Friday, January 23, 2015

Growing Out of Your Rootbound Pot--Why Bravery on Demand Can Help Your Writing



Simone de Beauvoir once wrote, "Every time I start on a new book, I am a beginner again. I doubt myself, I grow discouraged, all the work accomplished in the past is as though it never was, my first drafts are so shapeless that it seems impossible to go on with the attempt at all, right up until the moment . . .when it has become impossible not to finish it."

This comes from her 1965  book Force of Circumstance, which is one of many published works during her long literary career.   New book writers might read this in astonishment.  How come such a prolific and experienced writer had such beginner's emotions?


Does it never get easier?  Do we ever feel like we know what we're doing?

Maybe not.  That's what writing communities are for.  I see it happen each semester when I begin a new online class and the group of writers find companionship, support, and accountability in each other.  We keep each other on the edge of learning, where creative bravery resides.

The need for bravery in our art is not limited to writers, of course.  I once asked a professional speaker about this.  I wanted to know if he ever got stage fright, felt that beginner's nervousness.   This man has delivered hundreds of talks to audiences of thousands.   He said he always feels jittery before he goes on stage. Every time.   He has come to expect tense shoulders, butterfly stomach.  He likes the opportunity to be brave on demand.

I asked why he still gave speeches if he didn't feel he'd conquered fear in his art. "I'm glad for the fear," he told me. "It keeps me from falling asleep creatively."  If he starts taking his creative expertise for granted, he loses any freshness and edge--the elements that makes his performances memorable.

So this week, as my classes begin, I thought about what next step in my personal writing life would require bravery.   I thought about a new software program I've been stalled out on but longing to try.  Learning new software demands time and brain power, two things I haven't had much of this winter so far.  But I took a step:  I called a writing buddy who loves this software and she talked me through first baby steps to try it.

Not only did I feel instant glee at my own bravery--the simple act of trying something new--but as I practiced the new software, new ideas came through for my book.

So many writers, even published writers, hold themselves back.   They stick with what they know, be it a favorite template for stories, a certain plot idea, or even similar characters, because it is safer.    They don't want to be a beginner again.  It could be quite humiliating! 

Especially if The Book has become a huge haunting presence, with so much still unknown--like how to finally finish it!

One reason taking a new class is a helpful step for so many writers is that it is all about courage and not knowing.  You go into learning mode, not "already knowing" mode.  It's scary, but a great way to avoid writer's block and ongoing discouragement about a writing project.

What's a scary project you might embrace this week?  Or, if not embrace, just consider? 

Your Weekly Writing Exercise
1.  List three scary and exciting new things you could try that would take you new places in your writing.

2.  Pick one.  Take a small first step toward trying it.

3.  Post your results here in a comment on this blog.