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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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challenge

So, I went out to dinner with some friends…..

…….and my saucy speakeasy story came up, with varying degrees of interest. I love talking about the writing process, so I happily answered any questions and offered up insights into the writer’s mind.

I also revealed how I felt intimidated by writing this story, because I was dealing with language I’d never written before, let alone actually used in my everyday conversation. Which is part of the challenge I had set for myself when I chose to write it two years ago. This is a story that is well outside my comfort zone and has forced me to confront my own discomfort and fears on the subject of sex and the dynamics between men and women in that scenario. I suspect that the dynamics and fears transcend gender, age and orientation.

But I received a lot of encouragement from my friends, as well as some good-natured ribbing, and I am determined to see this through to the end, wherever it may end up.

The best part?

They want to read the final product.

prohibition

So, I went back to my speakeasy tale…..

………and I’m really glad about that. I had put it aside over a year and a half ago because I just wasn’t feeling connected to it anymore. Four days ago, I picked it up again and began writing, adding nearly thirty pages to it. I missed these characters and the 1920s time period they live in and the slang they sometimes speak.

I missed the boldness of the heroine, even as she was uncertain about her feelings for the man who taught her to work in the speakeasy hidden in the basement of a rundown hotel. I missed watching these two characters discover something vulnerable with each other. I missed scaring myself as I wrote this, with words, with thoughts, with feelings.

That’s what writing is supposed to do – it’s supposed to push you beyond your comfort zone, with the things that scare you. Whatever the topic, if it scares you, writing or painting or music or any other kind of art is the best way to explore it.

In the meantime, I’m going to relish taking on my fears and discomforts with my speakeasy tale. It’s long past time. And I’m having a damn good time doing it.

prohibition

So, Toni Morrison once said that……

…….“The ability of writers to imagine what is not the self, to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar, is the test of their power.” To write or paint or sing what you know is a good starting place, as it gives you the foundation and the tools to work with in order to build upon it. Continuing to create what you already know, however, leaves one feeling stagnant and dissatisfied. There is the sense that there is more to be learned, to be exposed to, in order to grow as an artist, whether of words or paints music.

In order to do that, you have to push beyond what you already know. If you love Shirley Jackson’s surreal prose, seek out a writer on the opposite end of the spectrum. If Monet inspires your canvas, look to Picasso. Find something so completely outside your own life experience, whether it’s in a book or in a museum or in an acting class, and embrace it. Tell that frightened voice that doubt is okay, that fear of the unknown is natural, but to kowtow to fear is what keeps us paralyzed in the same place day after day.

We can only grow through movement, through experience. An actor will inhabit many different people – in order to present them as real, rounded individuals as opposed to caricature, the actor will research her character to the last detail, up to and including language and movement. She will create a backstory for the character, something that only she will know, but the choices she makes informs her performance and provides a rich experience for the audience.

An example of this would be Demi Moore in G.I. Jane (1997). To prepare for her role as Lt. Jordan O’Neill, Moore had to undergo training and dietary changes. On top of that, she was sent to boot camp for two weeks, interacting with real military personnel. Keep in mind this was research and training for her character – this is an extreme example of pushing herself so far outside her comfort zone. But through this work, she created a character that was strong, intelligent, determined to succeed despite the odds stacked against her.

I remember seeing this film in the theater – the cheers from the audience when she challenges the master sergeant during her character’s training convinced me that they had wholly bought into her role, her character and were completely on her side to succeed.

This is really what you have to do in order to succeed – to reach for something that most certainly may exceed your grasp. How many times will you fall? You could fall down ten times, and rise up eleven, fall a hundred times, and rise up at a hundred and one. How you define success after that is entirely up to you.

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Editor’s Note – this blog post is published concurrently on Citizens Journal VC 

Recommended Reading:

Beloved by Toni Morrison

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And now, a word from Gene Roddenberry….

“‘Star Trek’ says that it has not all happened, it has not all been discovered, that tomorrow can be as challenging and adventurous as any time man has ever lived.”

Gene Roddenberry, producer
August 19, 1921 – October 24, 1991

And now, a word from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle…..

“My mind rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram, or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere. But I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation.”

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
May 22, 1859-July 7, 1930

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