The Safe Zone

When I was a teenager, I wrote for myself.

I had my far off dream of publication, of course, but in the actual process of writing, I could make the world melt away and focus on nothing but the story. The middle of the night would shift into dawn and I would wonder where the time went. I wrote to distract myself from important things, like homework or errands or exams. Writing was a guilty pleasure, a delightful little crime.

Now, writing is my job. A creative job that I adore, to be sure—-but the thing about creative jobs is that they are still jobs, a task that I must now do regardless of whether or not I feel inspired. I have contractual deadlines. Writing is not a guilty pleasure, but what puts food on the table. I am no longer dating the bad boy behind my parents’ back; I am married.

And when your creative joy becomes your daily duty, it can be very tempting to fall into the Safe Zone.

The Safe Zone beckons when life gets a little chaotic. My ceiling pipe breaks, my dog needs to go to the vet, I haven’t slept well in days, and I am just so very tired, and deadlines are looming, looming, looming. I write something rushed, lazy, and uninspired. (I don’t mean, by the way, the process of writing an imperfect first draft, or the rush of raw, unabridged creativity—-imperfection precedes perfection, and those early rushed drafts are completely encouraged, because that imperfection is fueled by passion.) The Safe Zone appears when you lose your heart. When you just want to get it over with. Sometimes, I feel the temptation to turn in a story because “it’s good enough.” It’ll get me by. I forget why I write in the first place and fall into the trap of thinking that no one will notice if I take a few shortcuts.

But people always notice. That one passage you thought read a little awkward? Your readers will sense your awkwardness too. That one secondary character you were too lazy to flesh out because you just didn’t want to look at the manuscript anymore? Your readers will complain about that character feeling dull and one-dimensional. That totally half-assed, deus ex machina solution to a complicated plotline that you’re hoping your readers will just accept? They won’t.

You cannot trick your readers.

When I catch myself falling into the Safe Zone, I remind myself of why I read. I read to find That Book: you know the one, where the words vanish after the first few lines and you find yourself standing in the middle of a lush, tense, exciting world, where you hold your breath at every scene, where you marvel at the razor sharp plotting, where your heart aches for the protagonist, where it’s 3 AM and you need to read just one more chapter, where the characters and story haunt you long after you turn the last page. Where the book rings true.

I remind myself that I should always strive to write That Book. “Good enough” is never good enough. It doesn’t matter what you’re writing—a novel, short story, article—put all your heart into it, even when you’re exhausted and the urge to wing it is overwhelming. Don’t ever forget that you are trying to create something you’re proud of.

What about you guys? How do you inspire yourself when you’re tired?


10 Responses to The Safe Zone

  1. Erin Bowman Jan 27 2014 at 10:41 am #

    I adored this post, Marie. I often find myself saying “it’s good enough” in the very final stages of editing…When you are SO SICK of your story because you’ve read it a million times and you just want to move on to something new. This is a much needed reminder that we writers need to roll our sleeves up and spend the extra time polishing all those paragraphs that read wonky, and fleshing out characters and plot points that don’t jive.

    Fantastic post!

  2. Marie Lu Jan 27 2014 at 10:48 am #

    Thanks Erin!! <3 I also ALWAYS get into that phase in the later stages of revisions too, and I have to kick myself!

  3. Kate Brauning Jan 27 2014 at 11:14 am #

    Wonderful post, Marie! I’m working through a bit of that right now, so this was a great reminder. Good enough is not good enough, right? 🙂

  4. Natalie Aguirre Jan 27 2014 at 12:08 pm #

    Great post, Marie. I will remember your advice if I ever get to that point where I write full-time or have a contract and am sick of a book. I can see the struggle with how many times I already revise as I try to get something good enough to query.

  5. Julie Jan 27 2014 at 12:42 pm #

    Another fabulous post, Marie! You seem to know just what I need to hear. One trap I fall into is I assume I’ll catch all the “shortcuts” and “lazy bits” later, but after the 100th read they become harder and harder to spot. My poor CPs… 🙂
    Thanks for the reminder that we are never shooting for “good enough.” 🙂

  6. LRS Jan 27 2014 at 1:35 pm #

    Marie,you mean you’re human too? I would have never guessed from your books?
    Thanks for my dose of of encouragement today!

    • LRS Jan 27 2014 at 1:36 pm #

      Take about being lazy. After “books” was supposed to be a period not an additional question mark!

  7. Kelly Jan 27 2014 at 11:33 pm #

    Chocolate. I eat to get my energy up to write.

  8. Alexa S. Feb 1 2014 at 6:26 pm #

    There’s a lot of wisdom in this post! I think the way you “solve” your problem (by thinking about the books you want to READ) is actually the best way of doing so. It ensures that you’re going to write a book that you yourself would agree meets your reading standards, whether by fleshing out characters or plot or anything else. Thanks for sharing!

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