Stepping Outside of Your Comfort Zone was the theme at a recent women’s networking event at work. I daresay it was intended to be about trying new things, stretching yourself, refusing to be limited by convention or society just because you happen to be female. It resonated with me immediately but for very different reasons.
As a writer – and especially a writer of dark crime novels – it’s something I do every day. I’m constantly pushing the boundaries of convention; most crime writers are. There’s the obvious stuff, like swearing. You can’t write crime, or thrillers or anything of that nature without swearing. Even the nice guys do it! And sex. Good sex, bad sex, violent sex – it’s all there in varying degrees, and so long as it serves a purpose in the story and isn’t there for titillation, then I don’t have a problem with reading or writing it. But it isn’t in my comfort zone, and it’s often so hard to write – and even harder to write well. When you write, you leave a little piece of yourself behind in everything.
And then there’s the public perception of me as a writer. You wouldn’t walk up to a stranger in the street or at a party and immediately start telling them the intimate details about your life, would you? But that’s kind of what I do when I write. Imagination is intensely personal and I’m writing it out, on paper (or ebook) in black and white for people to see and read and judge me on. And we’re all judged on so many different levels in life. What if somebody reads my books and thinks I’m some weird and twisted person to even have an imagination that conjures up stuff like this? What if they think a sex scene is written from personal experience?
I’ve worked in law enforcement for my whole career. Various jobs from back-office indoor functions to out on the front-line interacting with the public and the villains. Pretty much everything is protected under the Official Secrets Act and there’s so much I can never talk about. But things stew and mature in my head and events of ten or twenty years ago start to float to the top of my mind and reappear in fiction in new and interesting ways. I’m always careful to research everything at home, so I can be certain that anything I write is in the public domain. But even sanitised, it’s still me – a part of who I am. Sometimes that’s quite a scary thought.
I never started out wanting to put bad guys behind bars. My first job was as a tax inspector! But was the natural gravitation towards the darker side of life the reason why I don’t write chick-lit or historical romance? I’m sure my mother would be happier if she could take my books to her National Women’s Register meetings and tell everybody how talented her daughter is. But she can’t. Because somehow that would taint her with the dark stuff I write too! But I can’t not-write it. It’s that compulsion to play out the scenes in my head on paper that makes me a writer. Even if I’d never published anything, I’d still be doing it.
I doubt I’ll ever be in my comfort zone writing crime. But life on the edge is interesting. And I’m lucky to have a network of friends and writers (some even fall into both groups!) who love what I do and support my often-fragile ego!