Monday, November 13, 2017

Writing in the Discomfort Zone -- A New Essay in The Nervous Breakdown

A lot of writers have a particular writing discomfort zone. For me, it's when I'm trying to write on topics that I feel shaky about, issues that I wonder: do I have the right, the authority, to write about this? Or, that? It's when I seriously ask myself if writing about a particularly vexing experience or situation is territory I want to wade out into, and once there, will I even know what to do?

Then, one of two things happen: I either scribble a few lines in a notebook or start a draft on the computer, but walk away before I even really get started. I decide, this is not my topic, and writing about it is not something I feel confident about. Sometimes though, I plunge ahead: draft and write and revise and edit the darned thing. But then I often sit on it until either the moment passes and I'm fairly sure no publication would be interested anyway--or, I polish it up, swallow that rock in my throat, and hit send.

That's what happened with my most recently published essay, "Unspoken Words that Begin with N (even when they don't)" which found a home at The Nervous Breakdown. Perhaps what propelled me to write and finish (and publish) this time lies in the title itself: things unspoken must be discussed, must be aired, acknowledged and examined. 

The imprinted, ugly words some of us heard as children, when we were being formed   --connected to race, words that illustrate racist thought and action even in places we don't want to admit it existed--do lodge in our core, and crawl back out, unbidden, years or decades later. I thought that was worth discussing, in 2017, in America.

After I sent the piece in, I was fortunate to have good editorial feedback and guidance from TNB editors Chelsey Clammer and Bernard Grant. I love it when I get that kind of collaboration, and I was especially grateful for it on this piece, because even after submitting, I still had one foot firmly planted in the writing discomfort zone. 

We worked back and forth to be sure that the nuance was clear, that as narrator I was exposing flaws without asking for sympathy, and that the piece asked readers to think, not simply nod in agreement. I admit, I had some nervous moments during editing, worrying that the writing stood up to seriousness of the subject matter, that I wasn't being self-indulgent or whiny on the page. I wanted to add something to the conversation about what we carry around from childhood, not simply bemoan it.

At some point, I remembered something one of my writing mentors had once told me: If we only write what's comfortable, what's the point? And, this from another: The only time anything good happens on the page in nonfiction, is when we write outside our comfort zone.

I hope you will read the essay in full, here. And I welcome your thoughts on writing in your own personal discomfort zone.

1 comment:

Beverly Diehl said...

I think that challenging ourselves is ALWAYS the right thing to do, though it's certainly not easy. Congratulations on pushing through your comfort zone.