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 manuscript page; the ending; and all those paramount decisions we make to fill the space between. Our nerves quake against the inner critic with a nag on repeat: What if I can’t do this? What if 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 take creative 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. I have reeeally short deadlines for topics that deserve the utmost sensitivity and respect. What if I can’t dive deeply enough to do them justice? Yikes!
|My declaration of independence/badge of courage|
I instinctively reached for my version of the Cowardly Lion’s badge
of courage to brace me through to the end. 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 fear and insecurity; to take risks;
to be brave!
I tend to reach for it when I’m feeling anxious, or vulnerable. 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. Stepping outside our comfort zone reminds us that 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? Staring down our inner critic takes courage—a shove away from the shores of security. And those shores come in many forms.
Last month (2014), 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, for sure. But, when I faced the multi-stage high-wire Challenge Outdoor Personal Experience (COPE) 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.”
I steadied my shaking knees and hollered back, “It’s my year to be brave.”
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!