.

For me it has been the best lesson a writer can learn: if you want to tell the kind of story that moves people – that resonates with readers deep in that place in our DNA that understands the human condition of struggle and survival – then you must get out of your own comfort zone. Writing should be a challenge. It should be an emotional experience. It should echo the dynamic drama we want our readers to have when they lose themselves in our story.

Life is messy, in turns painful and uplifting. How can writing about it be otherwise?

7 thoughts on “Get out of your comfort zone

    • Thanks Mary Ann. It’s the trip of a lifetime for sure, long awaited. Really not more than a “how d’ya do” though – I could have spent weeks at every stop. Still, it’s been an eye-opener, just to experience these different vibes.

  1. Love your post Silk. As a fellow writer, the best and most fulfilling times are when I’m in my character’s head, feeling and doing what my character is doing in the moment of turmoil. Capturing those moments in words is pure magic. That’s why we write.

    • I feel you, as they say these days. Most of us don’t leave our comfort zones gladly, a habit that unfortunately seems to become more pronounced as we get more “mature”. Sometimes I feel like I have to kick myself out of my complaisance.

  2. Love your post, Silk. It resonates so much for me, as my roots are right there where you’re traveling. Yes, there are signs of conflict, conquest and rebuilding from the ashes everywhere, in every monument, castle, every cobblestone. Great examples of the hero’s journey and parallel to the process of writing fiction. I trust this journey will have an impact on your writing, especially as it adds a huge inventory for new characters. (People there are so different from our own comfort zone, right?) Enjoy the rest of your trip! And thanks for the photo of Duernstain.

    • I would love to spend some time with you talking about this amazing world I’ve finally been able to experience first hand. Such rich history – I knew it was the birthplace of many of our tales and traditions, but wasn’t quite expecting to step into a different sense of time. This history isn’t just in the past here – it still has huge presence today. Lots of photos to share later!

  3. The first two paragraphs read like poetry, I almost forgot there was a point you were trying to make, other than the flow of the language itself. Karalee is right; The best times are when we’re in our character’s mind in the moment of turmoil, and the words are almost not ours. But we become less inclined to leave our comfort zones as we age. I know this all too well.

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