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Do something scary that doesn’t kill you

August 18, 2014

Tony Horton wore those spandex pants on TV. What could be scarier than that?

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know I take a lot of inspiration from Tony Horton, the P90X guy. I’m reading his book The Big Picture. One of the lines in the book that resonates with me is Do something scary that doesn’t kill you.

Tony’s emphasis, being the P90X guy, is physical. But by his own admission, he’s a guy who was afraid of everything as a kid. Now, he’s heliskiing (that’s where you get in a helicopter that takes you to the top of a mountain and you ski down), using a slackline, and even doing yoga. In front of people. On camera. (Gasp!)

As writers, we typically don’t heliski, but there are a lot of scary things that you can do that won’t kill you, like:

  • Going to a deep, dark place in our emotional life for scenes in your work. Writing about experiences or feelings that make you uncomfortable.
  • Taking the work that you’ve never shared with anyone and going to a critique group for the first time.
  • Talking about what you’re writing with people you know, even people who aren’t writers.
  • Reading your work aloud at an open mic someplace. (Like at the conference. It’s awesome. You should go.)
  • Finding a beta reader to go over your work and let you know what they think. (Not your mom, your spouse, or someone who’ll like it no matter what you do. Someone who will be appropriately critical.)
  • Finishing your work, then pitching to an agent or publisher.

All of these are scary things. Heck, I haven’t even done all of them. But unless you’re writing a confidential organized-crime expose, they won’t kill you. They’ll make you uncomfortable, but if you can muster the gumption to do them, you’ll be a better writer and you’ll be able to move your work forward.

You don’t have to do them all at once. You can start by giving your work to someone you know will be fair, but gentle. Then maybe go to a critique group. Then go from there.

But ours is a difficult craft, and part of that difficulty is being brave and doing scary things that won’t kill us.



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