It takes courage and character to be a writer. It means accepting the risk of revealing yourself and overcoming fears of putting your honest feelings and dangerous ideas right there on the page.
Facing that blank page in the privacy of your own mind and stripping away your defenses to confront hard truths requires an act of courage that no one else can see.
Then, to go public with your work, you put those most intimate emotions out for all to consider. You may be advocating untested ideas, or pushing the envelope in ways that require at least the posture of courage and often a thick skin.
The most successful authors I know summon up enormous courage and fortitude when they begin to plow through the long process of writing and promoting a new book. As a developmental editor working closely with writers for more than 40 years, I’ve learned what helps sustain such a Herculean effort.
11 suggestions for writers
• Do other stuff that takes courage
Appreciate the difficult things you already know how to do, like teaching a class of unruly teenagers, climbing a tricky trail, or writing a letter to someone who owes you money. Or skydiving, for the adrenalin junkies out there! That mythic, over-the-edge leap into the abyss.
This accomplishes two things: If you pick the toughest thing you’re able to do that isn’t working on your book, it’s relatively easier to sit alone in a room and move your fingers over the keyboard. And it can poke up the can-do confidence and bravery thermometer in your head. That may stimulate some wild new idea to escape your unconscious.
• Show your writing to someone you trust
Not family or friends, but someone objective with whom you’ve worked before on a tough job, physical or intellectual. What you’re after is a gut-level reaction. So ask: “Make sense? Want to read more?”
• Take advice
Get help. Consult a professional, experienced developmental book editor. A good editor can help a writer overcome existential dread by providing specific places in the text with suggested language of what to write.
That’s part of a developmental editor’s job, to help authors revive the creative flow with restored courage.
• Write on a schedule
Devote a block of time to writing every working day. Consider it something like a spiritual practice.
You’ll strengthen the habit, build discipline, and ultimately produce better results.
• Talk to yourself
Close the door. Go where no one else can hear, speak out loud, take a first stab at whatever you’re trying to pull together. One sentence. Two sentences. Speak into the mirror.
• Write to yourself
I know a writer who’s already written 200 pages of notes to himself about his next book, answering questions like “What would she do now? How about this? Should he call her back?” He’s nearly confident enough now to start the actual outline and write a first draft.
Try a voice journal. That can help get the juices flowing.
• Start over
It’s like clearing your throat. Pause a moment after wiping the slate clean and come back to it in a few moments. Write something, even if it isn’t great yet, for your eyes only.
Then make it better, clearer, closer to what you wanted to say. Keep doing that until you have a paragraph that works.
• Let it simmer
Sometimes a so-called writer’s block is a necessary pause in the creative act. The ideas and feelings need to bake a little before being ready to test.
• Take no prisoners
Dig deeper for insights or ideas. Be hard on yourself when you reread the latest draft, even if it’s the fourth or fifth time around.
• Get silly
Hula-hoop with the kids. Or some equivalent playfulness.
• Face the music and dance
Literally. Your favorite music can get your foot tapping, your body moving around the room, and your creative soul back into the cosmic dance of life.
How do you sustain your courage?
We all need more courage in our writing once in a while. Instead of worrying, churning and ruminating, stop and try something new. Hope these ideas help.
So writers, how do you find and sustain courage? I’d love to hear your stories.