Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Courage To Be You

What do you think you're doing? You've got to be kidding, right? You—write stories? What makes you think anyone will want to read what you write? You're over your head here. This MS is written all wrong. Someone else already covered this story/angle. You're wasting your time. You should do something else instead...

Do any of these sound familiar? I like to think of them as The Great THEY sayings. THEY like to tear people down. THEY like to make us question every little decision we make. THEY don't want us to be ourselves or succeed. THEY want to control us.

THEY don't exist.

Individuals parrot The Great THEY all the time but there really is no secret institution controlling society. Knowing that makes life a little rosier. Convincing yourself that THEY aren't going to murder you in your bed some night for taking a risk, well, that's another thing.

Putting yourself out there is scary for most people, even if you are only presenting a collection of written words to the public.

Sure there are actual institutions and rules set up to follow. It's not a myth that publishers and agents have guidelines to follow when submitting a manuscript to them. It's not a myth that very few people actually make millions on selling what they write. A savvy writer must navigate through rules and guidelines, and work hard to grow and improve their writing.

In all places where people gather there is a natural tendency to size each other up, judge our strengths and weaknesses, and decisions made regarding other peoples' value to the group as a whole or to other individuals. Sometimes it's easiest to expect the same thing from everyone and sometimes some individuals carry this too far. We hate the rule breakers, those who have leaped to the top of the pile, those who seem to have it all, those who blatantly tell the rest of us to jump off a cliff. We also secretly envy and admire them. We want to be someone who is comfortable in their own skin and who can snap their fingers at the censure and ire of others.

So how does one gain the courage to take those risks?

As a writer, how can you make your story stand out from the rest of the pack? The pack is humongous! There are thousands of other hopefuls out there who also have the same dream. The savvy writer also knows that the dream slots to fill are much fewer.

The first step is arming yourself with knowledge regarding writing craft and the industry of publishing. It's not as straight-forward and simple as it sounds. Many would like to skip this step. "I'm a storyteller. All I need to do is write my story and the rest will fall into place." Um, right.

The second step is not becoming a zealot with what you learn. I can always tell who has just embraced some doctrine of writing craft. These individuals (and I had my little zealous bout too a long time ago) will rigorously step forward online or among other writers to champion the death of all things that run against the rule they've embraced. They're brutal in their critiques. They hammer their pet piece of writing doctrine down the throats of the willing and unwilling alike. You can picture them sweating, beet-red in the face, maybe with their tongues peeking out of the sides of their mouths, and their eyes bloodshot in their never-ending quest to prove the point.

Don't be a zealot.

The third step is to pause. You're still digesting what you've learned and you realize there is more to be learned. Like any learning process, there never is a point of arrival. Learning never ends. Coming to terms with that realization and accepting it gives a writer a necessary dose of humility and gratitude. This step is treated as optional by some. It shouldn't be. Appreciating what has gone on before, what is going on around you now, and speculating on the possibilities of the future will keep a writer from becoming an arrogant jerk.

Step four, reach out to others. Take the time to network and make friends with other writers. Be a giver more often than a taker. And above all else, accept others for who they are. Recognize their individual voices and visions. Don't condemn, don't judge.

Step five, embrace yourself. It's okay. You can like yourself. You can love what you write and you can also hate it. You'll be able to see your weak points and your strong ones. These need to be identified. Come to terms with what is important to you, what you want to say and how you want to say it. Remember that everyone has a voice and a distinct point of view. Remember also, that you will not convert everyone to your way of thinking, and there will be many others who will disagree with you. There is no way to avoid this.

Courage isn't a quality one is given, it must be acquired. Bravo to those who gain the courage to step up, present yourself to the world, and say "This is me." Laurels to those who can continue to stand there while others size you up, ignore you completely, or try to drive you away. If you are humble, accepting of others and yourself, and knowledgeable there is no valid reason for you to run away. At this point THEY are not as all-powerful as you think, the one with the power to make or break you is yourself.

It's not easy standing there but it is important to stay put. Some people are instantly embraced and adored, some are charismatic, others are mysterious, and some will shout and shout so no one can ignore them. Some face exclusion, ridicule, or are taken for granted. Some people are used for awhile or scoffed at from behind. Remember your vision is unique and that you have your own stories to tell. No one else can tell your stories the way you can. No one else should replace your words with their own. And yes, sometimes you must admit that a story or two will never have a wide audience—and that's alright.

Relax and breathe. Do everything you can, keep learning, keep trying, and never give up. No one ever arrives, this is one continuous journey.

Bonus: From the blog Writer Unboxed, contributor Jan O'Hara shares some inspiration on conquering writing fear, and fellow contributor Jon Vorhaus gives some perspective regarding letting the worries of the future stymie today.


  1. Hello Clippership,

    Wow, I felt your passion as I read this post—great job. Speaking of the mythological “They” don’t forget the” they’s’ that want you to excel, do better and hone your craft. Call them, you writing mentors. :-)

  2. Too true, sometimes there are good THEYs. I'm looking forward to someday writing up a great tribute to them.