“Lean into the Discomfort”

May 31, 2012 § 1 Comment

I’ve watched many TED Talks. It’s kind of an addiction with me, but a good one. TED Talks are always entertaining, enlightening, and educational.

Despite having watched hours of such talks, I somehow missed Dr. Brene Brown’s presentation. Fortunately, Sean Hood over at Genre Hacks (a great blog for screenwriters, by the way) posted it again back in March, and I finally got around to watching it today.

I really wish I’d watched it sooner.

I’m sharing it here because I agree with what Sean said about it:

I love this TED talk, both because I find it valuable in my personal life, but also because it offers insight into how to write complex characters.  Don’t just ask “What does my character want” or “What does my character need;” if you really want to write a three dimensional, complexl character, ask “What is my character ashamed of” and how does the story force him or her to confront it.

But I’m also sharing it because I think it speaks to a problem I have as a writer. Early in the talk, Dr. Brown says you have to “lean into the discomfort.” You could interpret that a million ways, but my immediate thought was that I, as a writer, can’t play it safe. I can’t back off following a story where it wants to go because it makes me (or my parents or my wife or my friends) uncomfortable. I have to lean into the discomfort and embrace it to truly find my voice and tell a unique story (or an old story in a unique way).

At one point in the talk, Dr. Brown says that courage is not the same as bravery. The word “courage,” she says, comes from the Latin word “cor,” which means heart. The original meaning of “courage,” she says, was to tell your story of who you are with your whole heart.

You have to do that still, today, as a writer. You have to tell your story–all of your stories–with a whole heart, with everything you’ve got, holding nothing back. Don’t worry that you’ll have nothing left for the next story; the well always refills itself. Don’t worry what your friends and family might think; you’ll find they are more accepting than you give them credit for.

And if they’re not, there are millions of readers out there who will be, who crave a story with heart and soul, written with tears and nervous sweat. Because that’s what makes a story great.

Full disclosure: it ain’t easy. I struggle with vulnerability constantly. That’s why I think Dr. Brown’s TED Talk is worth sharing, and why I’ll be picking up her book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead when it comes out.

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