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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