Deep practice: Writing outside my comfort zone

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Writing has always come easy to me.

That’s why I made my career in it. I’ve never been one to push myself past my natural comfort zone.

When I was growing up, one of our family’s most strongly held beliefs was that each of us is born with certain talents. You stick with what you’re good at, and try desperately to avoid the humiliation of attempting what you’re bad at.

I was the high school kid who took the minimum math and science credits required to graduate, rather than tackling the challenge of pre-calc. The kid who sat on the sidelines during gym class, refusing to dress in my uniform, willing to get a D in phys ed rather than play volleyball in front of my peers.

Even my writing — I’ve kept it in the comfort zone. News stories. Press releases. Sporadic blog posts here, but only when they come easily. All my more ambitious creative writing attempts stay hidden in a private folder, abandoned when they inevitably fail to live up to my standards.

During a writing class a few months ago, I was introduced to the concept of “deep practice.” The idea is that working at the edge of our abilities — being willing to make mistakes and even fail — is the only way to develop new skills, to tap into that internal flow, to move forward.

Since then, I have been trying to tread into deeper water. Trying to write longer, more ambitious pieces that I will eventually submit for publication. Trying to tell my own story after decades of telling other people’s stories.

I’m reading literary magazines and comparing my own amateurish attempts, feeling the weight of just how much I have to learn. Look at all these literary writers — many of them far younger than I — who have changed the world with their words. Here I am at 42, an infant just taking her first steps.

I’m sharing my writing with a few select readers and, instead of the accolades I’m used to, being met with gentle but firm criticism. Or worse, with utter silence.

I’m interrogating myself daily. What if the fact that this doesn’t come easy means I’m no good? What if I just look stupid, typing away on my little stories that no one wants to read?

Is this what “deep practice” feels like? It’s kind of scary out here in open water.

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