How Writing Differently Can Strengthen Your Craft

January 31, 2012 · 11 comments

Four years ago, a few writer friends and I got together in Houston for a Modern Love brunch. All avid readers of The New York Times column, we vowed to each write our own essay and share them aloud. A Modern Love critique group.

I only wrote half my piece. But over the next few years, I worked on it little by little, and I finally finished it while at a writer’s colony last fall. It morphed into a story that wasn’t right for Modern Love, but this weekend the personal essay ran on Salon: I fell in love with a megachurch.

Writing this piece — not to mention letting other people read it — pushed me way outside my comfort zone. It’s about love and religion and feelings and personal growth. And for me, it’s far more challenging to write honestly about how those subjects pertain to my own life than, say, help y’all learn how to better use Twitter.

But finishing that story made me realize how far I’ve come as a writer. I began drafting the piece before my 2008 backpacking trip, before writing my memoir, and finished it after completing my book — which means the essay benefited from all the wisdom gained while writing my manuscript. That’s a lot of practice in first-person writing.

And while it may not come easy to me — while I’m still feel stronger when I’ve got my journalistic hat on — this is a perfect example of when it’s beneficial to take the hard route. Because stretching my writing wings and pushing myself over that wall of discomfort makes me better at what I do. It makes me a better writer.

How have you pushed yourself outside your comfort zone lately?

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Andi of My Beautiful Adventures January 31, 2012 at 9:20 am

Agree that it is so important to go outside your comfort zone from time to time in any profession!!! It’s how we grow!

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Alexis Grant January 31, 2012 at 9:59 am

Thanks, Andi!

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Shae January 31, 2012 at 5:23 pm

I have often thought about going on a writer’s retreat here in Australia (mmm might just have to go to Byron Bay). In 2010 I joined a local writer’s group on a Saturday morning. I also have a personal blog, which at the time, I was writing a lot more and each person would read out their work to the group. At first I was so intimidated and it really challenged and put me out of my comfort zone. There were some really great writers amongst the group and I was the only blogger at the time. But I did learn different writing techniques and how to write more descriptively. I do intend to do attend another term this year.

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Meredith Jaeger January 31, 2012 at 7:32 pm

Amazing article, Lexi. I feel like that was the beginning of your story, and now I really want to read your memoir and see what happens next. Enduring a terrible breakup is something many women can relate to. Also identifying with that desire to search for answers. I know social media and marketing strategy is a big part of your focus now, but I truly love your voice. Keep writing from the heart. It’s awesome!

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Alexis Grant February 1, 2012 at 10:07 am

Thanks, Meredith! You’re so right on — That IS the beginning of my story!

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Lisa McKay January 31, 2012 at 8:55 pm

Oh I loved reading that. I love your blog, but I’m someone who just loves loves loves reading people’s personal stories. I’m curious though, do you really believe that all good love affairs are fleeing?

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Alexis Grant February 1, 2012 at 10:08 am

All “affairs” — Yes. But not all love! Some love will hopefully stay put, enchallah.

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Noch Noch | be me. be natural. February 1, 2012 at 4:59 am

you know, out of my comfort zone, strangely came from finally writing just for myself. and not thinking about readers, stats, titles, keywords etc
just write for myself
a little bit daunting
but oh so rewarding
Noch noch

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Shuni February 2, 2012 at 3:47 am

Great post, Lexi. I read your article in Salon. It’s touching. And I went through the comments. Wow… even more interesting. I’m anxious to know “what’s next”.

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Marianne February 4, 2012 at 2:33 am

I loved reading some of your personal writing Alexis, and this leaves me hungry for more.

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Alexis Grant February 4, 2012 at 2:54 pm

Thanks, M!

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