Trope Talk

What’s a Trope?

If you work in a creative field, particularly one which involves storytelling–literature or film, for example–you probably know what a trope is. If you don’t work in a creative field, you may not, but you’re about to find out. To put it simply, tropes are shortcuts. A trope uses a familiar collection of concepts, images, and/or traits (among other things), to give the audience a snapshot of a character, theme, or plot, so the artist doesn’t have to explain every single detail of their artwork every single time. It’s like a macro for your story. Some familiar tropes are “The Poor Little Rich Boy,” “The Wise Advisor,” “The Helpful Old Fart,” and “The Underprivileged Person Who Possesses Insight The Rest Of The Characters Don’t.” (If you want to fall into the world of tropes, Look Here.)

Tropes can be as simple as “Superhero” or “Secret Agent,” of they can be as complicated as “Mysterious Orphan Raised By Wolves Who Holds The Key To Saving The World.” Generally speaking, a simple trope gives an artist more leeway for creativity, while a complicated trope gives the audience a better “in” to the character or plot device. A “dystopia” (genre is a kind of trope) might take any number of shapes. A “Post-Nuclear Apocalypse Where Survivors Must Fight The Earth And Each Other” is more limited. Tropes can contain or require other tropes. For example, the post-nuclear apocalypse I mentioned above might need a “Plucky Yet Confused Teenaged Heroine Who Takes No Shit.” As well, some tropes are subsets of other tropes. Your “Wise Advisor” might be a “Helpful Old Fart” or a “Dangerous Yet Likeable Pain In The Ass.”

In a way, all stories are collections of tropes compiled in different numbers and orders. This can be an advantage to both creators and their audience. Once you employ a trope, you have a code for how to proceed with your work, and that makes the work easier. Once the audience recognizes a trope, they can put aside the task of figuring out that piece and turn more attention to less familiar aspects of the artwork.

Beauty and the Beast is a popular recurring trope. Image via deviantArt.
Beauty and the Beast is a popular recurring trope. Image via deviantArt.
The Problem

The obvious problem with tropes is that they can all too easily become clichés. It’s exceedingly hard to put an original spin on something like “The Chosen One” or “The Dark Lord,” both tropes that appear often in Epic Fantasy. This isn’t to say it can’t be done. But as a creator, it’s easy to relax into the trope and follow where it leads, without giving due thought to an original interpretation. You can often tell a creator’s experience level by the number of overused tropes they cram into a single work. A new writer is much more likely to use tropes in this way. So, in an Epic Fantasy, you might get the elf analogue (pointy-eared forest dweller who is nearly immortal), the halfling analogue, the shield maiden, the hidden king, the inaccessible wizard, the humorous sidekick, and the ancient prophecy in addition to the Chosen One and the Dark Lord. If you don’t pay attention to your own process and mix it up or add new elements, the work becomes dull. You’re telling a story that’s been told umpteen times before, probably better.

Another, less obvious, problem with tropes is that the tropes you use in your project reflect your worldview. If you come from a dominant segment of society or a privileged class, your tropes will reflect those societal norms and/or that social privilege. Currently (meaning in the early half of the twenty-first century), especially in the United States, the culture of creation is dominated by people possessing a certain amount of privilege: financially stable, heterosexual, white men in particular, with women of similar advantage running a distant second. Consequently, the tropes in our fiction overwhelmingly represent that worldview and the voices of minorities of all kinds are minimized.

Many socially advantaged creators do make an effort to include more diverse voices, true. And there’s a different problem inherent in this task. It results, once again, from falling back on tropes. Often the minority characters who make it into fiction aren’t realistic to actual members of the minority, and can even be offensive, because creators of privilege don’t take the time to do research or put the effort into learning about unfamiliar thought forms and cultures. So, over and over again, we see the “Magical Negro,” the “Noble Savage,” the “Disturbed Transsexual,” and the “Psychopathic Nympho” (to name a few). It’s a nod to “diversity,” but it only serves to reinforce ideas of minority held by the dominant culture. Hell, I’ve done it myself. I love my book, The Parting Glass, for a lot of reasons. I still cringe every time I think about it. At the time, I was pleased at how easy it was to write. Now when I look at it, I see how much of that ease came from my use of tropes, and how I presented the minority characters as near stereotypes. I have the “sassy black girlfriend,” the “alcoholic Native American” who becomes the “sadder but wiser Native guide.” I even have the “white guy who does Native shit better than the Natives.” FML. It doesn’t matter that I’ve known people like those people and based those characters on real life figures. I should have paid better attention when I was writing, and I didn’t.

