Let’s Talk with Tina Whittle

The Path of the Unexpected
By Tina Whittle

One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn about being creative is that to fire up the creative juice, you have to put yourself into the path of the unexpected, the unfamiliar, and the radical. You have to afflict your sense of well-being and make yourself wholly and mightily uncomfortable.

For me, this is exactly as awful as it sounds.

There’s a neurological reason why it’s necessary—being uncomfortable goes against your brain’s idea of what you should be doing. Your brain wants you doing the same things you did yesterday, because those things kept you alive, and your brain would like to repeat that success today and tomorrow and so on. More of the same, says your brain.

But alas, poor brain. A creative life demands a little breakage. It’s how we build muscles, after all. We lift things a little too heavy for us, and the fibers tear and reknit themselves stronger. Your creativity works the same way.

I am Exhibit A for this process. As long as I was writing in my comfort zone, I had very little success. But when I finally decided that I wanted to write about a twenty-nine-year old woman who inherits a Kennesaw Georgia gun shop that caters to Civil War reenactors and her partner, an ex-SWAT sniper who lives in a Buckhead high-rise and drives a Ferrari…that’s when the publishing contract came in.

So now I spend a lot of my time researching. I go to the Ferrari dealership and bribe the manager to let me sit in the cars and pet them and listen to their engines rev. I have attended my town’s Citizen’s Police Academy, where I wore ballistic-proof armor and cleared a room while a suspect fired rubber pellets at me. I have rappelled off tall towers and swam with hungry sharks and taken Krav Maga classes. Not a single moment of comfort to be had.

This has been true for all my research adventures that have taken me into unfamiliar territory, even the most enjoyable. Like driving the Ferrari, which I took around the agility course at 40 miles per hour because all I could think about was that if I dented this $250,000 car, there went my kid’s college education.

As I learned new things, I was dumb and wrong and made many mistakes. I got bruised. A lot. I felt incompetent, and that’s not a pleasant feeling. But I keep hauling myself on these adventures. Because it’s necessary. And because—true confession—I’m finally developing a taste for adventure.

What have you done recently that tested your boundaries?

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Comments

  1. Great post, Tina. I still remember when you said you rode in the trunk of a car to see what it felt like! For me, interviewing people to get background information is a challenge – and out of my comfort zone. I’m such a lightweight!

  2. We went exploring in the Florida Keys this past weekend, walking down a wooded trail with few people around and storm clouds threatening. Made it back to the car okay. It’s always an adventure to go somewhere new.

  3. Luckily, some of us have different terrors. For years I wrote diligently from my outline. Each book had a certain symmetry of characters involved in the plot, each entry of red herrings or villains carefully strategized. Those books were dull, dull, dull. I knew what to do and how to do it only the end result wasn’t what anybody, including me, wanted to read. I nearly threw in the towel, but I kept going to writing conferences and workshops. I kept listening to how others did it. I heard some powerhouse writers talking about “pantsing” which is basically writing without a net. Holy Smokes! That scared me so much I could barely take notes. But the idea lodged in my self-conscious. I tried it and it turned out badly. But it was a LOT more fun for me. So I tried a hybrid approach of writing to a few events on a timeline. Bingo. Creative magic. But also gut-wrenching terror. It’s that same extreme sports feeling each time I start a new book. To wind up this long response – I’m now writing novellas and its a brand new terrifying experience. Great topic!

    • tinawhittle says:

      I have a friend who often reminds me that all magic happens outside of a comfort zone. So far he’s been right 100% of the time. May that same magic carry your novellas forward, and carry you into whatever terrifying success awaits!

  4. I totally agree, which is why I just got back from a week on a working cattle ranch, where I worked got to experience working cattle, calves, mending fence, riding, roping–not my comfort zone, and not saying I was good at any of it, but the experiences are priceless when it comes to adding realism to your books.
    I’ve also done the Civilian Police Academy, done ride-alongs, fired guns–it’s all for the sake of the book.

    • tinawhittle says:

      And apparently eating some really good food! I saw your pics. But then, since you write about a ranch cook in your series, chowing down counts as research too.

  5. I’ve always found travel is a useful way for me to break my routines and open myself up to new experiences, meeting new people, and expanding my learning opportunities.

    • tinawhittle says:

      Same here. Except that I hate almost every single mode of transportation that exists except for trains. I’ll take a train anywhere.

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