Monday, October 19, 2009

Five Things You'd Never, Ever Do for Yourself

One of my favorite writing exercises is to list five things I'd never do, or I'd never make a character do, then write a scene imagining that very thing happening. It's an edgy exercise. But it always gets me out of a slump.

This past week, I did something on my list--stand in front of about 70 people and read from my new novel. The novel is edgy, and I'm always aware that the subject matter might be seen as, to quote my wonderful mother, "not my cup of tea." But it was what I felt compelled to write. I'm proud I pushed past my fears, that I did something that scared me. Because the results were so very worth it.

The picture above was taken by photographer Bruce Fuller ( see his amazing work at If you look closely, you'll notice I'm not fainting or stumbling over my words, but really having a pretty good time. You'll see people listening and not walking out in boredom or disgust (a common fear of authors at readings). It's a SRO crowd (the empty seat was even taken).

Most important to me, this photograph captures a moment where I was facing my fear and doing what was in my heart.

This week's exercise is about pushing past your limits and fears. Want to try it?

This Week's Exercise
Make a list of five of the most frightening or impossible things you can think of doing to further your creativity, your book, your writing in general. Buy an expensive pen or laptop you want? Take a workshop you can't imagine being brave enough to try? Spend a weekend at a writing retreat to get peace at last?

You can also try this with your character, especially a stubborn character who refuses to evolve. What five things would this person never, ever do? Have them do one.

Warning label: Results of this exercise might feel astonishing, freeing, and joyous. The process might make you tremble before it helps you fly.

But look at me, in the photo. I'm actually having a blast. No problem that I couldn't sleep the night before, worrying about every little thing. It was worth it. And afterward, I slept like a baby. Very satisfied that I'd tried something that a few years ago I would never, ever do.