A third, related problem is that when you buy into a trope without examining it, either as creator or audience, you run the risk of both normalizing and perpetuating some really problematic stuff. Take the whole Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon (this entire article was inspired by a discussion of FSoG, in case you wanted to know). The success of this series, in my opinion, stems from the author adding a veneer of sexual naughtiness to a bunch of standard Romance tropes. On top of “Beauty and the Beast,” you have the “poor little rich boy,” the “naive virgin inducted into pleasures of the flesh,” the “damaged hero who needs saving,” the “will they/won’t they” and the “he desires her in spite of difficulties” tropes, as well as many others that have honest appeal to many, many (women) people. It’s easy–and yes, I admit to reading the whole series–to identify with Ana, the heroine. I mean, who DOESN’T want a rich, attractive person to desire them just for being themselves, without having to devote any effort to it? I’d have trouble not letting something like that turn my head. But in FSoG, these tropes are employed without thought. In consequence, behaviours that would be obviously abusive and terrifying in real life are easily told off as “He just loves her SO MUCH!” Coercion, stalking, and downright rape are transformed from crimes into romance.

Anderson's "Little Match Girl" is an "Miserable Orphan Gains Paradise" trope. Image by imperioli.
Anderson’s “Little Match Girl” is an “Miserable Orphan Gains Paradise” trope. Image by imperioli.
What To Do About It

The best thing a creator can to do avoid poor trope use, clichés, and stereotypes is to PAY ATTENTION. Make yourself aware of the tropes you’re using and if they’re dicey, change them. Don’t kill off that Black security guard in act one; instead, try turning him into the unexpected hero. If you’re trying to add diversity by including minority cultures, talk to actual members of the minority. Enlist them to read your manuscript and point out problems, if you can. If they do point out problems, try not to get defensive and justify your trope use. Look at how you can change things.

There is definitely some risk inherent in this process. I see it in my own experience as an Independent Author writing from a Pagan perspective. When you intentionally subvert tropes, you lose the advantage of the shortcut. Your audience might react by judging your work inaccessible. If you’re looking for an “in” to traditional avenues of distribution (e.g., querying agents), you might discover you are less able to find a “fit” for your manuscript. Coming up with a succinct pitch, like “Puss in Boots retelling complicated by romance between the cat and her master,” will almost certainly prove difficult. On the other hand, you give yourself a unique opportunity to tell stories that haven’t been told and develop characters that haven’t been seen before. And this may help you reach a whole new audience.

When I started writing the Caitlin Ross series, I made a couple of decisions about the tropes I would use. First and foremost, I wanted to present a happily (for the most part) married couple who practiced healthy communication. I did this for a number of reasons: I didn’t want to write a romance, I despise plots that hinge on miscommunication, and, most of all, I wanted to show that the kind of relationship Caitlin and Timber have is possible and desirable. In other words, I wanted to subvert the standard relationship trope where the people involved bring all their baggage into the arena, don’t listen, and don’t really seem to understand each other beyond experiencing sexual chemistry. I wanted to defy myths about marriage being the place where desire goes to die. In Timber, I wanted to show a man who can be communicative, passionate, caring, strong, and vulnerable–the kind of man I’d like more men to learn how to be, and the kind of man I wish more women would demand men be. I believe as a woman writer I have a great opportunity to communicate to the world what a healthy relationship looks like. So that’s what I did. And maybe it lost me some readers who are more familiar with and interested in the tension that comes from misunderstanding. On the other hand, almost every reader who has contacted me has mentioned how much they appreciate Caitlin and Timber’s partnership. I’ve even heard from  women who, after reading a couple of my books, began to work on getting more of what they want in their own marriages. I count this a success.

In the end, tropes are a tool in the creator’s toolbox. Like any tool, they can turn in your hand and cut you if you’re not careful or lack experience. But when you learn to use them, you can craft reality to suit your vision. And that’s no mean skill.

19th Nervous Breakdown

Yesterday I was thinking about the difficulties I have with having chosen to be a self-published writer: How hard it is for me to perform the tasks of marketing, branding, and promotion that are part and parcel of the path. How, even when I dedicate regular time to these things, it doesn’t seem to make any difference. How for some people these things seem to come so easily and how I feel so frustrated and helpless when friends and acquaintances talk about their hundreds of positive reviews when I can’t even seem to get anyone other than a few close friends to buy a single copy, much less review them.

I was going to blog about that.

