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.]


  1. Like so many I've been hoping to find more authenticity in my writing. Thank you for the encouragement and suggestions.

  2. couldn't have said it better myself:) very well said

  3. Brilliant advice. On my blog, I try to share as much as I'd want my friends (not my best friends) to know. I save the special thoughts and details for myself and for my best friends (they like to know they know something that didn't "happen" on my blog).

    I feel like some people share too much detail, too many facts. Their blogs are basically their diaries, their play-by-play. I applaud them for that, but that could never be me. Like you said, "aim for the shape of things."

    And on the flip side--maybe some bloggers are afraid to share at all, thinking they'll lose their readership if they change their voice now. I think nothing could be better. Lose the readers who keep you pegged down, gain readers who enjoy reading what you really want to write.

  4. great post! thanks for the motivation to keep on keepin' on.

  5. wow. this is stunning. you had me at self-consciousness = paralyzing narcissism. profound. i never ever thought of it that way. it's really been tugging at me lately (to be bold and blog more from the heart), but it's so hard to just get over yourself and do.

    you inspire me so much marisa. i'm still gonna get my son's birth story down on paper. you have to hold me accountable.

    and to be 100% honest, he doesn't actually say mama to's just his version of happy-go-lucky 'dada', morphed when he's sad and whining. but at least he says it, right?

  6. I am so glad you are back. I kept checking--and I missed you. This post is wonderful. It is so hard to bare your soul--especially at first. But then it can be extremely freeing and helpful. You never know how your honesty will help someone else, encourage them, or make them laugh. It still amazes me that my words can touch another person's heart and we connect. And I love when other's writing does that for me.
    One of my favorite books is called My Name Is Asher Lev. It was a book that had a major impact on my life as a writer and artist. The main character is an artist who really has to take risks and be vulnerable to make the art that is in him. It really made me think.
    I am excited to continue to read what you put out here on your blog. Your writing inspires me to "write to the bone" myself. So keep it up.

  7. hi marisa!

    happy to make your acquaintance! so glad you stopped by so i could discover you too! i'll be back, hope you will as well :)



  8. I like this. A lot. I think too, that one has to be willing to change after one starts. You (in the general sense of the word) can't expect for something you create to be perfect the first time. Sometimes you just have to be willing to put it out there, imperfections and all, and be willing for the world to share in your growth. This week I tried free motion quilting the first time; I was really scared that it would look bad. And it did--at first--by then end, though, it was going beautifully. Writing is like that too. Sometimes you just have to take a deep breath and jump.

  9. p.s. I love the way you talk about the idea of capturing the shape, the essence of things instead of getting bogged down in all the ponderous, weighty details. It's something I've been thinking about the last few months, and you verbalized it for me.

  10. I love this!!! Profound and well said!!!!!

  11. Bang. On.

    I'm going to re-read this every time I have a blank piece of paper taunting me because I'm too self-stifled to get the pencil moving...

    Thank you.

  12. I love your advice here and how you spread it out step by step. I was one who read many a blog and constantly compared myself to others. I noticed though when writing a few personal things on my blog that it seemed to attract others rather than scare them away. I took a risk just this week and put something out there that I knew I really was ready to and needed to share. It took me alot of time to write and I actually edited it down a ton. I knew that when I was done it felt right and if no one ever read my blog, that was okay with me. Thank you for your encouragement here.

  13. this was a really great read. thanks. :)

  14. this was great. (and beautifully written, as usual). i loved what you said about being self-conscious, and also the last two comments about being unique. so true. thank you.

  15. i have been write in somewhere about
    i'm an original girl but somebody bet me back " no one is original, we're unique"

    up to the person :)

    ps. your writing are so very interesting !

  16. Amen!
    And I think that much of what you said here could be applied to any creative outlet.
    Thanks for sharing your insight with us.

  17. oh my gosh, thank you! this is so wonderful!

    i am so embarrassed to say that i somehow didn't see your comment until just now! i am so sad that it took me this long to see what you'd done for me. i can't tell you how much i appreciate it!

    you are truly an incredible writer and i am taking your words to heart. what great advice and so so true. thank you for putting yourself out there on my behalf and for sharing some of your wisdom. i will most definitely be printing this post and referring to it often. so glad to have met you and to be inspired by you, too.

    thank you, again.

  18. Everything that you say here can also be applied to the creative process of being a visual artist too...seriously. I think that it is so important as a creative person to get out of your own way, which you talk a lot about here, and to focus on what you have to share that is special! You put it all so well!

  19. I love this post Marisa! Simple things that are so true. Very meaningful to me.

  20. "It doesn’t have to be literal in order to be true." Beautiful, Marissa, what a freeing idea... Love it!