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Exposing Yourself

January 19, 2011

Not like that. Good grief.

When I was a kid, I took diving lessons. I’m not entirely sure why I was so adamant about learning to dive; my attempts off the side of the local pool inevitably resulted in belly flops that knocked the wind from me and left my skin mottled purple. Plus, heights terrified me. Having my head level with the spectator balconies made me nauseous. Nevertheless, I showed up every Tuesday night, shivering in my swimsuit and peering over the edge of the diving tower.

Really, it’s the ultimate cliche when we’re talking about “taking the plunge.”

But, somehow, it got easier every time. My knees eventually stopped knocking together. The knot in my stomach uncoiled, week by week. And the coaches had a rule: if you ever belly-flopped or otherwise had a bad experience, you had to go do the same dive immediately. They knew that if they let you off, and gave you a week to stew over the pain, and the fear, you’d never do the dive.

The more you expose yourself to things that scare you, the more your anxiety level drops. I learned that with diving, I reaffirmed it the first time I sang in front of people, and I’m seeing it again with writing. Specifically, with showing my work to other people. This is the first time I’ve done that. Although, with my other “novels” (more like novellas), I trunked them for the very good reason that they sucked. It was scary as all heck the first time, as scary as being back on that dive tower for the first time, but you know what? Already I feel it getting easier.

So it seems that not only does anxiety related to a specific experience diminish with each exposure, but your overall anxiety decreases the more you challenge yourself. 

Which leads me to speculate that the same approach would probably work with other areas of writing (other areas of life, too, but this is a writing blog). For example, I sometimes get squirmish with villains. I self-censor, as much as I fight it, unwilling to show that much evil. Yet whenever I do, no one comments on any depravity or instability on my part… again, I think it’s a fear that will diminish the more I confront it.

Death, evil, sex, truly deep emotion… these things are all hard to write. They can be awkward, and uncomfortable, and they often make me feel like I’m right back on that dive tower, staring at the water far below. You can climb back down the ladder and keep your dignity. You can back away from the difficult parts and still have a good story. But really, you won’t have achieved what you set out to do.

I’m challenging myself to leap from the tower more. True, there’s more risk of getting hurt or looking foolish, but it’s worth it.

And it’s easier every time.

-Arvik

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7 comments

  1. Excellent post yet again!!! And you are completely right. So often it does feel like standing at the edge of that platform…but the flight down and the feeling of the water are that much more amazing. I recently finished my 3rd novel and it dealt with a topic I had avoided and danced around for a decade. The freedom I felt at its completion was absolutely like nothing else I’ve ever felt.


  2. Our minds love to play tricks on us . . . causing us to fear the unknown and stay in our “safe little boxes” ~ only, of course, there is no such thing as “safe.”

    Although the chance of stubbing your toe increases the more you walk, it is always better than going nowhere by standing still. ~ Robin Sharma, in The Top 200 Secrets of Success and the Pillars of Self-Mastery

    Face your fears. Rise above your limitations.

    The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it. – Moliere

    Freedom lies in being bold. Do one thing every day that scares you.

    You must do the thing you think you cannot do. ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

    When we embrace the uncertainty, we reclaim our freedom.

    That said, I don’t read, write, or watch much evil, sex, torture, and horror because it makes me unhappy. 🙂


  3. And when you jump, I doubt there will be a single writer standing on the sidelines jeering at your attempt. Instead I bet there will be only writers holding their breath and cheering inside for you. I know I will be. We’ve all been there, and will be again. Plus, taking that jump is proof that you are doing something with your writing other than secreting it away.


    • Writers do have this amazing ability to create tight-knit, supportive communities, don’t they? Just like in diving, when the whole pool went a bit quiet when you “ripped” a dive (i.e. nailed it, going in with almost no splash), and gave you smiled and kudos when you nailed it.
      People rock. 😀


  4. Your right, I think a lot of people have trouble writing things that are hard or painful, however the stories with those thing, at least when they are done well, are inevitably better than the stories without them. I did a short series on writing villains at While We’re Paused and I’m working on a series on writing demons and monsters now.

    http://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/2010/09/21/on-villains-part-1-on-villains-the-birth-of-nightmare/


  5. I tried diving back in the day, never was any good at it. As I go through and edit my MS I’m finding that all my characters are so flat, it is as if I didn’t dare give them any chance to be individuals. And they are all insufferably polite – gotta go back in and add some flavor!


    • Eep, I know the feeling. Good luck with the edits!



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