I consider my writing comfort zone to be chapter books in a series. This is not surprising to me.
Ever since I was little, I have enjoyed series books. Nancy Drew was my first love. I read The Secret of the Old Clock #1, and was hooked. An elementary school teacher actually had to call home and request that I read something else for my book reports.
So, I started on Danny Dunn. I took these all out from the library. I loved the way they looked lining the shelves, and carefully went through the stack until I had devoured every one.
Encyclopedia Brown was my next obsession. As you can imagine, I started at Book 1 and solved each mystery one at a time until I had read them all.
As an adult, I also enjoy series books; Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, The Dresden Files, The Codex Alera, Hunger Games, Narnia, and I could go on and on and on.
So, it would stand to reason that when I started writing, I wrote with series potential in mind. Chapter books in a series were my first love, so why not write them?
Recently, I was challenged to step out of my comfort zone, and turn, what I thought were perfectly good chapter books, into one middle grade novel.
Oh, what could be so wrong with them staying chapter books? Oh, my world is over, there’s no way! It cannot be done!
Why should I have to change what I think works perfectly well, into something else entirely. It goes against my natural inclinations! You mean it won’t be a series anymore? Oh, you think so, huh?
Fine. Maybe I will try to consider what this story might look like as a middle grade. And, I suppose I could add, oh, 30,000 words no problem. I do have these extra 10,000 words just hanging around that were supposed to be Book 2…
But what do I write?
Amazingly enough, once I decided to get a grip, and figure out how I could weave together several stories I considered chapter books into one middle grade novel, something amazing happened. It all fell into place. My main characters’ overarching objectives became very clear. I created a new character to bridge everything together, and challenge my main character, push him, annoy him, even more. All of a sudden, the backstory that I had been musing about became, not only useful, but central to how the story played out!
My chapter book went from 9,000 words to 27,000 of a middle grade in two weeks. I’m pretty sure I still have at least 15,000 to go before I start revising.
I’ve learned, with quite a bit of wrestling, that once I stepped out of my comfort zone, something else was there. Will it take more time and more revision? Yes. Did I think it was ready, and now I know that it isn’t? Yes. Will it be worth it in the end? Oh, yes indeed.
Have you ever stepped out of your comfort zone and found something surprising there?