Sunday, January 17, 2010

Die, Writerly Comfort Zone, Die! -- In Vein, Part 3

Why are comfort zones so appealing in writing? Sure, they're what we enjoy, but they box us in. I know that I love my comfort zone because it's where I feel most successful. Who doesn't like the little ego boost that success gives?

In order to truly kill your comfort zone, you must sacrifice confidence, self-esteem, and ego. Embrace the possibility of failure. Embrace it, I say!

You might fail, FYI. But you'll learn so much from your failure.

And who knows, you just might be utterly successful.

That Comfort Zone didn't stand a chance.

(Yes, my Comfort Zone is a blob and the weapon is a feather pen.)

So far, I've found killing my comfort zone to be quite pleasant. Fun, even. And even if you sneak back towards the middle of your comfort zone (it's your favorite place, after all), your writing will have a fresh new flair.

Here's the final part of my little exercise in saying Sayonara to my comfort zone. I definitely haven't mastered writing a short story, a male character, a present tense narration, or a non-traditional romance... but I'm getting there!

Previously on In Vein: Part 1, Part 2
Devin's giving blood to impress his favorite daydream subject, Natalie. Then oddball Sarah hops on into his day and challenges him to a blood-draining race. Looks like more than needles are getting Devin's heart pounding...

In Vein, Part 3
I begin rolling the ball more rapidly in my palm. I try not to stare at Sarah, or her ever-filling bag of blood. The absurdity of the situation, having a blood-draining race with a stranger, hits me completely, and I can’t help but smile.

“Good,” she says when she sees it. “You looked too nervous before.” She pauses. “I’m sorry. My grandmom always says I’m too forward. It’s just you seemed nice, and I hate sitting still so I tend to ramble. Like that.” She blushes a little.

“No, it’s cool. Don’t worry about it.”

I realize that I’m telling the truth, and it surprises me a little. Everyone I know is reserved, or puts up a front, or only interacts with people they know. Sarah startles me. It’s nice to be startled. The silence builds for a couple minutes, and I suddenly wish we hadn’t started talking. She breaks the quiet like she read my mind.

“So… do you come here often?” The line is pure cheese, and Sarah completes it with a wink.

I know just how to reply, and I deepen my voice slightly. “Can you help me look for something? I think I just dropped my jaw.”

“Oh no no, because I’m the love pirate, and I’m here for your booty.”

Both of us crack up, and Marta comes back over to my table.

“Okay Romeo, you’re almost finished,” she says. I almost gloat, but then I see Sarah’s lab coat lady begin to disconnect her from a full packet of blood. A minute later, Marta starts doing the same thing to me. I cringe when she pulls the needle out of my arm, and Sarah gets up and crosses the space between us. I’m holding my arm in the air, pressing down on the puncture mark with a piece of gauze.

“Beat you,” she says.

Sarah seems different up close, more feminine or something. She’d taken her ponytail out when she laid down, and now brown hair frames her face. It looks soft. She has blue eyes, only a couple shades lighter than her Nittany Lions t-shirt.

Marta tapes the gauze to my elbow and tells me that I can get up when I feel ready. I’m not quite sure what “ready” feels like, so I swing my legs around the side of the table and sit up.

Sarah and I are eye-height, and I suddenly wish I’m lying down again because conversation seemed easier when we were on the tables. I must have a strange expression, because she asks, “Whatcha thinking about?”

“Being horizontal." I immediately see the error in translation from thought to words.

Sarah raises her eyebrows but says nothing.

“I didn’t mean it like that, I just – ” I just what? Like lying down with you? Wish we were still lying down? Prefer horizontal conversation? Crap. A grin spreads across Sarah’s face, and I exhale with relief.

“So, you ready to get some snacks?” she asks.

I slide off the table in response. After two steps, my head feels fuzzy and my legs buckle slightly. Instinctively, I grab Sarah’s arm to steady myself.

“Whoa.” I feel my cheeks redden. “I um, didn’t have lunch yet. Little lightheaded I guess.”

“Really? And here I just thought I made you weak in the knees.”

Wow. I give her a look, and we walk to the snack table. Natalie sits there, finishing up a mini bag of pretzels.

“Hey,” I say, taking the chair two seats away from her.

Sarah sits across from me. “Hi, I’m Sarah.” She extends her hand to Natalie.

“I’m Natalie,” she says, shaking it. She turns to me. “David, right?”

