What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything? –Vincent Van Gogh
Writing is a scary endeavor, don’t you think? There’s that frightful
blank page staring at us, taunting us, daring us; then the first
sentence; the first paragraph; the first page; the ending; and all those
paramount decisions we make to fill the space between. Our nerves quake
against the inner critic with a dialog stuck on repeat: What if I can’t
do this? What if the world finds out I’m a fraud? What if I’m too
scared? What if the reviews are hurtful-or true? Every time we face the
page, we are taking risks. Big, potentially-career-changing risks. Damn
right, we’re scared. Or… maybe it’s just me?
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “I dip my pen in the blackest ink, because I am not afraid of falling into my inkpot.”
Well, good for ole Ralph! But I’m currently knee-deep in research for
two books I’m writing for an education publisher, and I am a tiny bit
afraid. Partly because of the reeeally short deadlines, and partly
because I’ve agreed to write about subjects that deserve the utmost
sensitivity and respect. And I know very little about them. Yikes!
|My declaration of independence/badge of courage|
I instinctively reached for my version of the Cowardly Lion’s badge
of courage. Ain’t it purdy? See, a million years ago, in 1994, I
suffered a slobbery, whimpery, crushing heartbreak. You know the kind. I
was a weak-kneed wreck until I ran out of tears. One day, the cosmic
switch flipped and I found my sea-legs again. I dressed up in my
favorite white suit with a red belt and red pumps (you can tell this was
pre-writing career.) I trekked to the nearest jewelry store and zeroed
in on this pendant. The cute panda on the front wasn’t the draw. The
back, however, was engraved 1994. Sold! Originally, I called it my
declaration of independence. I know, I know… corny, right? This piece of
gold and credit card balance had a purpose: to remind me to never be a
human door mat again; to stop hiding behind insecurity; to take risks;
to be brave!
This symbolic shot of courage has been with me through tough times
and triumphant times, in my writing life, and my personal life. I tend
to reach for it when I’m feeling anxious, or vulnerable, or just plain
scared. Like when I hiked the glacial ice fields miles above Juneau,
Alaska; scuba-dived in various oceans; white-water-rafted; blew both
knees in skiing trips; submitted to agents; collected rejections; gave
my heart away again. I do think we need to step outside our comfort
zones sometimes, to remind us we are alive.
Andre Gide, recipient of the 1947 Nobel Prize in Literature wrote, “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”
I love that, don’t you?
I’ve struggled to push myself out of my comfort zone (aka the shore)
at the page. I’m not alone, right? The best stories come from weaving
our souls into the stories we tell. It would be easier not to dig that
deep. I am in awe of all you mega-talented authors who stare down the inner critic to test
boundaries. Art takes courage.
Last month, I survived a sweltering weeklong Boy Scout camp in
Arkansauna with 150 sweaty Y-chromosome-beings, a bazillion ticks and
spiders, and nights full of creepy crawlies that wandered in and out of
my tent and my bedding. It was uncomfortable, but doable. But, when I faced the multi-stage high-wire COPE (Challenge Outdoor Personal Experience) course, I got scared. The voice of doubt rang in my ears, “You’re crazy! You’re too old,
You’re not fit enough, strong enough, tough enough! And, oh-my-gawd,
I learned something from the effort, from teetering and wobbling on the edge: 1) always
look ahead; 2) tell yourself YOU CAN; 3) Remember that someone is watching your back, and 4) Breathe! Sounds a bit like a writing career, doesn’t it?
An unfamiliar scout dad left his son behind and followed my progress
through the various stages of the course. He hollered up to me at one
point, “I don’t know many women who would try that.”
“It’s my year to be brave,” I said.
And it still is.
Let’s all be brave, my friends.
Madeleine L’Engle once quipped, “When we were children, we used
to think that when we were grown-ups we would no longer be vulnerable.
But to grow up is to accept vulnerability…To be alive is to be
Smart woman, that Madeleine!