But today is a different day with a different source of pain, so I’m blogging about something else. Something more raw and real. Something that tortures me every day, even the better days when I manage not to focus on it or to pretend that it doesn’t matter all that much.

I’m blogging about how I hate my fat body.

There, I’ve said it: I hate my fat body.

If you’ve read my blog before this, you’ve already heard about my struggles with body image and eating disorders and all that comes with the territory. But I don’t know if I’ve ever come out and said the words. I don’t know if I’ve ever expressed the depth of loathing I feel for the flesh that houses me.

[At this point in writing, I burst into tears and had to go lie down for an hour.]

In the circles I tend to run in, among the people I try to associate with, this isn’t a popular or correct way to feel. We all know it, in one intensity or another. All women know it. It doesn’t matter whether we’re fat or thin, old, young, or in between. It doesn’t matter the colour of your hair or the shape of your hips. Every day, I see some of the most beautiful women I know, women of every size, talk about hating their bodies. Hating their faces, their boobs, their legs. Saying, “Oh, it’s the photo filter” or “But you should see my [insert body part]! I just keep it covered” when you give them a compliment. Hating on their bodies. Our bodies. It’s something we’re taught every time we see a perfect, photo-shopped model in a magazine, every time some new advertising agency latches onto the “next big” body part that needs to be sculpted, shaved, enhanced to conform to a new unattainable ideal. It’s a constant onslaught from the time we’re aware of anything at all. We can never measure up. In fact, displaying pride in one’s body is a radical act. Gods forbid we be proud. Being proud–especially when you take pride in something that falls outside of acceptable norms–is the sign of ego, self-involvement, “having the Big Head.” We are meant to be self-effacing, invisible, silent. We are meant to hate our bodies, to spend incredible sums in both time and money beating them into submission. Never good enough.

I know all this. I know the narrative of body politics.

And I know that as a feminist, I am supposed to shake off the programming. I am supposed to be able to look it in the face and laugh, raise my middle finger and shout “FUCK THE SYSTEM!” I am supposed to refuse. I am supposed to love my body anyway.

I can’t do it. Though I’ve worked on it every day for the last thirty years, I can’t do it. I’ve learned the words. I police my tendency for negative self-talk. I read about the flaws in the obesity story and the problems with the diet industry. I know some bodies are fat and some are thin, and there’s really not a whole hell of a lot anyone can do to alter this circumstance for any sustainable length of time. I’ve taken in enough of this alternative view of body consciousness that my life is no longer in danger from my attempts to regulate my weight. (I’ve also taken in enough to understand that eating disorders are about so much more than weight and that, in fact, weight issues may comprise the smallest part of the problem.)

And still, every morning when I look at myself naked in the mirror, I hate my body. It disgusts me. And no amount of telling myself I have a good shape, or lovely curves, or beautiful shoulders, or whatever, changes this. No amount of focusing on the positive–that I’m healthy, that I’m flexible, that I don’t suffer the aches and pains other women of my age suffer, that I can bend from the hips and lay my hands flat on the floor–none of it helps me see this body as anything other than a mass of flesh I am trapped in, that doesn’t belong to me, that I can’t control. That I can’t change without inhuman effort. I see this body, not as myself, but as an obstacle to my most visible form of self-expression.

I’m sure there’s far more to all this than the reality of my body. There has to be, because no amount of weight loss has ever made my experience any different. This is a fact I cling to in the times when I relax and let my body be the body it is. Losing the weight or not, being thin or being fat, makes no change to the underlying loathing, so suffering through rigorous, hateful exercise programs and strict dietary regimens that make me unhappy is an exercise in futility. It’s piling pain on pain.

Yet, it’s also true that when my body is smaller, perhaps a size fourteen rather than a size twenty-two, I feel better in some respects. Because the constant battle of body-loathing is in a truce. In remission. It’s one less thing I have to deal with. One less whip with which to beat myself. I can put on skinny jeans and boots and pretend that I think I look okay. I am less afraid of the gaze of strangers.

Having a fat body that I loathe is no small part of my social anxiety, I know. This is a way, I believe, that my experience of hating my fat body differs from the experience less sizable women have hating their bodies. All women get judged for their bodies, but the flavour of the judgment fat women endure is different. Maybe more toxic. Maybe something else–I can’t put a finger on the idea just now. We absorb the narrative about fat bodies young: that fat bodies are lazy, smelly, undesirable, unbeautiful, morally corrupt. That being fat makes you public property in a similar way to that in which being pregnant makes you public property. Strangers are allowed to touch you. To comment about your clothes, about your lunch. Because you’re fat. You don’t deserve the same respect non-fat people do. You don’t deserve the same clothes, the same grace, the same medical care. You have no right to beauty.

