Friday, May 4, 2018
Staring It Down
In my last post, I talked about the fear of criticism and the hesitancy we all have about taking that painful step. I got some feedback in my writing group that made me want to do this supporting post about doing things outside of the so-called comfort zone.
Strong, vibrant, leap-off-the-page writing is often the result of two disciplines: A well-practiced ability to tell the important parts of the story, and an uncomfortable habit of exploring the unknown. The former discipline comes from entering the cycle of writing and feedback. The latter is far more difficult, because it is far more uncomfortable. It is exploring the things we wouldn’t normally pursue; entering a room when some unknown part of us screams, “Get away!”
Guess which one I will discuss?
I was raised to trust my instincts and follow common sense. There were simple rules: If it feels wrong, it’s probably wrong; If you’re scared of something, there’s a reason for it; Always wear clean underwear (the last one has nothing to do with writing but is good advice). I can’t say I always followed these rules growing up – during a rebellious period of my life known as “the Eighties,” life was more about breaking rules than following them.
However, part of growing up and exploring the world meant figuring out if these rules always applied. It felt wrong to use my father’s power tools when I was eight, but was it taboo once I turned twenty-eight? I had never found any reason for my strange childhood fear of certain cartoon characters and sock puppets; was this no longer an issue? Plenty of my fears now felt groundless. However, this did not mean they didn’t feel real. Horribly real.
One of the simplest fears I carried was public speaking. I hated it. I had built up volumes of bad experiences with it throughout grammar school and even into high school. When I hit college, the thought of speaking in class would devolve me into that awkward, undersized fourteen-year-old sophomore trying to read a paper to a class of very judgmental students. Sweaty palms and everything. A disaster waiting to speak.
But I also knew my eventual career would require some degree of public speaking. Meetings, management presentations, clients – it would find me somehow. It was the inevitable problem with growing up, and my choice was to get over it before I started my career or let it ruin my career. So I got the class registration catalog out, knocked down a few shots, and registered for courses that required presentations. I was scared, but I acknowledged the reason and I went in anyway. And despite my fears, I passed them and I learned a few things too.
Once I started writing, I realized how important that step was as part of the writing process. As adults, often it’s easier to pretend we have no interest in something than to say it makes us uncomfortable. We turn our fears into a status quo – we no longer care to open the doors we are scared of. However, this cheats us of growth, of realization, of the chance to really make a discovery that enriches our writing. If we feel uncomfortable about exploring a subject, that’s natural, but it can also be a signal to ourselves that there is something to learn from doing it. It’s that point where we might want to think about what might really lie beyond that door.