My 16 year old was sitting around Friday afternoon when his friend texted him and asked if he wanted to go to the mountains. His first reaction was to say no, but it was mostly because he was occupied with playing a video game. I poked and prodded him into going anyway though, because it turned out that his friend was going to be helping a grandma with burro races. Yes, you read that right. In the Colorado mountains, they hold lama and burro racing annually, for 13 and 26 miles respectively.
In any event, it was an entirely new experience for him and (despite sunburns) he had a great time. He got up around 8 a.m., went down to the race grounds, and opened gates for the racers. This continued over the course of three days, and by the time my son came home, he was beat. But he had a smile on his face and stories to tell.
I thought about how happy I was to have forced my son to go because he had such a good time and got to experience something he would otherwise never have seen. For one thing, I doubt he had ever seen a lama up close before, let alone seeing them racing. There is also something great to be said about being away from your parents and hanging out with your friends. While we missed him a bunch, this is the stuff memories are made of. He'll hopefully not forget this anytime soon.
Tonight I was thinking over it again, and I realized how similar this situation is to writing. We sit down every time to write and take ourselves down familiar paths. Sure, we're writing different stories but how different are they? Looking at my own writing, I can see places I haven't gone. I have never challenged myself with romance, for example. I've never written a western. But I can envision how attempting such projects would help me become a better writer, even if it's nothing more than an exercise.
I'm going to try to do this more often, write something that is outside of my comfort zone. A small romantic scene, a gunfight at the O.K. Corral, or maybe a steampunk adventure. Something new and challenging. When was the last time you wrote something like that? Were you glad you stepped outside the comfort circle?