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Writing Outside of Your Comfort Zone

I hate heights. I can not describe the terror I feel when I look down and see nothing but air below me. I’m not talking a slight knocking of the knee’s here either. I’m talking a screaming, jibbering, nervous wreck crying for his mummy to come save him. And that’s just two rungs up a step ladder. Don’t even get me started about what happens when I’m in a glass elevator.

Last weekend I found myself at a loose end. I had nothing to do. Well to be honest, there’s always something to do but I wanted to do none of it. What I wanted to do something different. Not edit, not write, not clean the house and hang out the laundry.

I wanted to run away and join the circus. Fall through a time warp and end up in Medieval England riding a horse and shooting invaders with arrows. Star in my own spoof music video for Youtube.  What I wanted to do was anything different. Something that is not usual weekend fare for me.

In the end I decided to write a new life. Create a fantasy that was so far removed from my day-to-day life I couldn’t help but feel refreshed and renewed.

I’ve mentioned in here a few times the lack of good quality gay erotica – or queerotica – as I called it. Recently a friend began to push me to write some. I guess their theory was if I didn’t like what was out there, I should shut up and write the story I wanted to read or give over on the complaining.

Frankly I thought that was a stupid idea. What was I going to do if I couldn’t sit in judgement on those who didn’t have the fear of trying or negative feedback? I mean honestly, what if I wrote it, and it was garbage? Then there’d be some creative recovery type person sitting in their house writing blogs about how crap gay erotica was and they’d be thinking of me!

Anyway, last weekend I began a short story idea. A queerotica that I was certain would be destined for the Pulitzer Prize, the Academy Award and a GayVN at the very least. It was going to be raunchy. It was going to be sexy. It was going to be easy.

Words – as I’m sure you can tell – are not my problem. My problem isn’t even confidence. It’s fear. Pure and simple. I sat down and began to write. I was going to step out of my own way and just let the words hit the screen. Nothing too it. Easy peasy. Easy as taking candy of a baby.

The words came and I wrote. I wrote 1500 words in a little under an hour. I’m getting better at stepping aside and letting the words flow. As I’m writing them I don’t really care if they’re all diamonds anymore. I just let them flow. Editing and polishing comes later. You have to dig up the rock before you can sell it for a million bucks after all.

Characters were filling the pages. And then I reached the point of writing the sex scene. I was typing away, writing about what was going on and I heard it. The voice I was trying to ignore. The voice I thought was on vacation. The voice that said;

“What the hell are you writing?”

“Queerotica” I said “bugger off and leave me alone.”

“Is that what that is supposed to be? It’s more like porn. Another strike for Team Stupid.”

“It’s not porn, it’s erotic there’s a difference you know.”

“Oh I know there’s a difference” said the internal editor, adjusting his monocle – he’s so pompous he has to be wearing one, I just know it – “the question you should be asking yourself is do you know the difference?”

At this point I made a fatal flaw. I hesitated. I stopped. I looked back at what I was writing and I hesitated. The second the hesitation kicked in the internal editor was all up in my face.

“Yeah, didn’t think so, stick to writing what you’re good at.” he said while sipping on a herbal tea and smoking a cigarette through an art deco ivory cigarette holder – I told you he’s pompous, you should see what he wears.

“What’s that?” I asked quietly, not really wanting the answer.

“Nothing” he said and with that he disappeared into the darkest recesses of my brain, obviously going off to torture my self esteem or something.

I sat there and I felt my confidence deflate a little bit. I saved the document and I left it. I went and lay on the bed and watched Girl With A Dragon Tattoo. It was good. Long but good. But I digress.

As the distance between writing Saturday afternoon and ending the working week grew, I came to realise the other day the biggest problem I had with regards to the erotica, the films,the web series, frankly any form of writing is fear.

For so long I’ve kept myself boxed in. I know what I write. I write it all the time. This was different. This was strange. It was stretching for something that I didn’t normally stretch for. It was also acknowledging a part of my personality I’ve kept contained for the past six years.

I realised that writing out of my comfort zone was the reason my internal editor was so vicious. It wasn’t fantasy – in the sword and sorcery sense – and it wasn’t comedy. It wasn’t a blog post where I don’t give a toss what my internal editor thinks. It was random, it was structured. It was different.

Writing outside my comfort zone has lead me to understand just how set in my ways I have become. Not just in writing, but in all sorts of areas in my life. My work, my home, my personal life. I have the same friends, the same job, the same everything I’ve had for the past 7 years. The company I work at is different, but the job is the same.

I don’t like change. I don’t like challenging myself. Not because I think I might fail, but because I fear I may actually succeed and by succeeding get trapped. How that connection has been formed in my head is beyond my ability to figure out.

It’s like heights. When I was a kid, heights didn’t worry me. I was forever up a tree or up on the roof of my grandparents house helping my Grandfather to clean the gutters. I didn’t fear then. I didn’t squeal and start shaking 2 rungs up a step ladder. Hell, I used to spend half my time up a ladder pretending to paint my Grandparent’s house with a bucket of water and a paint brush – can you tell I idolised my Grandfather lol.

It was as I got older I began to fear heights. It was as I got older I began to fear pretty much everything, but nothing so much as my fear of succeeding at the tasks I set myself.

I sat down last night and I read what I had written in my erotic short story – ha! short story my wobbly bum – and I came to understand the writing wasn’t garbage. My internal editor isn’t there to stop me making a fool of myself. It’s there to stop me making a fool of it.

I guess the point to this post is sometimes pushing the boundaries is good. Whether you do it for public consumption, or for your own private entertainment there comes a time when you have to “write outside your comfort zone.” Whether diamonds or dirt balls come from it doesn’t matter. What matters beyond all else is simply to trust yourself. And do it.

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43 year old Australian writer currently working on the first of a planned three book Epic Fantasy series. When he's not writing policy discussions, or tales of swords, Gods, and magic, he can be found making a mess in the kitchen, and turning perfectly good ingredients into crimes against humanity.

4 Comments

  1. The Philm Geek says

    This is a great post, and it’s good that you recognize what your issues are and how to combat them. I too am afraid of heights, and am claustrophobic but I don’t fear the written word, even when I’m writing a big sex scene. The truth is you DO know the difference between erotica and porn. Erotica allows you to see the character, know why they’re together in that situation and enjoy one another on a different level. Porn is sterile, disconnected, sex between two people who just met and are being directed to touch here, kiss there, suck that. What I fear is never finding another story to tell. Don’t ever think too much about what you’re writing. Keep going. Don’t let your inner editor get to you. The only time you stop and listen is when one or more of your characters tells you they’re done with you. -Stacy-

    • Thanks Stacy,

      Fear and it’s impact on my past play a major role in the decisions I make now to reclaim my creativity and to ensure that the next decade of my life is about walking in the truth of who I am, a writer. I don’t need a publishing deal, or a collection of people writing fan fiction about m characters to make me one. I just am a writer. That’s actually the theme for tomorrows post lol.

  2. Pingback: My Week in a Nutshell 7 « Writing in Shadows

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