Why finding it tough, is okay.

As a teacher I’ve almost-slept through a lot of teacher training. But lately I sit up straight in my hard plastic seat to relate learning theory to my writing. Because I’ve only been writing five years, and I’ve never learned so much, so quickly, in my life.

The idea of The Struggle Zone is popular right now. I don’t like the phrase. I don’t think of my students as struggling, because my lessons are super fun and inspiring, obviously. Labels aside, the cognitive theory makes sense to me.

We learn best when pushed out of our comfort zone… but (importantly) not enough to stress us into panic.

I love writing. But getting a book to the best standard, ready for publication. That’s hard. A struggle. But actually – that’s how it should be.

If I’m going to learn – and I really really want to learn and improve – I need to be in the middle box. The struggle thoughts I have: Why can’t I get this right? Why am I making the same mistake again? Why do the words hate me? Other people probably don’t find this so hard…

I should be feeling like that. It’s a sign I’m making progress! Phew.

Breaking down that middle box (in the wrong order):

High Challenge: How many words? How many times did I rewrite them? That’s just silly! Writing a book is running a marathon I didn’t train for, but with my brain, cross-country in Antarctica, naked. And I’ll die if I fail (okay not the last one).

Thinking Required: Just a bit! Things held in head when writing: intriguing plot, beguiling characters, sharp dialogue, perfect POV, tea? immersive setting, title ideas, does it even mean anything? resonance, flow, more tea yet? pace, to avoid or not to avoid that adverb, have I got too many names starting with S, other newer ideas, what does this say? Stopping characters narrowing their eyes and growling, tea or gin?

Effective Learning: I know I am improving! I like reading my own writing now and there are even some people who aren’t related to me who like reading it too. I was stupendously bad when I started out. Real baddddd. Learning has happened.

THE IMPORTANT BIT

Low Stress: People don’t learn well when stressed. Hmmmm. Oh dear.

I’ve got the other three but this? I am a little tiny teeny bit stressed at times, I admit it. A lot of writers are

stressed, so it feels normal, and that’s probably quite dangerous. But The Struggle Zone is not about stress. Stress is not okay, and will hinder learning.

For me, stress happens when things beyond my control bother me, and I stop doing the things that relax me. So for me I need to block stress with less internet and overthinking, more yoga and talking to positive people.

So if it feels a struggle, welcome that. It doesn’t mean you can’t do it, it means you are learning and improving, pushing out of comfort into the unknown. But no stress. Stress is bad, and belongs in the bin. Find any way to block its entrance and recognise when it is sneaking back in.

*The Struggle Zone can also be found just outside the Habitable Comfort Zone on your chosen post-apocalyptic world. It’s life or death, but it’s also where all the cool stuff happens. So kit up and get out there, kids.