ARE YOU FRIGID?
Years ago, I was doing a workshop at a writer’s conference and opened the session asking that simple question: Are you frigid? It caused quite a stir, but it shouldn’t have. It is a question that every writer should ask him- or herself continually.
First, what is a frigid writer? It is a writer trapped in shackles. One who is so fearful of others’ reactions to what s/he is writing that the writer tiptoes around, backs off, backs away from any-and-every thing and becomes frigid—blocked from writing anything worth reading.
Writers do this when they edit so much that they edit the voice right out of their stories. They do it when they don’t write a story in the way they feel it should be written because they worry about reactions or commentary—that of their spouse, children, readers, editors, agents, or their pastor, friends—you name it. Someone, the writer fears, will take exception to the story and give the writer a hard time. Someone will shame or embarrass the writer before other people. In his or her own way, the writer compromises, takes a path of less resistance. The story suffers for it, but the writer is more at ease.
Writers get frigid when a story element doesn’t fit inside the proverbial box. It pushes the edge of established boundaries or the dictates established for a genre. It’s different. Odd. Unusual. Rather than going with one’s own instincts, the writer will pull back, crawl back inside the box and do the expected, the normal, the typical. That’s a frigid writer.
The frigid writer plays it safe. That can work out well for him or her or be a disaster, and there’s no way to predict which way it will go. Let me explain.
Safe writer might find it easier to get and stay published. The work is competent and fits nicely into an established marketing niche. The agent/editor reads the work, recognizes the typical marketing hooks, typical conflicts, typical resolutions. S/he knows s/he can sell x numbers of copies to readers already reading these types of books. So the editor buys, publishes and the books sell as expected.
Conversely, catch that same editor or agent on a different day with the normal, typical story/characters/plot, and s/he sighs, yawns. There’s no enthusiasm or excitement. Now remember that agents/editors view hundreds of queries, stories per month. This is one more of the same, the same, the same. Today, this agent/editor is looking for something different. Something that incorporates the typical but takes it in a new direction. Twists expectations and travels to a new place. That arouses excitement, interest, enthusiasm. It’s risky, but the risks are manageable. The editor sees how this work will fit into its existing publishing program and still break new ground. That gets the blood pumping…today.
The question becomes which day is the right today for your book? You have no control over that. The book goes to the editor—either direct or through the agent—and when the editor chooses to take a look, s/he does. A bit random, you see, so definitely out of your control.
Whether it’ll be a I want a safe project or I want a trendsetter project day, even the editor might not know. In either, the work must be strong enough to convince that editor/agent that this work, typical or atypical, is special enough to warrant publication.
Because of that stroke of luck being out of the writer’s control, the writer really should weigh his/her choices on content and make a decision on playing it safe or setting a trend (potentially) deliberately. What’s right for one author won’t be right for another.
I don’t advocate any writer ever write something that s/he finds embarrassing, humiliating, or degrading. That isn’t exercising avoidance and being frigid. It’s exercising good judgment and common sense.
A writer is the utmost advocate of his/her work. S/he must therefore believe in the work. See value in it. Support it. Stand up for it. If what the writer has written puts the writer in a position where s/he can’t or won’t do that, then it’s the wrong thing to do. Change the story until you can get behind it without reservation.
Do think about your work. Ask yourself if you’re being frigid to avoid negative reactions or if you’re restraining to exercises good judgment and common sense.
The first, the frigidity, will come through in the work. Readers will sense it. Perhaps not consciously but on a subliminal level, they’ll sense it and detach. Actually, that sense will inhibit them from ever attaching to the work. That’s breaking the bond between author and reader, and that’s a sacred bond no writer deliberately breaks.
The bottom line is that the writer needs to ask and answer the question. To know the risks and the costs of either decision. S/he can afford to take chances. S/he can’t afford to be frigid. It alienates readers and honestly it will be a heavy burden for the writer to carry also. One that can not only steal the joy in writing but alienate the writer from writing just as it alienates readers.
So again, I call the question and strongly advise every writer to answer it: Are you frigid?
© 2014, Vicki Hinze. Hinze is the award-winning, USA Today bestselling author of nearly thirty novels in a variety of genres including, suspense, mystery, thriller, and romantic or faith-affirming thrillers. Her latest release is Down and Dead in Dixie. She holds a MFA in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in Philosophy, Theocentric Business and Ethics. Hinze’s online community: Facebook. Books. Twitter. Contact. www.vickihinze.com.