A friend of mine posted a link to her TEDx talk yesterday and even though she didn’t mention writing once, I kept thinking about me and my work as I listened to her. Tanya Streeter is a freediver — a world record breaking one at that — and her talk was about the obstacles she had to overcome to break that record.
Tanya’s dive didn’t start with the perfect conditions. A few bad breaths prior to diving, and Tanya found herself at 500-plus feet below the surface disoriented and in trouble. As she tells it, she was out of her comfort zone. This was territory she hadn’t faced before. But when you’re a freediver, unknown territory 500-plus feet below the surface is a very dangerous thing.
A thought pushed into Tanya’s head, a strong one, that if she didn’t make it back up, everyone she loved would be sad. Needless to say, she made it back up.
In her talk, which I’ve embedded below, Tanya goes on to give other examples of times that she has found herself out of her comfort zone — above and below the sea’s surface — and had to take a deep breath and push through. I’ll let you listen to her for more.
But for writers, there’s a lesson here. Sure, if we don’t get our word count in on any given day we’re not likely to drown. But going out of our comfort zone is something we all deal with — or should be — in our writing.
Writing is personal, so very personal, and to make the most of the stories we tell, we need to put our heart and soul in them. For private people, which many writers are, that can be very difficult. But if we don’t do it, we’re cheating our story, stopping it from becoming what it could be.
Delving deep into our emotions, putting our characters into the most uncomfortable situations, making them bare the feelings that we like to lock away is daunting. But as writers, that’s what we have to do.
Paul Gallico, author of The Poseidon Adventure, said, “It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader.” Sportswriter Red Smith was similarly quoted as saying, “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”
Opening our veins and bleeding is definitely beyond anyone’s comfort zone. But when we go beyond our comfort zone, that’s when we create our best work.
And, although — unlike with Tanya’s freediving — it won’t kill us, it will make us stronger writers.
Next time you feel like you’re holding back with your writing, hesitating to go as far as the words are wanting you to go, think of Tanya Streeter, take a deep breath and go for it.
Here’s the video of Tanya’s talk. It’s about 16 mins and worth your time. As well as her inspirational content, Tanya talks about something close to her heart, the dangers of plastic pollution in the oceans.