During the second quarter of my freshman year of high school, I got a “D” in a class I easily could have aced: physical education (PE).
Why? Because I let myself be swayed by a friend.
She was perpetually late for class, and begged me to wait for her while she finished dressing out. So we were both late. Even though I liked running, I walked with her when our class did laps because she didn’t want to be alone.
Peer pressure, especially in those teen years, is a bitch.
But that poor grade was a gift. A wake-up call.
Sad as it is, the “D” gave me an excuse to be myself again without losing a friend. (Whether I should call her a friend or not is a discussion for another day.) Now when she was running late, I just told her I couldn’t risk another bad grade and left the locker room. And I could play the grade card when it was time to run laps.
I actually liked PE. Never a star at any particular sport, I was a decent general athlete, and I enjoyed playing sports. I even dove into third base during a PE softball game at the cost of half the skin on my lower leg. But I made it.
The fact that I liked the class makes it even worse that I needed any kind of excuse to do what I really wanted. But as teenagers—and sometimes as adults—we often need a reason to justify why we won’t “be cool” or go with the crowd.
You should see the looks I sometimes get when people find out I don’t like to drink alcohol or that I don’t eat food from that comes from animals. They’re the kind of looks that have me conjuring up excuses in my head to defend myself. It’s a struggle not to use them. I don’t want to care about the opinions of people who don’t have my best interests at heart. And really, does anyone but me?
Ever since that I received that poor grade, I’ve tried to be more true to myself, without excuses.
There’s been a lot of talk in some of my writing groups lately about the reaction of friends and family to our stories. Romance writers often include—gasp!—sex in their books. If it’s done well, it’s not gratuitous, but enhances the emotional connection and increases the conflict between the characters. It raises the stakes and gives the reader an intimate glimpse into the hero and heroine’s changing attitudes toward each other during an act where they’re emotionally and physically vulnerable.
Every writer needs to stick with their own comfort level, but I don’t believe you can write stories that really resonate if you’re worrying about what your mother, brother, sister-in-law, or kids will think of your writing. As if our inner critic isn’t harsh enough, now we need to add the voices of the people around us?
Whether they dislike the sex, swearing, graphic violence, or your character’s political views, they’re not your target reader. Their opinions really shouldn’t matter.
Easier said than done, I know.
And for now, if you need an excuse—your own “D” to wave around when someone tries to push you down a path you don’t want to go—make something up. (I tell my kids I’ll be their excuse any time.)
Tell the naysayers you’ll never sell a book in your genre if it doesn’t have X in it. If you’re lucky enough to have an agent or editor, use them the way kids use parents. “Well, my agent advised…”
And maybe, eventually, you’ll be strong enough to own what you write, embrace it, and be bold enough that everybody’s talking about it. Personally, I’m still working on it.
Like a friend and bestselling author recently told me with regard to her writing, “You want people to love it or hate it, not say, ‘Eh.’”
Is there something in your life you need a “D” for?