thoughts on writing courageously

This post was inspired by
J, who commented on my last post. She said: “I DREAM of putting myself out there and actually writing something worthwhile, but I am too much of a sissy to actually do it. You need to share some of your courage with me! Seriously? Advice?”

I’m not an expert and certainly don’t have it all figured out, but since she asked, here are a few things I've been thinking...

Write for yourself first.

Are you self-conscious? I am. About a lot of things (among them: my post-pregnancy body, my high-pitched voice, my penchant for really bad pop music). I used to think that a bit of self-consciousness was fairly harmless, but now I realize – it’s a dangerous, paralyzing form of narcissism. It causes us to look with disdain on our flawed humanity and instead chase after an idealized image of perfection.

And so it goes with writing – we don’t write boldly because we’re self-conscious. We fear that we’ll be judged, mocked, or questioned, that we won’t say the “right” thing or that no one will understand. We’re unable to move past the belief that what we say won’t be good enough.

Break your self-conscious spirit. Spend some time writing in a journal, or anywhere where no one will ever read what you write. Practice finding what satisfies you as a writer so that when you are ready to write for the world, their feedback will merely be a validation of what you already know.

Embrace confidence. You have to respect your own thoughts and expressions before anyone ever will.

Stop reading other people’s writing.

Take a break from blogs and books. I know, I know - a blogger telling you stop reading blogs. But hear me out.

Most of the writers I know are also voracious readers. It’s so important to be inspired by those who have gone before. But I think that there is a point where you need to stop consuming in order to begin creating. The infinite swirl of words around you will simply overwhelm, not motivate.

How can you write in your own unique voice if you have to strain to hear it?

Expect it to be hard.

You know the stereotypical image of the tormented novelist, bleary eyed and disheveled, alone at his typewriter, with a mountain of crumpled pieces of paper at his feet?

Good news! It probably won’t be exactly like that… no one uses a typewriter these days.

To write courageously, you need to be bold yet vulnerable, liberated but intensely aware. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that that kind of writing probably can’t be done during the commercials breaks of LOST (trust me, I’ve tried).

Resist the urge to skim the surface of your life. Make it a priority to contribute something worthy, something substantial, even if it’s just a paragraph or a few sentences.

Occasionally, the words will flow easily. But 95% of the time for me, writing is a laborious act of love.

Aim for the shape of things.

My dad is a gifted artist. I love (and envy) his ability to convey moods and feelings with simple brushstrokes. Here’s an important thing I learned from his art:

It doesn’t have to be literal in order to be true.

I think that sometimes we don’t write courageously because we think it means that we have to let it all hang out, exposing every flaw and wrinkle in graphic detail. Not so. There are things that should be shrouded, and they are better that way.

When I started writing my son’s birth story, the original draft was four pages long and was brimming with every detail I could muster. But it didn’t feel right, and when I stepped back from it, I realized that while I had literally told a story, I hadn’t actually said much at all.

Remember that your life is more than a play-by-play of actions and motions. Knowing what details to keep and how to express them in an effective way is mostly a matter of skill, which you can develop with a little time and practice.

Blur the edges. Sketch the mood. Use emotion instead of fact.

Aim for the shape of things, and you may end up with something more true than you originally imagined.

Remember: You are not unique.

It sounds harsh, but this is good thing. The reason I know I can share my emotions and feelings is because I know you, the reader, can relate. You’ve been there, too – fights and jobs losses, proud moments and overwhelming joys. I’m not unique in that aspect, and I’m glad!

The beauty of writing and sharing is that it makes it easier to find like-minded souls and kindred spirits. Have you ever had the experience of reading a line in a book and then smiling because the author articulated something that you’ve always felt but never knew how to say? It’s a comforting feeling to know that you are not alone.

Except, you really are.

If everyone’s souls were made of the exact same stuff, then humans would have run out of things to say hundreds of years ago.

Live authentically. Value sincerity. Believe in your heart that you have something entirely unique to offer to the world. These are small acts of great courage.

Focus on these things first, and the courageous writing will take care of itself.

Good luck, J. I hope this helped you a bit! Keep me posted on how things go for you.

[Photo taken in Maui on our honeymoon. We were using film back then and I love how ethereal the mountaintops look.]