I don’t think of myself as someone who holds themselves back, but it turns out I was wrong.
That happens (but only occasionally). 🙂
I relentlessly hunt down my writing weaknesses and tackle them with every writer
weapon tool I have. A weakness is safe only as long as it is hidden – if I can see it, I can fix it (usually), but if I can’t see it, that weakness can plague my writing with impunity.
I’ve discovered lots of writing weaknesses along the way (there’s always new ones that pop up, it seems), but when I discovered last week that I was holding myself back in my storytelling, I was literally shocked. It wasn’t the kind of weakness I expected, sort of like finding the mailman sitting in your living room, reading your mail. Postal workers just don’t do that.
And I generally don’t hold myself back.
I’m not talking about refraining from writing graphic sex scenes for teens or writing blood-dripping violence for kids (I have no interest in doing those) – I’m talking about holding back from the full expression of the story, taking it to the greatest heights that it can go.
Now that sounds great in theory (don’t we all want to tell a story that goes to great heights?), but in practice what did that mean? And why, for the love of all that’s holy, was I holding myself back from doing that?
In a word: fear.
My fear had two main thrusts:
1) A fear of going too far – Once I set up my stories, I meander around in them for a while. Sure, eventually I get back to the main point of the story (i.e. the hero overcoming obstacles to reach his/her goal), but not before I thoroughly explore this intriguing world I’ve created. This isn’t just because it is fun to do, but because I’m afraid that my story will seem unrealistic, outrageous, or silly. That I would break the suspension of disbelief if I forged ahead too quickly or too wildly. I didn’t trust myself as a writer to build that world along with the story, and I didn’t trust the reader to get it. Now that I see this weakness, I realize how ridiculous it is (and I’m in the process of pinning it down with barbed spears and slicing it apart; die, weakness, die).
2) A fear of writing myself into a box – In addition to being afraid I might make the story a bit too crazy, I was also afraid that if I threw too much at my protagonist, if I trapped her in an impossible box … well, that there would be no way out. This was the stronger of the two fear-heads. It took a blind leap of faith to get over this one – I had to put my character in that impossible box and hope and pray I could get him out. Magically, it wasn’t until I placed him in the box that my creative engine really started humming. Because there had to be a way out. And soon enough, I found it. This weakness, once discovered, had no chance whatsoever. I’m a natural faith-leaper, so it died quickly (although probably not painlessly).
A week of writing/workshopping/retreating allowed me to really dive into my story and confront my weaknesses. Like the Dark Cave your protagonist has to venture into, as part of their hero journey, you have to take a leap of faith to explore the dark corners of your fears and face your weaknesses.
Then kill them.