Beauty is another dicey concept in some feminist circles, and another thing I feel like I do wrong. Sometimes we hear that beauty is in itself a bad construct. That women should reject beauty as we should reject so much that patriarchal culture demands of us. And yes, there is a huge premium put on women to be attractive, particularly to men. But women can be beautiful for themselves, can’t they? Maybe. It depends. Whose standard of beauty did you learn? How do you define it? If you want to be beautiful in a “typical” way, how do you know that’s what you want and not something damaging you’ve been taught? There are limits to what’s allowable.

Whatever. I desire beauty. I don’t know why. I don’t know if it’s a value I absorbed from the beautiful princesses in fairy tales, always sitting in their towers waiting for princes to rescue them, or if it’s something innate. I like beautiful things. I want to be a beautiful thing.

Or maybe I think that if I were beautiful, at least there would be something of value about me.

But when you’re fat, mostly, beauty isn’t a thing you can aspire to. No, it’s not a thing I know how to aspire to. I see many beautiful women who are fat. I don’t know how they do it. I don’t know where they find that power in the face of so many people of all sexes and genders telling them they have no right to it. Telling them there is only one right way to have a body. Telling them they’re promoting “unhealthy lifestyles” (as if some stranger has a single clue of a random fat person’s lifestyle). Telling them they’re a drain on resources, single-handedly raising everyone’s insurance rate. Because those are the things strangers tell you when you’re fat.

And it doesn’t matter what you say. It doesn’t matter if you eat healthy or if you run every day. It doesn’t matter if you’ve tried the weight loss drugs and they did nothing at all. It doesn’t matter if you take medications that maybe contribute to weight gain, or if you have another medical condition, like PCOS, that makes weight loss damn near impossible, or if your genetic heritage provided you with a certain kind of body. There’s always this judgment. If you go out in public while fat, people look at you and imagine you spend whole days consuming nothing but ice cream, chips, and boxes of chocolates while sitting in a filthy house watching Netflix on a TV you don’t deserve to own. If people see you walking or doing something energetic, you get some weird, backhanded approval because it’s assumed you’re doing something to make yourself less fat, maybe for the first time in your miserable life. The weight of the gaze of strangers is far, far heavier than what you carry in your body.

Some non-fat people, even well-meaning ones, would have you believe this is the price you pay for having the temerity and bad taste to exist in a fat body. I think some fat people, consciously or not, buy into this narrative as well. I know I have done, and still do when my mood is low. Activity, even activity you enjoy, is the punishment you endure for having a substandard body. There’s always some deeply concealed notion that maybe this activity will change things, maybe if you keep it up long enough or perform at enough intensity or frequency, your body will cooperate and transform into one that is no longer fat. After all, no one likes being punished. Why do you insist on continuing to have this body that needs to be moulded, compressed, beaten into shape? Or maybe this is something I alone experience. The daily battle between wanting to do the things that matter to me and forcing myself to be more active, less slothful and self-indulgent. The brutal hour. The time of sweat that makes no difference to reality, but becomes a punishment endured for its own sake. When every movement contains the question: “Am I doing this for myself, because it feels good? Or am I doing it because I’m trying to prove I care about being fat?”

There’s no answer. I think it wasn’t always like this for me. I think I was a normally active child, before I learned my fat body was a grave wrongness inflicted on others. I remember hanging out with the gym teacher after school, dancing, and swinging back and forth across the gym on the hanging rings like a monkey.

You know, I don’t want to hate my fat body. Partially I don’t want to hate it because fat people are supposed to hate their bodies, and I believe that’s damaging and wrong. And partly, mostly, it just feels terrible. I want to be able to love my body and think it’s beautiful. But no matter what I do, I can’t seem to achieve this.

Today I’m confused and in pain, feeling broken and powerless. I hate my fat body and there’s not a thing I can do about it. So I do what I always do: write about it. It doesn’t give me any answers. But at least I’m not carrying it around inside.

Confronting the Inner Critic

For the past two weeks I’ve been sick. Not raging fever and completely incapacitated sick. Just sick with this year’s respiratory virus. You know the thing. It comes around every winter/early spring, knocks you upside the head with a sore throat, congestion, and maybe a cough. In the normal flow of events, it runs its course in a couple weeks and then moves on to its next victim. Time passes, and you forget you ever had it.

