The One Thing that Separates Great Writers from the Rest

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Not just anyone can be a writer.

Common wisdom says that writing takes persistence, a relentless belief in your own imaginary worlds, and the kind of thick skin that can take constant rejection. And yes, the pursuit of writing does call for all of these qualities, but perhaps hardest of all is the subtle demands it makes on a person’s store of courage.

To be a writer, a true writer who reaches their full potential, you have to move out of your comfort zone every single day.

Most people habitually operate from a place of fear. They stay in the job they hate because it provides a steady paycheck. They cling to the relationships that have been dead for years because they’re terrified of being alone. They resist change in any form—eating in a different way, dressing in different clothes—because change is unknown. And when fear dictates your choices, the unknown is something you refuse to let into your life.

Writers, on the other hand, can only truly grow by finding a place to live and thrive within the unknown.

Most of our fears come down to self-judgment, and the preconceived notions we have about how others might judge us. As we consistently practice moving out of our comfort zone, we learn to release these fossilized ideas based on fear. We move into a space where we can accept the fluidity of the present moment, and the uncertainty of the future. As you let each moment unfold in front of you as it happens, you can accept whatever that moment brings you. Maybe there is pain in that moment, and maybe you do feel rejected or judged. But maybe too there can be surprise and delight, a connection you didn’t expect, a leap forward you never thought was possible.

As you examine the boundaries of your own comfort zone, consider these common fear-triggers for writers:

Telling others that they consider themselves a writer
Showing others their work
Joining a writing group
Finishing pieces (e.g., writing the ending to the story, finishing their novel, etc.)
Accepting/considering outside feedback
Standing up and reading their work in front of a group
Submitting their work to be judged (e.g., to journals and magazines, agents and editors, etc.)

The boundaries of your comfort zone depend entirely on you. If you’re a bestselling author, maybe you’re afraid of writing something different, a novel people would never expect out of you. If you’re a writer who’s never shown anyone your work, maybe you’re afraid no one will like it. If you’ve always wanted to join a writing group but never have, maybe you’re afraid the other writers won’t accept you.
It really doesn’t matter where you are on the spectrum. Every writer is on their own journey, and at a unique place within that journey at any given moment in time. What matters is that you identify where you, and then do your very best to move forward. That means doing something that scares you.

This week, look at your own writing life and think about the next step. Contemplate your fears and take one conscious step to move out of your comfort zone. Turn down the volume on the voice of your inner critic. If you’ve been thinking about joining that writing group, do it. If you’ve been considering sending out your short story to an online magazine, send it. If you’re terrified of public speaking, stand up and read your latest poem out loud to your spouse or your best friend.

The key to doing this successfully is to give yourself permission beforehand. You grant yourself permission to make mistakes. You grant yourself permission to be imperfect. And you grant others permission to be themselves—judgments and all—without taking it personally, knowing that it has nothing to do with you.

Give yourself permission to be you. Grow into the writer you really are.

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