Saturday, January 28, 2012

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone - And be a Better Writer For It

Get out of the house. Get out of your pajamas. Take your headphones off and lift your head up when you walk. Does the above sound like something your spouse, or your friend would tell you because you're the type to stay in the house, in bed, or in front of your computer all day long? 

Well, I am...

A have the natural compulsions of a reclusive writer. And I know I'm not alone. 

My world is mostly in my head--in my fantasies. I shy away from socializing, from public speaking, because I'm overflowing with self-conscousness. Afraid of saying something wrong, embarrassing myself, being judged, or setting myself up too high only to panic. But yet I'm in a full time job where my sole focus is building relationships--with new people--all the time. That's it in a nutshell. I travel a lot, I meet hundreds of faces, sometimes 250 in one day alone. I speak in front of an audience of MBAs from the top business schools in the world. I shake hands with our company's leaders, strangers I've never met before, and I get asked about the importance of what I do. Then I go home, sit under a stinging hot shower, wondering why the hell I do this to myself, crawl into bed, shake off all the pent up anxiety and stress and then drag myself out of bed to do it all over again the next day.

And then something magical happens. I write. I write about adventures, about the most thrilling experiences (and some not so thrilling) and guess what? I write it convincingly! All because I've experienced those emotions, met hundreds of people to learn from, seen so many things that could fill a book. My characters become real--living breathing, twitching, cursing, quiet, belligerent, unreasonable and unique all because I dare to push myself out of my comfort zone. 

I know what my characters are feeling in tense, awkward moments, what goes through their minds, what pushes them over the edge. I know natural reactions: facial, verbal, physical. In a simple example, you should know several different ways to describe someone who's angry. You'll progress from describing the immediate pinching between their eyes, then nostrils flaring, chest expanding. In the next section you can describe their fists clenched, knuckles gone bone-white, threatening to rip through their skin. And then you'll describe their inability to hear beyond the rage, the hot blood thumping in their head, drowning out all sounds. All varied ways to keep the anger alive, palpable and building within the pages. 

The small cues give your character life, pull them from the pages to become a three dimensional human. I know what a stomach feels like in knots, and that it's accompanied by dry mouth; that familiar pinching between the shoulders after a stressful day; the dead weight of guilt and fear. I know how people feel and how they react and I do what a writer does, catalogue it. I'm not saying you need to experience everything to truly know it, because we both know that it's impossible. So experience it through others. Get out there, meet people from all walks of life, hear their stories, find out what makes them memorable, the variances in the way the react to things, and then walk away with a new piece of information that convinces your readers that you truly know them. 

Oh, and don't forget, the world--nature--around you is a character too...

Happy writing, folks!



  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Jessica! Love your articles. Would love to work on a collaboration in the future! ;)


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