This year’s crud, as we call it, features exhaustion. For the first week, it was all I could do to move from the couch to the toilet when I needed to pee. Even after it began to let up, minimal effort tired me out. I’d feel fine for a couple hours after I got up in the morning, but after noon or so I had to lie down and recuperate.

Being tired is difficult for me. I guess it’s difficult for everyone. For me, it’s difficult in a particularly annoying and frustrating way. See, I devote a LOT of energy just to being okay. By “being okay,” I mean ignoring all the internal programming and belief systems that tell me how terrible I am, both as a person and as a writer. The ongoing internal monologue with its myriad voices insisting I’m no good, I don’t do things the “right” way, no one will ever read my books, everyone hates me, etcetera. Over the years, I’ve learned to disconnect from those voices, let them, in the words of Natalie Goldberg, be “the sound of distant laundry flapping in the breeze.” When I’ve had enough rest, maintaining that distance is no great problem.  But when I’m tired, the shields I’ve built disintegrate. After a bad night, or an illness, or even an especially long day, the voices get louder and louder until they’re the only thing in my reality. I get anxious. I question myself. I ask my husband for validation, over and over: “Are you mad at me? Am I in trouble? Am I bad? Do I have worth? Do my books suck? Is everyone lying to me?”

“No, no. no, yes, no, no,” he says. It doesn’t quiet the voices, but it gives me something to hold onto until I get some rest and can go back to ignoring them.

Over the last two weeks, while I’ve been sick, I haven’t been writing. Now I’m feeling better and I need to get back to it. Notice how I said “need” there instead of “want.” I need to get back to it because I’m only about a third of the way through the first draft and I had planned an early summer release (HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Yeah, right.). I need to get back to it because the story needs to progress. But right now, I don’t really want to go back to it. I’m having a horrible time getting motivated to sit down at my desk and open the Chapter Nine document, which is where I left off. Some of this is no doubt due to the fact that I’m not entirely over this crud. But most of it, I fear, is due to my inner critic.

"You call that writing? I've known FROGS that write better than that!"
“You call that writing? I’ve known FROGS who write better than that!”

Book seven has been an interesting journey so far. When I finished book six, I thought book seven would be an entirely different story than the one I’m writing now. In fact, the plot I thought would take place in book seven hit me in the head when I wasn’t very far into the first draft of book six. (This happens often. I know I need to concentrate on the current story or task, but these other ones seem so much more attractive and exciting! I gather this is common for authors.) I even churned out the first scene of that plot to append to book six when I released it. And after the obligatory break to recover from my book release, I plunged ahead. About six chapters in, however, I realised THAT book  did not belong at that place in the overall series arc.

Well, okay. I had another project in mind. For about a year (ever since I got addicted to White Collar, if truth be told), I’d wanted to write a book about a confidence game. It’d be fun, and it would give me an opportunity to show Timber in a different light. The desire only got stronger when one of my husband’s construction clients turned us on to Leverage. So, fine. I had long cons and grifters nudging my brain. I decided to do the con book NOW instead of in some distant future (I’d originally slated it for book nine).

I tossed the idea around for a while until I came up with a plot I thought would work. I hadn’t started with any plot, just this vague notion of “Hey, you know what would be great? A CON!” I began writing. And although I felt certain I’d made the right choice as far as the series arc–if you’ve ever grappled with trying to shove a decent book into the wrong timeline you’ll know what this feels like–the new story gave me trouble almost from the start. Not because I questioned my writing ability; I’ve grown confident about that over the years. But because my inner critic woke up and opened fire.

"You realize flying is stupid and dangerous, don't you?"
“You realize flying is stupid and dangerous, don’t you?”

To put it in simple terms, I am experiencing more doubt and judgment of this story than I have of any I’ve written in a long time, maybe ever. It takes a particular form. I think the story is stupid. No, I don’t really think that. But that’s what the inner critic keeps telling me. The story is stupid. I don’t get any more than that. Nothing concrete, no reasons it’s stupid. Just stupid by virtue of existing. Every time I open the document–whichever chapter I happen to be working on–the chant starts up in my brain. “STUPID. IT’S STUPID, STUPID, STUPID!” Sometimes I get a bit more: It’s unrealistic. No one will be able to suspend their disbelief about this. It’s off the deep end. It’s too farfetched. I even went as far as to enlist a second Alpha reader to give a look at the first act and give me a straight opinion. She did give me a few tips about things that needed addressed. But none of them was an outright dismissal of the setup as “stupid.”

