Updated: Sep 25, 2020
Hello, everyone! Today I just want to touch on a few things I’ve learned about writing bravely – writing through fear, doubts, and a myriad of questions and uncertainties. In a sense, this is about becoming your own writing’s defender and champion, and seeing it through to its purpose.
So, let me preface this by saying that there could absolutely be an entire post on this topic specifically for non-fiction writers. I have written memoirs, and they can be gut-wrenching and terrifying to write. There is extreme vulnerability in sharing your personal story with a public audience. HOWEVER, today’s post is not about that. It is about courage in fiction writing.
Why would fiction writing take courage?
If you’re asking that, then possibly you haven’t yet hit the point of terror and challenge as a writer. Maybe you haven’t yet shared your writing with a public audience, or opened yourself up to critique, or sat in front of a room of peer-reviewers as they tear your story apart. I have, and those moments take courage. But here’s the interesting thing – the real courage, the scariest part, actually usually happens for me before that. It happens when I’m by myself, at my computer, holding an internal debate about whether I should even keep writing this stupid story or quit and bury it deep in my computer files – or perhaps delete it entirely.
In my experience, there are two types of courage writers need. Both are necessary to produce quality work and establish a solid writing career:
The courage to write, even when in conflict with yourself
The courage to share that writing with the world
Let me take just a few moments to break down each of these, based on what I’ve learned through my personal experience. I hope it will be helpful to you as well.
1. The courage to write, even when in conflict with yourself
This is truly the issue that makes or breaks a writer. When things get hard, do you quit? Or do you refocus, push through it, and finish?
I have had 2 stories go viral on Wattpad. On the surface, these stories seem to have very little in common. One is a non-fiction memoir, and one is a teen fiction romance. But do you know what they absolutely had in common? I wanted to quit writing them partway through. Seriously. I planned them out, I was excited, I started writing, and then… I hit a wall of self-doubt and confusion. I wasn’t sure I had set up the story correctly, I thought it was a bunch of junk, I was certain readers would hate parts of it, and I was embarrassed at the thought of anyone reading it.
When this happened during the memoir, it took me by surprise. I had been particularly passionate about writing that story, and suddenly my feelings on it had changed entirely. But I was writing it for a contest, with a deadline, so I kept going. And you know what? By the time I finished it, I had rediscovered what I loved about it. I posted it online, and it eventually got selected as a Featured story, got thousands of reads, and even won me a Watty award.
When I was writing my teen fiction story, it happened again: the doubt, the worry that it was all terrible, the fear of embarrassment when others read it. I questioned how I had set up the story, the decisions I’d made for the plot and characters, even the format in which the story was presented. The story was also a new genre for me, so that came with its own set of doubts. What would people think about me writing teen romance? Would they laugh at me? Was I even doing it well? Was it truly a genre I should be writing in? Maybe my strengths were in other types of writing; maybe this had been a failed attempt from the start. I felt a knot of dread in my stomach at the thought of anyone ever reading it. But this time, I realized a pattern… like with the previous story, I had hit a slump partway through. Knowing I’d been through it before helped me realize that’s all it was – a slump. So I pushed through. I wrote when I didn’t feel like it. I followed my outline. I stuck to a writing schedule. I plodded through sections I dreaded writing. I finished the thing. Then I posted it. That was a few months ago, and it is now a Featured story and has over half-a-million reads, and is still gaining every day. I have received enormously positive feedback from it, and have connected with dozens of readers and gained a lot of new followers, all because of this story I wanted to quit on.
My point is this: feelings about your writing will ebb and flow. They will change. When you hit the moments that challenge you the most, you will likely feel doubt. You may even tire of your story altogether and dread working on it. But those feelings don’t have to dictate your writing career. They are not a clear marker of whether your story is good, or if it will succeed with an audience.
Are any of you runners? I used to be. When you run long-distance, there is usually a point partway through the run where you feel terrible. You’re exhausted, in pain, and want nothing more than to stop. Can you quit there? Sure. But then you’re stuck a mile away from the house and you either have to just sit down and live there forever, or you have to push the pain aside and make your way back home. Do you have to run home? Actually, no. You can jog home, or crawl, or walk… you can even call someone to come get you. But one way or another, you need to make it home, no matter how tired you are.
