The Comfort Zone Monster (or, Why Pacing for Writing Students is So Important)

By Milli Thornton

“Putting off an easy thing makes it hard. Putting off a hard thing makes it impossible.”

— George Claude Lorimer

PACING. What exactly does this mean in relation to creative writing?

Feast or famine. Binge or abstain. Write in ecstasy for three weeks and then write nothing for the next two years. Write happily as a young person—until a high school English teacher or college professor destroys your morale—and then give up writing for the next twenty years.

These are the kinds of extreme cycles I have encountered with my students. If a student has any hope of making it through 18 assignments, or of sticking with it for a whole eight weeks, then I cannot allow such extremes to prevail.

Our Set-Point for Success

Also known as the Comfort Zone, we have a set-point somewhere deep inside; one that was determined way back in childhood. This set-point has to do with how successful we’re allowed to be.

It doesn’t have to make sense; it just has to be defended. According to the subconscious mind, the way to defend a human being from the hazards of success is to make sure she doesn’t rise too far out of her Comfort Zone.

But even if she does, there’s not really too much danger . . . because chances are she will meet The Blahs.

If not The Blahs, then the Suddenly Insanely Busy Schedule.

Or the Relative or Friend or Group Who Needs All My Time.

I’ve heard tell of the Sex in the City Obsession (must watch every episode on Tivo NOW!).

There’s even the Get Sick During Week 6 or 7 So You Can’t Finish the Course unconscious strategy.

I often see some kind of set-point kicking in during Week 3. I’ve also had students fly on the wings of passion all the way through Week 7—consistently posting highly creative assignments—but then they completely disappear when it’s time to do Week 8.

(Fear of graduation? Fear of finishing? Fear of success? Fear they might have to call themselves a real writer and do something about it after the course? Your guess is as good as mine because they never resurface to tell me what happened. That would give me a chance to get them back on track. And the set point doesn’t want that.)

Outwitting the Comfort Zone Monster

After observing these patterns until I understood them, a strategy was developed to help students sustain their momentum through eight weeks of writing. We offer four pacing tools that students are expected to use. And a pacing consultation if you need it. Plus personal help from your course presenter any time you need it. No question or problem is too small, and we’re always happy to help.

Without proper pacing, many students will never finish. That’s why we ask for two (fun) assignments per week, so you’ll start having a regular output of writing.

Pacing (aka writing on a regular basis) is the most practical way to outwit the Comfort Zone Monster. It’s much better to outwit a dumb monster by using practical methods than to get all bloodied up by going into battle with it.

The other secret is having a strong ally. We are your surefooted ally when it comes to pacing.

———Milli Thornton, owner, Fear of Writing Online Course

Milli Thornton is the author of Fear of Writing: for writers & closet writers. She is owner of the Fear of Writing Online Course, where her mission is to put the fun back into writing. Milli also blogs at Milliver’s Travels and she coaches writers at Write More Words.