“Devin.” David. If only she knew how many fantasies of mine she starred in freshman year.

“Oh yeah. You had Bartley’s English class with me. I don’t think you said one thing the whole semester.”

“I’m not really the literary type.”

“I’m an English major,” she replies. We munch in silence for a minute. “Alright, well I have to go. Nice meeting you Sarah.”

Natalie grabs her bag and walks out. She doesn’t look back.

By the time I sense Sarah watching me watch her go, I know it’s too late.

“So that’s a pretty big crush you got there,” Sarah says.

My head snaps back to her. “What? No.” My face gets hot.

“Yeah you do.”

“No I don’t, what’re you talking about? We just had a class together.” I take a long drink of my apple juice. In my head it’s a martini, and I’m James Bond.

“It’s fine. I’m not worried.”

What? “What do I even say to that?”

Sarah shrugs. “Maybe ‘Hey, why don’t we go to lunch?’”

I smile and start breathing normally again. “That works for me.” I stand to leave, but Sarah remains sitting.

“You didn’t ask.”

Shamed, I sit back down and look into her eyes. “Sarah, would you like to get some lunch with me?”

“Of course,” she says. “On one condition. Take that stupid sticker off."


Leave it in the comments: What did you think of my exercise in discomfort? How did you want the story to end? What are your short stories about? Any good blood donor stories?


  1. Donna,

    I thought the finish was very nicely executed. With shorts, I think alot of writers (myself included) struggle to get the endings to finish on a proper note--but this one felt balanced and appropriate, and not too heavy-handed. Also, the male protagonist felt completely believable.

    Great job busting out of your comfort zone. I think your experiment was a great success! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Nicely done, Donna. I'd never thought of serializing a short story on my blog, but since we're discussing extending our comfort zones...

    (Thanks for the idea.)

    I liked the story too. :)

  3. I liked it very much :) You could get out of your confort zone more often ;) I guess that I won't think the same about donnating blood the next time I do =P

    Actually, I've been following your blog for quite a while, and though I don't usually comment, I always read your entries. I'm really looking forward to that written-in-2-years YA novel of yours!!

  4. Great ending! And I like what's communicated here very much too--that attraction alone (how Devin feels about Natalie) isn't enough to carry a relationship very far. I also really like Sarah's characterization. Her friendliness is equal opportunity-- she's willing to talk to anyone (including a romantic rival), not simply a girl on the prowl for cute guys. Nicely done.

  5. Wonderful ending, Donna. Actually, I didn't want it to end. I found myself wanting to know more about these characters (is there a novel in there somewhere?). Great job! The humor is a real plus.

  6. Jon Paul - Thanks so much! I actually like the feel of the end myself... bringing it back to the sticker from the beginning. (I wasn't even sure if you guys would remember that from Wednesday's post!) Anytime you decide to post an experiment, leave us the link - I'd be happy to read!

    Simon - I'm glad you thought my short story was worthy of following these past three posts! Hope to read one of yours sometime soon!

    Barnsdale - This whole idea came to me because I always internally "race" someone else whenever I give blood ... no romance, though! I really appreciate the comments and the reading!

    Laurel - Sarah cracks me up. She's so random. I want to be that confident! The idea that the "perfect" person might not be perfect for you is something I love seeing in fiction.

    Joanne - So glad you liked the characters! The conflict's all internal here, and there's no "bad guy," so I was afraid that Devin, Sarah, and Natalie wouldn't be enough to hold your interest. There's no novel at this time, but who knows! I had a lot of fun with Devin.

  7. I absolutely loved that line about the martini and James Bond! If you hadn't said so upfront, I never would have guessed that this is "beyond your comfort zone." Well-written, Donna! And what a great challenge ... to write in another genre, voice, point of view, perspective ... all kinds of ideas are whizzing around my brain. Thanks for the inspiration!

  8. Jumping out of my comfort zone is super terrifying, but you're right--it can take you really amazing places. If you fail, you fail, but at least it won't be so scary anymore.

    I'm not working on any short stories right now, and, sadly, I'm lacking in cool blood donor stories. I guess I need to get out more ... :)

  9. AB - Thanks so much! I actually love the martini line too. Can't wait to see what you come up with!

    jess - Giving blood always gave me a funny story. When my professor assigned us a short story, I'd just given blood a couple days before. Hence the inspiration!


Thanks so much for reading our blog, and we really appreciate you taking the time to comment! We read every one, and we try to respond to all of them via email/comment.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...