Monday, August 6, 2012

Writing Outside Your Comfort Zone: AKA, What the Hell am I Doing?

Have any of you ever started a project, got halfway through, and found yourself thinking, what the hell am I doing?

That's where I am right now, peeps.

Most of you know the manuscript that landed my kickass agent was a contemporary romance. It makes perfect sense, considering I'm a romance junkie. I love reading it. I love writing it. If most other genres are coconut milk ice cream - enjoyable enough, a lot better for you, but just not quite as delicious - then a good romance is my ginormous bowl of real, chocolate-fudgey Ben and Jerry's dairy Heaven.

Yes, I really did do a photo shoot with a container of ice

So why, I ask, am I attempting to write a psychological thriller right now?

I'll tell you.

When the idea for this manuscript came to me months ago, it was as a paranormal romance/thriller type novel.

I let the idea percolate while I finished LYM, but as time went on, it seemed agents and editors alike had started to regard "paranormal" as a four-letter word. (Click the link for a great post by Tristina Wright)

Then I had the amazing fortune to speak to John and the Other Awesome Offering Agent on the phone. The only not-so-awesome part? They both confirmed my fear that paranormal is getting the cold shoulder in the publishing market right now.

Cue instant, intense panic. And sadness, because I like a good supernatural story.

I'd already started writing SP as a paranormal and had about 20K down. There were no vampires, no werewolves, no shape-shifting unicorns or whatever - just a not-so-dead dead girl. I should be fine, right? It's all those *other* things that are crowding the bandwagon, right? RIGHT?


(And just a side note on bandwagons: if everyone didn't clamor for the same one at the same time, they wouldn't have to abandon ship en masse. Though I suppose that's the nature of a bandwagon. *sigh*)

I had ideas for new contemporary romances, but they were just twinkles in my eye at that point, and I am a sloooow drafter.

Cue copious hyperventilation.

I think it was my CP Dahlia who said, "Well... does SP *have* to be paranormal?" (Not kidding, guys, I associate with geniuses)

That's when it hit me: No it does not! I can morph this puppy into a psychological thriller while still keeping the basic structure of the premise AND all the sweet-n-steamy romance! Wahoo!

The only problem? It was WAY easier to write as a paranormal. Like, way.

Developing a main character people can be sympathetic toward while also questioning whether or not she's completely off her rocker has been daunting, to say the least.

Which is to say: this mc is driving me freaking crazy with all her psychological issues and all her damn "feels," because I'm the one who has to do them justice. My original vision was much more cut-and-dry.

I'm finding that when I sit down to write, I wind up staring at the blinking cursor with my bitch face, like so:

Seriously, SP? You can't write your damn self already?

On the other hand, when I do finally manage to pull off a scene that I've mulled over for hours or even days?

It's freaking awesome.

So while I'm still a bit miffed at paranormal being mean-girled out of the market as punishment for its own popularity, the upside is that it's been an opportunity to challenge myself as a writer. I might be kicking and screaming every step of the way, but I have a feeling I'm going to be seriously proud of myself and this novel when and if I finish it.

Will it be good? No clue.
Will my CP's think I've lost my damn mind? Quite possibly.
Will my agent think it's crap? God I hope not.
Will psychological thrillers replace straight romance as my Ben andJerry's? I highly doubt it

But I tried something new, and that in itself feels pretty good. You know... when it's not making me want to go on a murderous rampage. And if it doesn't work out, I can still rock a contemporary romance like it's my birthday (I hope).

What about you, peeps? Have you ever stepped outside your writing comfort zone? Were you glad you did it? (And what are your thoughts on the current stigma against paranormal?)


  1. I was pretty sure paranormal, zombies, wolf fantasies and vamps would have their moment of glory and then fade. You proved me correct.

    Unlike you, I am not into Romance at all, but realize there will always be a market for it, which is a great thing for you and those who love reading it.

    But what's the next wave? Perhaps you can adapt your WIP?

    1. *loving CP here, rabid to read this psychological thriller!*

      This post was actually about how she HAS adapted the idea for her WiP. But she wished she didn't have to.

    2. Ooh, interesting. I don't think paranormal will have their moment of glory and then fade. Paranormal has been around for decades, if not centuries. I do think right now the market is completely saturated. But does that mean it'll fade? You tell me. If it does, I don't expect that to be forever. But it'll be interesting to see (and wouldn't we all like to know what the next wave is?)

      (Also, I'm pretty sure the point of the post was that G already adapted her WIP into something different :D)

  2. Okay, so I'm salivating over SP as a psychological thriller. Like, dying to read it. But I hear ya. Would've been easier to write as a paranormal.

    I'm not *right there* with you, because I never really loved to read or write paranormal. But so help me, if one more person jumps to assume that any book that involves kids doing anything physically extraordinary but going to high school and making out is paranormal, imma get my own bitch face.