Do you get where I’m going with this? When you hit that wall as a writer and you want to quit a project (or quit writing altogether), you have a choice: you can quit, or you can keep going. It’s as simple as that.
If you’ve planned out your story well, then trust that, even when you hit the wall and want to give up. Trust your route, and keep going through it, step by step, until you’ve reached “home” and finished that story. If you realize you didn’t plan it well, then okay. Sit down, take a short breather, and rethink what route will best get you where you need to go. Call in a friend to look at your route or even to walk or run it with you (in the case of writing, these would be trusted beta-readers, fellow writers, or writing group friends). Even call for a ride and go home and try the run again another day, if you need to. In writing terms, this would be sending it to a friend for feedback while you set it aside for a while. Let your brain check out from the story for a few days while your trusted reader takes a turn in the driver’s seat. They might see paths you didn’t, and suggest a completely new route. This is all helpful. You can let them do the lifting for a bit, but make sure you have a clear timeline for when you’re going to take that feedback and get back to work on your story.
The point is, if you want to get home, you have to move somehow. You can’t just sit on the sidewalk forever. Successful writers are the ones who push through when it’s hard, and who have the courage to keep going even when their own selves are tempting them not to.
2. The courage to share that writing with the world
Compared to the previous point, this one is really simple. By this time, you’ve already written something. Maybe it still needs editing, but it’s written. But then the doubts hit and you wonder what everyone else will think about your story. All the same questions that plagued you during the slump before now come back with a vengeance. Only this time, you have the full story right in front of you, just waiting to be either sent out into the world or shoved in a drawer to gather dust.
So again, you have a choice. You can cast aside all the effort you put into the story and hide it away, or you can push down your fears and share it. Honestly, this decision is entirely a personal one. Some people write with zero intention of ever sharing it. But those aren’t the writers I’m speaking to here. I am speaking to the writers who desperately want writing careers, who want their words to impact the world, who want to connect with readers and have their stories read and shared and maybe even made into movies. Those are the writers I’m talking to. So, if that’s you, then listen up: Your story deserves to be heard. But it also deserves to be heard well. That means it is worth the time and effort of careful editing, beta-reader feedback, formatting services, a quality cover image if you’re self-publishing, workshop groups and input from other skilled writers. If you’re fearful about sharing your work, then maybe take a pause and ask yourself if it’s because you truly believe your work has potential to be better. If so, don’t be afraid to invest that time.
But – set yourself a timeline so that you don’t end up in perpetual editing, constantly worrying whether it’s perfect yet. Commit to make your story the best it can be, but also commit to put it out there at a pre-decided time. Do the best you can to improve it during your allotted editing time, and then fulfill the second part of that promise and send it out into the world. Query agents, submit it in a contest, post it on Wattpad or on your blog – however you decide to do it is fine, just make sure you do it. You can’t build a writing career if you don’t share your writing. You could be the most talented writer in the world, but if you locked all your work away in your computer files – no one would ever see your talent. And that doesn’t make for a very solid writing career, now does it?
The courage in this part comes down to being okay with the world seeing this very personal expression of your unique imagination and thoughts. Is it difficult to have your writing rejected? Yes. Is it hard to hear negative feedback about your story? Yes. But… every rejection or negative comment is an opportunity for growth. If you can have the courage to really hear what readers are saying and – instead of letting it crush you – let it build you up, hone you, sharpen you… then you will only become a better writer. Do it again and again and again, and every story you produce will be better than the last. And one day, you may even be one of the greats.
That process takes courage. Really. Like, a lot of it. What helps me is to realize that I cannot please everyone. No matter how much positive feedback my story gets, it will still get negative comments, too. And that is okay. Really, it is! Not every person who stumbles upon your story is going to connect with it. But those who do – those are your readers. They are your tribe, the ones who get you and who see and understand the vision you had for your story. And when you find them, it is magical.
Be brave. Write with courage.
Is it hard? Yes.
But trust me – it’s worth it.
Do you have any questions? Is there a specific part of the writing process that requires extra courage for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Leave a comment below!
Also, if you want more on this topic, check out my “Authenticity in Writing” video. It goes deeper into what it means to be courageously YOU in your writing.
Thank you so much for reading!