When you hear the term “break out of your comfort zone” you probably think about something drastic like sky diving or quitting your job to live on the road. These are completely valid ways to break out of your comfort zone, but you don’t have to do anything nearly so drastic to find the perfect story idea or even to change your entire life. You can rely on something much simpler: choosing to read books that challenge your comfort zone.
What does this mean? It looks a little different for everyone, but here are some easy ways to change your life with books:
1. Focus your non-fiction reading on challenging subjects
If you’re anything like me, you read almost exclusively non-fiction and books that have a direct relationship to your work. I’ll happily research for days or weeks at a time, but that’s been all the non-fiction reading I’ve done since I finished school.
This year I’m determined to change that in a big way. I want to read books that expand my horizons, and that means reading more non-fiction—especially non-fiction about tough topics. So I’ve added I am Malala and Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World to my 2017 reading list.
2. Read novels outside your preferred genres
You’ve probably heard this advice before. Countless writers will tell you that you need influences from many different literary traditions to write truly unique books. I agree with them.
This one’s pretty tough for me because most genres are my preferred genre to some extent, but I don’t usually read hard science fiction so I’ve decided to put Ninefox Gambit on my reading list for 2017.
3. Read anthologies
Have you noticed that writing short stories is hard work? Does it take you three days to write 1,500 words of short story but only one to write 1,500 words of novel?
You are certainly not alone on this, and I suspect it’s partially because we don’t read a lot of short fiction. Tablets and phones have made short fiction quite popular with readers, but I’ve noticed that writers tend to focus all their reading time on novels and full length non-fiction books (and writer blogs, of course).
Personally I’m a big dark fantasy fan, so I’m most excited for The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories.
4. Read scripts and screenplays
Reading scripts and screenplays can be an extremely useful exercise even if you don’t plan to write them yourself. Scripts use a very different method of storytelling and the best scripts are built entirely on subtext.
The best part is that you can read thousands of scripts online for free. You can find a vast selection of movie scripts on the Internet Movie Script Database and many shows make their old scripts available online so writers can get a feel for their show.
For this one I’m going to be cheating, personally. A couple years ago I bought the hubby a massive book celebrating the 10th anniversary of Firefly, and it includes all of the original scripts. So I’m going to read those, and of course we’ll have to watch Firefly again. Being a writer is tough, you know.
5. Read about what scares you
I’m not talking about things like heights here. I want you to read about the things that terrify you the most. Your personal nightmares. Find a book that confronts your deepest fears and push through those fears with the characters, real or imagined. This is the first step to being able to write about them yourself, and nothing is a more powerful story driver than fear.
Personally, I’m not afraid of much, but the fears I do have are very specific. One of my biggest fears is being alone, and I’m not talking about in the overly long term here. As much as my ideas can keep me entertained for hours, left alone too long my mind becomes a dark place. So my natural choice for this category is actually a non-fiction book, Hell is a Very Small Place: Voices From Solitary Confinement.