Breakdown or Breakthrough? Tips for Writing Outside of Your Comfort Zone

So it finally happened. I had heard of writers having breakdowns over their writing. A sentence wouldn’t work despite their best tinkering, a scene they initially loved read like garbage, or they just plain old had writers block. Writers all experience moments of frustration, but I’d yet to have a full on breakdown over my work. I was challenged to write a piece outside of my usual interest and knowledge base. I felt I could do it, I mean, I’m a writer. But I’m also a reader, and critical thinker. I was wrong.

Or so it seemed. There were tears, frustration, and exasperated sighs. I was on a deadline however, and I didn’t have the option of ruminating over it like I can with fiction or this very blog post. I had to get it done. I had to start over and work logically. Here are some tips for when you’re pushed to the brink while writing outside of your depth. 

Do Your Research

Well, duh. This one is a no brainer but the real trick is targeting what research needs to be done. Where is the knowledge gap? If you isolate what you don’t know specifically, it’ll make the researching part a lot easier. For a brief overview, look up the terms in an online dictionary. Or if you’re looking for more brevity, you could consult Wikipedia. 

Generally, Wikipedia is great for getting a background in a subject but be aware that the entries aren’t always accurate (just like your writing teacher told you). Another great source with more credibility is Google Scholar or you if still remember your university log in, Jstor

Use Mind Maps

Mind Maps may seem a little elementary, and that’s because they are. Most of us were introduced to mind maps in our early years of school. So what can a simple mind map from the first grade offer a grown up writer? 

It may seem silly, but associating your main topic with related topics, or anything that comes to mind, while seeming cluttered on paper, actually helps your ideas coalesce. Suddenly seeing various topics on a page will help you make unseen connections which make for great topics and even better headlines. 

Quitting isn’t Always Bad

Though the saying goes “no one likes a quitter,” there’s something to be said for knowing what you’re capable of. There’s nothing worse than a poorly written and/or researched article in your portfolio. I’m certainly not advocating for giving up on a piece, but if you know you can’t produce something good, there’s something in walking away. 

Maybe you quit for a few hours, or give up all together, sometimes calling it quits isn’t the worst thing in the world, especially if it could affect your track record negatively.

I did end up writing the piece and I’m glad I did because it made me a better writer for it. Do you have any tips you’d like to share? Post your tips in the comments!