Yet I keep hearing it.

To complicate matters, as a writer I am a “Pantser” rather than a “Plotter.” In case you don’t know these terms, here’s a brief definition. A “Plotter” is a person who plans everything in the book in advance, before embarking on any of the creative writing portions of the task. They make meticulous outlines of every chapter, sometimes every scene. They know every rise and fall of the script. When characters interact and what happens when they do. Where those interactions lead. You get my drift. A “Pantser,” on the other hand, writes by the seat of their pants. For me, this means I start out with an overall idea, a set of probable characters, a beginning, and an end. If I’m lucky, I get a middle too. Usually when I start a chapter I have an idea where I want to end it, but not always. Sometimes I stumble on a chapter ending unawares. Sometimes the unimportant transitional scene I thought I could cover in two pages turns out to be WAY more vital that I guessed and ends up taking a couple thousand words. And that’s okay. I trust my process, and I work better with a loose set of guidelines than with a strict playbook. And sure, sometimes I get stuck. Then I stare into space a lot and try to hear/see/feel what happens next. Or I get my husband to take me out to dinner and we hash things out over a meal.

Anyway. I had less of an idea than usual going into it what this new book seven would be about, and it’s taken several turns along the way. What I thought would be the main theme turned out to be irrelevant to the story I’m telling. A character point I thought I could cover in very little space turns out to be major. Characters I hadn’t planned at all keep appearing and influencing the story, and some of them aren’t who I thought. A scene I thought would be a major plot driver looks like it has no purpose and no motivation behind it except that it’s “cool.” And so forth. And every time something like this happens, the inner critic screams at me. “STUPID, STUPID, STUPID!”

inner criticI know what this is about. It’s about fear. Most obstacles I have to overcome in my writing are about fear. I was afraid of writing explicit sex scenes. I was afraid of making my heroes violent. I was afraid of killing antagonists. I was afraid of being judged for stuff too close to personal experience. This time, I’m treading unfamiliar ground. Most of my books are driven by relationships. This one is driven by events. Most of my books have a strong magical component. This one focuses more on mundane skills. I love stories about cons and capers, but I’ve never tried to write one before. I’m unsure of where all the twists and turns are leading, and of whether I can pull this off. I’ve taken my characters out of their comfort zone, and so I have taken myself out of my own comfort zone. And in those places where I’ve allowed myself a modicum of comfort, I question it. “Are you really using that plot device again? Isn’t that a bit much?” “Well, yes,” I tell myself. “It does look like that plot device. But really you’ll see that it’s totally different.” This doesn’t help. Even when I got really Meta and had a couple characters comment on how the device keeps popping up, it didn’t help.

I’m not sure why my fear manifests as “STUPID,” however. Probably some messed up shit from my childhood. Both my family and my peer group put a high premium on intelligence. Being smart was virtually the only way I got any validation. It’s the personal quality I feel most secure about and the one I value most. So convincing me that I’m stupid, that what I’m doing is stupid, is my inner critic’s surest way of getting me to abandon the project.

That’s what it wants. That what the inner critic always wants. It wants you to stop. It wants you to give up. Doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about a creative project or personal growth. The inner critic abhors change of any kind. It wants you to stay comfortable, not to challenge, because your comfort zone is where your inner critic has the most power. Horrible, but there it is. It’s true especially for people who have been damaged, because the inner critic is part of what helps damaged people, or people in dangerous situations, survive. It keeps you safe by steering you away from actions that can hurt you. By reminding you what happened last time. By warning you away from shaky ground. By hurting you–just a little, so you don’t get a bigger hurt later. By calling you stupid.

It makes you a nice, cozy nest where nothing harms you and nothing challenges you and nothing changes.

But you’re not the same person now. I have to keep telling myself this. I am not the person who had to tread carefully. I don’t live in that world any more. It’s a memory. It’s not NOW. And in the NOW, I want to stretch out. I want to challenge myself. I want to go places I haven’t been and see things I haven’t seen. I want to grow, and I want my writing to grow. And I can’t do that by giving into the inner critic and staying in my nice, cozy comfort zone.

Of course, when I come to this place, the inner critic gets louder and louder. It hurts me more and more, trying to keep me from taking the next step to the place where it won’t have so much power. I have no real idea how to combat this, except by slow steps, with the occasional burst of frenzied activity. But I move on in the faith that, eventually, I will move beyond the range of that voice.

I know the game. I refuse to play.