Hie thee to the discomfort zone! (Encore)

It seems like everyone at one time or another must face the prospect of doing something they’re not good at. I vividly recall just such a moment when I was tasked with making an announcement during the lunch hour about an upcoming event at one of the schools where I teach. I quickly realized I needed to do something a little extra–in fact, something completely out of the ordinary–or my announcement would likely fall on ears tuned to something else. 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 dashing, 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, and more specifically, 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. The announcement would have failed, and the event would have suffered.

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-curler of a 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 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, and quite understandably. “They’ll tell their parents who will think I’m a sex fiend.”

“That’s no big deal,” 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 you thought meant 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 your spouse, your editor, your beloved rabbi, your dear aunt Beulah, or anyone else. Write it because your career depends on it.

Until next time.


PS: The lovely lady pictured above is neither my mother nor my writing partner at the time.

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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8 Responses to Hie thee to the discomfort zone! (Encore)

  1. Gerald Flinchum says:

    “Write it because your career depends on it.” Josh-You’ve just been elevated to Prophet (or Profit) status!

  2. Barry Womack says:

    Thanks, Josh. I needed to read that.

  3. “You’ll survive.”

    These are the words us writers should repeat to ourselves, especially in the crippling face of self-doubt. Thanks for sharing, Josh!

  4. Tell me if you agree- I subdue the sex details. I only imply that it’s happening and leave out the carnal details. (Depends on the genre, I know) But it seems to work for me. I say this because I just reviewed an ARC of a new release. It started off with lust, then graduated to the explicit details, and never stopped until the end. Ugh. There was hardly a plot. Bad review given- and I hated to do that. This was not an erotica genre either!

    • joshlangston says:

      Your point is well taken. As writers, we ought to have a particular readership in mind when we craft our stories, and we don’t need to dive, whole hog, into territory those readers would find repugnant. At the same time, we shouldn’t let that fear keep us from pushing the envelope a little bit, and that was the main idea behind the post above. Just because we find something difficult to write about doesn’t mean we should avoid doing it. We can apply the appropriate sensibilities to what we’re doing, but we shouldn’t run away from a challenge simply because it takes more effort. That effort is absolutely worth it.

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