Hie thee to the discomfort zone! How to write a novel — Part 13

It seems like everyone at one time or another must face the prospect of doing something they’re not good at. Most recently for me, that moment came when I was tasked with making an announcement about an upcoming event at the school where I teach. I quickly realized that I needed to do something a little extra–something completely out of the ordinary–or my announcement would likely fall on ears tuned to something else.zoot 1 I’d seen it happen all too often before.

So, instead of timidly approaching the podium to blurble through yet another public service announcement [yawn], I dressed up in what I thought would make me look like the absolute King of Swagger. I even gave myself a pseudonym, Slide N. Golightly, which I thought had just the right stylish sort of ring to it. Check out the handsome, zoot-suited devil in the accompanying photo. I’m quite sure nothing short of Jarvis Q. Dork would fit better.

Then, rather than grab a microphone and natter away, I entered the hall from the opposite end and sashayed through the place carrying on at a volume that would have been heard reasonably well in an NFL stadium.

My audience consisted entirely of folks over 50, and they were busy eating lunch with their friends, so getting their attention was no easy matter. It helped that I was willing to make a complete fool of myself. (And yes–before you ask–I’ve had lots of practice.)

Anyway, it worked. The conversation level dropped to zilch, and I managed to ad lib my way to the podium. Fortunately, I had a good-natured accomplice who was also willing to provide the sort of repartee that gets a laugh or two. We got several. (Thanks, Quentin!)

Now, what could this possibly have to do with writing a novel? Here’s the thing: it’s all about taking chances. I didn’t have to dress like a fool, and I didn’t have to act like someone named Slide N. Golightly. No one would have said a word if I’d remained my usual, self-effacing, unassuming, gentle mole-like self. But then, I wouldn’t have gotten much of a reaction from the audience either.

What you write–and how you write it–works in much the same way. If you refuse to explore uncomfortable areas, you run the risk of telling the same sort of story over and over. You give readers a sadly reasonable question: Why buy volume two if it’s merely a rehash of volume one?

When my good friend, Barbara Galler-Smith, and I were working on our first collaborative novel (Druids–a great book, by the way, go buy a copy now), we reached a point in the story which called for a sexy scene. Actually, it required way more than that. It demanded a hot, steamy, page-curling sex scene, one which would have a profound impact on the entire series. Naturally, we had a long and involved discussion about which of us should write it.

At the time we were both in our 50s. Barb taught science in a middle school; I worked for an airline as a business analyst. The people she worked with were focused on surviving puberty. My co-workers were flight attendants, some of whom may also have been struggling with puberty (but that’s a whole different story).

Stubborn Granny“My students will read it,” Barb wailed, quite understandably. “And they’ll tell their parents who will think I’m a sex fiend.”

“Screw that,” said I. “My mother will read it, and she’ll know I’m a sex fiend!”

We discussed this impasse at length and finally concluded that my mother, who brought four healthy babies into the world, might possibly have some knowledge of S-E-X. She might even be capable of reading the scene for its [cough] literary value.

Geez. Who the hell knew?

Anyway, I wrote it. Barb edited it. Edge Books published it, and the rest is history. Your mileage, naturally, may vary. The point is, when it’s your time to write a sizzling sex scene, don’t go hide in the laundry. Cowboy up and write the damned thing. Make it as hot and steamy as you can. Ignore that little voice that says “Your kids will think you’re crazy,” or “Your boss will think you’re crazy,” or “Your ____ will think you’re crazy.” Because when it’s all said and done, no one cares. Not even _____, whose negative opinion means so much.

You’ll survive. And by writing that uncomfortable scene, you’ll be a better writer–but only if you give it everything you’ve got.

Don’t do it for you spouse, your editor, your beloved rabbi, your dear aunt Beulah or anyone else. Write it because your career depends on it.

Next up: Part 14, whatever in hell that is.

–Josh

About joshlangston

Grateful and well-loved husband, happy grandparent, novelist, editor, and teacher. My life plate is full, and I couldn't be happier. Anything else I might add would be anticlimactic. Cheers!
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9 Responses to Hie thee to the discomfort zone! How to write a novel — Part 13

  1. kathils says:

    That is an awesome suite Mr. Golightly is sporting. And taking the picture against that painting…a stroke of genius. 😉

  2. joshlangston says:

    You are entirely too kind, madam.

  3. nativeson49 says:

    Someone once said that writing is incredibly easy. “You just slash your wrists and let the blood flow onto the paper.”

  4. joshlangston says:

    The problem is, you really have to use a dull knife to get the full effect. Have you seen my wrists? Oy.

  5. Amanda Rillema says:

    Such a good point and I love the suit!

  6. Karen Boyce says:

    Very natty outfit Professor!

  7. Lloyder says:

    Mr. Go Lightly I’m sure glad you explained your approach cause I saw your image and thought I recognized a historical mob figure from Chicago back in the 20-30’s. One never knows, right???

  8. JR Langston says:

    Wow, from 18th century Patriot to 1930’s mobster, you’ve come a long way. Looking good Bro.

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