Stepping out of my comfort zone – a phrase I’d usually associated with some dare-devilish feat such as hurling myself backwards out of a plane or scaling Mount Everest. I’d certainly never linked it to my writing. Well, not during the plotting, researching and first drafting stages, anyway. All that bubbling enthusiasm, coffee on tap, whilst I sat, hunched over my PC, squeezing out another chapter…
But then, oddly, instead of completing the draft, I started editing as I went along, revisiting scenes over and over again, tweaking and re-tweaking, picking and pulling apart every sentence until my poor old novel almost waved the white flag at me.
It was like I was trying to delay the process, as if all of a sudden it had become too real.
People began asking me: “When can we read it, Jan?” or “When will it be finished?” quoting words like synopsis and self-promotion.
I mean, give me a drum to clatter on someone else’s behalf, and I’m there, but bang my own? Were they serious?
I could feel the pressure mounting as fast as my zest and bounce dwindled. My self-belief had been well and truly walloped by The Fear Factor.
But then a little voice in my head piped up: “What about all the hard work you’ve put in? The passion, the research trips back and forth to York, and the unwavering support you’ve received from Mr B, your family & friends?”
And so began my voyage across the border.
I can do this, I thought, tentatively joining Facebook and Twitter. After all, I was a friendly enough soul, wasn’t I?
And sure enough, I was soon interacting with both published and unpublished writers, relishing their advice, kindness, support and complete understanding of how I’d felt, quickly realizing that it was actually all quite normal. Friendships I’d begun to establish were strengthening week by week and I could feel myself starting to believe again.
A huge personal breakthrough for me was hearing about the RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association) and their New Writers’ Scheme. I’d attended an inspiring talk given by four incredibly friendly and approachable authors (Juliet Archer, Victoria Connelly, Jean Fullerton and Janet Gover) who suggested I go along to one of their local RNA chapter meetings, as they’re referred to, in London.
I remember, upon arrival, how daunted I felt. Rainlashed and windswept, hoping that someone would recognize me and praying that I wouldn’t fall flat on my face, Calamity Jan style, as I walked through the door.
Instead, it was like being welcomed into a giant group hug. Lots of laughter, writerly chat and encouragement.
Thrilled to be accepted for The New Writers’ Scheme the following year, it finally dawned on me how beneficial being able to submit my manuscript (or in my case, partial manuscript) and obtain feedback from my elected RNA reader would be.
I’d confronted my fears and although terrified at the prospect of somebody reading and critiquing my work, I knew inside that it represented my best hope of progressing.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried like a baby when I opened my NWS report. Yes, there were negatives, but constructively composed and professionally advised negatives, suggesting how and where to strengthen and far outweighed by the positives which, in turn, far exceeded my expectations.
The huge sense of relief and freedom it gave me renewed my confidence, hence my subsequent participation in The Romaniacs group blog which has been an absolute honour and joy to be part of (thank you, Laura, Sue, Celia, Liz, Vanessa, Lucie, Catherine & Debbie). I can’t believe now that I almost chickened out!
Whilst it’s still nice to occasionally wrap myself up in my old familiarity blanket and plant myself firmly back in the zone, the rewards of travelling beyond it, I’ve discovered, are priceless.
I’d love to know your thoughts and stories on the subject. Can you identify with me?