Thursday, December 27, 2018

Working Without a Net

Zestful Blog Post #296

One day when I was a little kid, I was feeding my budding morbid fascination by looking at pictures in LIFE magazine of a terrible accident involving the Flying Wallendas. They were a circus high-wire act, their breathtaking finale being a seven-person pyramid on the wire, with no safety net. During a performance in Detroit, my hometown, one of the performers lost his balance and the pyramid collapsed, killing two and paralyzing another. My mother, passing by, remarked, “You know, you’re related to them.”

I was dumbfounded, but no more information was forthcoming. Eventually I learned a little more about the alleged connection, on my father’s side of the family. Which helps explain how easily he would jump up and grab the clothes pole in the backyard and flip himself over it, then sling himself down with complete gracefulness: had to be genetic, right? Many times I’ve thought about the Wallendas, especially in recent years when seventh-generation Nik Wallenda made huge, net-free crossings of places like Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon.

And I think about doing things that are risky, and about writing, and about working without a net. When you don’t have a net, you have to pay better attention. If you fall, you can take others down with you. This could promote fear and over-caution if we let it.

[The disaster unfolds. Photo by Don Sudnik]

Because to be honest, comfort zones have value. Without some level of comfort, you won’t consider taking a risk at all. It’s just that if we build up too much safety, too much comfort, the comfort zone can become a cocoon that becomes a coffin. Much of the nets we build are illusions anyway. As you can see, I haven’t fully figured this stuff out.

Specific ways to work without a net:

- Writing outside your genre / trying something totally new.
- Writing about family members or close friends.
- Writing outside your sex / race / socio-economic level.
- Making your writing public: There’s no net, nowhere to hide when anybody can post a review of your work.

What are the rewards? Working without a net can be salubrious to one’s heart and guts. Nets take away the danger, and the point is, danger is part of the art. This is a huge thing that many artists spend their lives trying to deny. Then there’s the fact that a net can hurt you too: The Wallendas worked without one because if you fall, you can bounce off the net and fatally hit your head on the nearby concrete. (As one Wallenda did, before the Detroit disaster.)

Self-publishing is a lot like walking the wire without a net. If you quit your publisher, or your publisher quits you, do you run back to the platform, or do you keep walking the wire on your own? Will anybody respond to this writing?

When Nik Wallenda was on the wire above the Grand Canyon, the wind shifted, and he was buffeted. The wind is like the zeitgeist. It can shift, and it probably will shift, and we will be buffeted. We shrug and go on.

Is the bottom line really that there are no nets? There is no such thing as complete security, much as we might wish for it. The key to writing well (and of course the key to life) is to embrace the risk, let it all hang out, and accept the outcome wholeheartedly. Only by accepting risk (while not being reckless), can truly extraordinary art come out.

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  1. Your story touched me...on several levels. Thank you.

    1. You're welcome, Terrie, and thank YOU for letting me know.

  2. This line from your blog really stood out for me. "It’s just that if we build up too much safety, too much comfort, the comfort zone can become a cocoon that becomes a coffin. Much of the nets we build are illusions anyway." That's exactly how I feel about the lesbian fiction genre, as I see it. The safe zone is to write romance. Readers love romance. But step outside that that zone and one is without a net, it seems. Since we're all going to fall eventually, I'd rather do it taking risks. Thanks for another great blog.

    1. Yes, Bev. When faced with questions like these, one can try the tombstone test: 'She wrote lesfic romance like everybody else.' or 'She wrote what mattered to her.'

  3. I agree with Bev. I’ve been writing romances as well, feeling it was a “safe” genre. I finally decided to write that murder mystery that I’ve kept on the back burner for several years. My safety net on this is nonexistent, except that my publisher does want to take a look at it when it’s done. WHEN it it is. It’s a very different animal than my romances, and feels like it’s taking forever to write. I’ve been talented several times to retreat to what I know, but I’m trying not to.

    1. Bev, that's the spirit. Life's too short to play it safe.

    2. I meant Beej. We both were a little off here...

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