“Being creative means giving yourself the freedom to be who you really are,” says Nancy Slonim Aronie, author of Writing from the Heart: Tapping the Power of Your Inner Voice.
But that takes courage. A lot of courage.
Ralph Keyes, author of The Courage to Write, admits that “what makes writing so scary is the perpetual vulnerability of the writer. It’s not the writing as such that provokes our fear so much as other people’s reaction to our writing.” In fact, adds Keyes, “the most common disguise is fear of them, their opinion of us, when it’s actually our own opinion of ourselves that we’re worried about.” Keyes suggests that ultimately “mastering techniques [of style and craft] will do far less to improve writing than finding the will, the nerve, the guts to put on paper what you really want to say.”
I was recently in Montreal at a writers’ convention, launching my new book Outer Diverse along with several other authors and I recall one admitting to feeling terror when her first short story — whose main antagonist was based on her mother — was accepted by a magazine. Her first thought was: what have I done?
Says Keyes: “Any writing lays the writer open to judgment about the quality of his work and thought. The closer he gets to painful personal truths, the more fear mounts — not just about what he might reveal, but about what he might discover should he venture too deeply inside. But to write well, that’s exactly where we must venture.”
So, why do it, then? Why bother? Is it worth it to make yourself totally vulnerable to the possible censure and ridicule of your peers, friends, and relatives? To serve up your heart on a platter to just have them “drag it around” as Stevie Nicks would say…
Welcome to the threshold of your career as a writer. This is where many aspiring writers stop: in abject fear, not of failure but of “success”. The only difference between those that don’t and those that do, is that the former come to terms with their fears, in fact learn to use them as a barometer to what is important.
How do you get past the fear of being “exposed”, past the anticipated disappointment of peers, past the terror of success?
The answer is passion.
If you are writing about something you are passionate about, you will find the courage to see it through. Says Keyes, “the best writing flows less from acquired skill than conviction expressed with courage. By this I don’t mean moral convictions, but the sense that what one has to say is something others need to know.”
This is ultimately what drives a writer to not just write but to publish: the need to share one’s story, over and over again. To prevail, persist, and ultimately succeed, a writer must have conviction and believe in his or her writing. You must believe that you have something to say that others want to read. Ask yourself why you are a writer. Your answer might surprise you.
Every writer is an artist. And every artist is a cultural reporter, whose business is to report the truth and sometimes hold a culture accountable.
“Real art,” says Susan Sontag, “makes us nervous.”
The first step is to acknowledge your passion and own it. Flaunt it, even. Find your conviction, define what matters and explore it to the fullest. You will find that such an acknowledgement will give you the strength and fortitude to persist and persevere, particularly in the face of those fears. Use the fears to guide you into that journey of personal truths. Frederick Busch described it this way: “You go to dark places … to steal the trophy and get out.” You are the hero.
Every writer, like his or her protagonist, is on a Hero’s Journey. Like the Hero of our epic, we too must acknowledge the call, pass the threshold guardian, maneuver the abyss and face the beast before we can return “home” with our prize.
“If you long to excel as a writer,” says Finke, “treasure the passion that is unique within yourself. Take the irreplaceable elements of your life and craft them into your own personal contribution to the world.” And worry about the rest later.
Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit www.ninamunteanu.me. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for more about her writing.