  3. I am *so* excited to read SP exactly because it's a psychological triller! Because although I enjoy reading paranormal now and then, I do agree that the bandwagon is a little too crowded, and this sounds *a-mah-zing*.

    But even though I'm tired of reading paranormal right now, I do think there should be a place for everything in the market--ideally with a good balance between all genres. I know it's a matter of reader demand too, but a girl can dream right? ;)

  4. This is fantastic and I applaud you for figuring out a solution to this problem. All my issues re: the paranormal "genre" are in my blog post (thanks for the link!) and it really sucks that you had to alter your darling to fit to that attitude.

    Maybe someday publishing will assign proper genres to YA books instead of lumping them all in one category.

  5. I am SO, SO excited for SP. Obviously I too am a romance junkie, and the furthest outside my conform zone I've gone is my Esther retelling... which is, admittedly, still a contemporary romance. So, while I'm not nearly as brave as you, I still admire like crazy what you've done for SP and CAN NOT WAIT to read it! I freaking love the idea of it as a psychological thriller and am absolutely certain it's going to be fantaaaastic!

  6. I actually cannot wait for SP. That is to say, I need it now. Because I want to read about not-so-dead dead girls and crazy psychological things. And I have all the confidence that you can pull this off with style.

    Also: Gina bitchface is epic bitchface.

    Also: "Developing a main character people can be sympathetic toward while also questioning whether or not she's completely off her rocker has been daunting, to say the least." Welcome. Welcome to the club of people with psychologically affected protagonists.

  7. What's the best way to entice me to read your post? Put a picture of ice cream on it. :D

    I can relate. I'm working on a YA psychological thriller now. It's a challenge to write. Not because it feels like a paranormal (it doesn't). It's because it's outside my writing comfort zone.

  8. Oy. I am in the same exact boat.

    Well. I don't have an agent, but otherwise, same.

    My first book was contemporary romance, and it was easy to write. It makes me laugh and cry and I just want to make out with the boy a little bit (if I wasn't married... Ahem)

    Now the story that has ahold of me is a steampunk, and I can already feel the tide turning against steampunk. What if I'm too late? What if this awesome story just doesn't have a place on the market? And why is it soooooo much harder than the love story?

  9. Your new project sounds great! Difficult to pull off usually means incredibly interesting when it is done.

    I've been writing a lot of erotica. At first it felt out of my comfort zone (should I really use THAT word?), but now I'm having fun with it. And writing the erotica, which is all about passion, has resparked my writing passion.

  10. Haha, that's how I felt when I went from writing Paranormal/Urban Fantasy for years to...well, Sci-Fi. (Seriously, I don't know how Leigh Ann and Chessie do it.) I had this particular idea rolling in my head for months if not years but still when it came to actually writing it/world-building for it/etc, I felt a bit overwhelmed. And LOL, yes, I am very well acquainted with the bitchface--because that's the face I'm giving my MS right now.

    I can't wait to read SP either! I love a good psychological thriller, even though I don't think I'll ever be able to write one myself. Good luck and happy writing!

  11. The manuscript I'm about to query is a contemporary suspense and WAY out of my comfort zone, but I adore it. Sometimes changing things up makes all the difference. Good luck!

  12. Gina, your WIP sounds good to me, lots of potential for suspense and plot complications. I hope it is fun to write! Paranormal stories will be popular again, it all comes and goes. Anne Rice made vampires popular, and they declined. Stephanie Meyer made them popular again, and now the market is glutted.

    I went to my first writing conference in May, my first vampire story in hand, and almost tried to pitch a different book at the very last minute, on the fly, with no preparation, because everyone was bemoaning vampire tales. But I pitched it to the lady sitting next to me, and she was excited. I pitched it to two other writers on the lunch break and they loved the idea.

    So with much anxiety, I went to my editor pitch session, and she requested sample chapters. I was also lucky enough to get a second appointment with an agent, who didn't want vampire stories, and she requested sample chapters as well. It was one of the best days of my life, so reaffirming.

    Will it get picked up! Who knows. I just keep writing. Thanks for doing this blog topic and good luck.

    Scott Moon

  13. I think a psychological thriller sounds interesting. I haven't written one before, though. I do tend to stay in my comfort zone, because I'm afraid that if I were to step out of it I wouldn't know what to write either. And I like writing chick lit, so hopefully people will still be reading that stuff if and when I do get published.

  14. Good luck! I had the same concern about paranormals, and am now going for contemporary. It's fun, but I do find myself hoping para will come back in style when all the fervor dies down.

  15. Yes, I'm out of my comfort zone right now -- writing a verse novel. I'm in the same boat where I'm not sure it's any good and I'm terrified! Best of luck on the writing! :D