Are You Pushing These 3 Boundaries As A Writer?

Kyle Smith

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In 2008, I almost got a Warner Bros. employee fired.

One day, a friend of mine from church called. He said a friend of his, John, had a daughter, Becky, who worked for Warner Bros. (John and Becky are not their real names.) Becky organized movie screenings for theater reps and asked her father if he knew anyone who might like to see Speed Racer before it was released in theaters.

John invited my friend, who in turn invited me. On the day of the screening, we met Becky at a local theater that was part of a regional chain. We were escorted through a back door and led through a long hallway showcasing all kinds of Hollywood memorabilia. I was in movie heaven!

Becky took us to a screening room that seated around fifty people. Aside from my friend and me, there were only a couple of other people in the room. They had notepads, so I assumed they were movie critics. Becky made sure we didn’t have any recording devices, and away she went. We didn’t see her again.

When the movie was over, it dawned on me that movie websites sometimes posted anonymous reviews from fans who had seen movies early. This was my first chance to “scoop” something, so I wrote up a detailed report of my movie screening experience and sent it to a popular movie news website, where it was quickly posted.

The next day, I received a frantic call from my friend at church. “Hey, I just wanted you to know that John is furious with you. Some people at Warner Bros. saw your movie review and Becky is in big trouble. She might get fired.”

I was totally confused and didn’t understand what the problem was. Then my friend explained that we were not supposed to talk or write about the movie because movie studios want to control when reviews are made public. (Big tentpole movies often have reviews embargoed until a week or two before the movie’s release.) When I wrote my review, I went into great detail about the theater we visited, so it was easy for the studio to track down the employee who had arranged the screening.

I felt horrible for the trouble I caused and shot off a frantic email to the people at the movie website, asking for my review to be taken down. They complied with my request and as far as I know, Becky was able to keep her job. (Needless to say, I was never invited back for another movie screening.)

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had crossed a boundary as a writer. I had good intentions, but my ignorance about the movie review system almost cost someone their job.

3 Boundaries to push

Things like this make us want to play it safe as writers and stay well within the boundaries. But the trick is knowing which boundaries to push.

Some boundaries are made to stay in place. They exist for our protection. When we push against boundaries such as ethics or honesty, we suffer the consequences and end up hurting people.

Other boundaries are made to be expanded. We should push against them if we want to grow in our creativity, influence, and impact. These are three boundaries we should push as writers:

1. The boundary of quantity

As a college professor, I assign a lot of writing in my courses. Whether it’s reflection papers, research papers, or other written projects, students almost perceive the amount of writing as “a lot.”

We all have a certain perception of what constitutes “a lot” of writing. In my experience, writing doesn’t actually take that long once you have an outline. You can easily write a draft of 1,000 words in an hour if you focus and concentrate.

Whatever you are currently producing, I bet you can do more. If you are currently not writing anything, shoot for 500 words a week. If you are writing 500 words a week, shoot for 1,000 words a week. Then consider having a daily word count of 500 or even 1,000 words.

I currently write about 500 words a day and am working towards 1,000 words a day. The actual amount is not important—it’s all about consistency that will produce results over time.

2. The boundary of transparency

In our Internet age, we see all kinds of people who share too much about their personal lives. But we can go to the other extreme of never sharing anything that others might mistake for a weakness or vulnerability.

There is a balance here. On the one hand, we want to be perceived as an authority on our topic. On the other hand, people want to relate to a real human being, not a robot who just cranks out content.

The more open and honest I am, the more people relate to me as a person. When I share personal things from my life, I try to make sure it is in the service of helping someone else.

For example, I have written about my highly personal struggle with depression before. But it was for the greater purpose of trying to help others, not just airing the junk from my personal life. I challenge you to be more vulnerable and transparent in your own writing as you try to help others.

3. The boundary of community

You will be the same person five years from now except for the books you read and the people you meet. If you want to increase your creativity and influence, you must include more people in your community who can help you grow.

This can take many forms. My Monday morning mastermind is a key to my growth. I also chat regularly with several writer friends who challenge me to be better. Other places and events such as local meetups, networking events, conferences, and even church can be great places to meet people who can contribute to your success.

I recently auditioned (and was accepted) as a drummer for our church worship team. I wasn’t doing it just to play drums. I was doing it so that I can spend more time with the creative leaders in our worship ministry. Drums were just my way in.

I challenge you to consider ways to push these three boundaries in your life: quantity of output, transparency, and community. Growth is hard. Something it hurts to stretch! But the result is totally worth it.

How are you currently pushing and expanding your boundaries?

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I write about writing, productivity, and creativity.

St. Louis, MO
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