A Spoonful of Courage by Lauren Garafalo

If we had to say what writing is, we would have to define it essentially as an act of courage. —Cynthia Ozick

Courageous people are not free of fear; they’re just the ones that go on anyway. As a writer, you must be prepared to encounter fear along the way. It’s a nasty thing – sly, adaptable, and bloody persistent. Luckily, it only takes a spoonful of courage to conquer a mountain of fear. Learn to identify it and find ways to press on in spite of it.

Identifying fear is half the battle. You may fear failure, criticism, mediocrity, humiliation – even success. While those things are the source of your fear, it will more likely manifest itself in the form of writer’s block, confusion about which way to go, trouble tying things together, an inability to write “the end,” or something similar. It’s important that you know this will happen, so you’ll be less likely to be fooled into procrastinating when it does. You can’t accomplish your dreams if you give in to fear and stop working.

When you take that first step into the darkness of the unknown, you must believe that one of two things will happen: There will be something solid for you to stand upon, or, you will be taught how to fly. —Patrick Overton

You know how children think they’re invincible? I was one of those kids – shy and awkward, but overconfident in my own abilities. I was always told that I could do anything, and I believed it. All it took was someone pointing out this fearlessness to make all that reckless courage pack up and leave for approximately the next 15 years. Keep a positive mindset, even when it doesn’t seem the logical thing to do. More “this might be hard, but it’s going to be a great adventure” than “this is so scary, I’m just going to go back to bed.” While it may not be practical to leap off a cliff without a parachute, adopting a courageous spirit (or excavating it from your childhood self) would do us all good.

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. —Eleanor Roosevelt

Writing is a very personal process, and therefore seems to bring up a writer’s deepest insecurities. Everyone, beginners and professionals alike, have moments of doubt. Everyone has the little voice that says “don’t write that or they’ll know who you really are,” “you don’t know what you’re doing,” or “this idea is crap.” Don’t listen to that voice. In fact, kick that voice in the shin.

Doubts will come and go. I’m not sure it’s possible to stop hearing or feeling them entirely. On a good day, you know none of it is true, but what about on a bad day? Find one infallible thing that allows you to block out the constant chatter.

I write to movie soundtracks for a lot of reasons, but one is that they block out everything, including doubt, which helps me think clearly. You just have to find what works for you. I know you don’t NEED tricks to write, but now you’ll have one for those days you don’t feel so courageous.

Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. —Anne Lamott

Have you ever sat staring at a blinking cursor on a blank page? No? Yeah, me either. <—Lie. It takes a little bit of courage to get started. The first draft will most likely be some version of awful. There are those rare and gifted people whose words spill out on the page perfectly, but it’s not the norm.

I approach a new project in layers. Each time through the story, I focus on something different. It’s never really any good, let alone coherent, until I have all the layers in place. Those first few drafts are frightening, but without them I could never make the project whole. I get a sense of accomplishment in seeing each layer added, and that gives me momentum to keep going. It doesn’t have to be perfect the first time. Remember anything can be fixed later, but if you don’t start, you’ll have nothing to fix.

Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. —Dale Carnegie

One of the best things about writing is getting to make ALL the decisions. Of course you always want to make the best decision the first time, but you should accept that it’s not always possible. A lot of writers get paralyzed by a single detail. When you’re afraid of making the wrong decision, it’s easy not to make any decision at all. It’s even easier to say you need more time to think about it or you just don’t have time to write today.

Don’t be afraid to make bad decisions. Give yourself a time limit to think about or research the issue. When that time is up, pick a direction and go with it. Sometimes going down the wrong path is the only way you figure out the right one. You’ll find the answers eventually, and you’ll learn more than if you stop working for three weeks while you research something to death. (I’ve never done this. Ever. Cross my heart.)

Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow. —Mary Anne Radmacher

Creative projects can be overwhelming, and fear breeds when you’re overwhelmed. When you feel like things are too much or too hard – that’s fear making babies in your brain. Don’t let that happen.

You have the benefit of knowing that books CAN be written. It won’t be easy, but if you keep going – word by word – you’ll get somewhere. Those words will turn into sentences, then scenes, chapters, and acts. Eventually a fully formed story will appear from all the pieces. Break your project down into smaller, more manageable tasks and know the overall goal is possible.

Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable. —Kenyan Proverb

Writing can be a lonely endeavor, especially if you don’t count the fictional people you hang out with all day. It’s a lot easier to have (or fake) courage when there are friends beside you. Sometimes all we need to be courageous is for someone else to tell us that we can do it, whatever “it” is. Be that person for your friends, and believe them, however recklessly, when they swear you can do it too.

These are all things you know, but it helps to be reminded. It helps to know that all writers feel this way and find ways through it. The reality is, you don’t have time to be derailed by fear. There are too many worlds to create and characters to meet. You must either learn to overcome your fears or put them to use in a way that propels you forward. Learn to recognize fear for what it is, and put a conscious effort into having a plan to battle it. Summon up just a little courage and press on – I know you can do it!

~*~

Lauren Garafalo

4 comments

  1. Thanks for this inspirational post. I literally just finished a session with a psychologist two hours ago, talking about my fear of failure, so I can identify with this. I’m working through it, and your information here will certainly help!

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