Writing Courage

by limebirdkate

I used to think that writer’s block was a silly nuisance in a writer’s life. I never took it seriously, because I never struggled with finding ideas. I never left a blank page blank. Then one day I abandoned writing. This hiatus lasted a number of years. Not because I couldn’t produce new work, but because I didn’t have the courage to write. As I look back on that period in my life, I have to wonder if that was a form of writer’s block. When we avoid writing even when we have bountiful ideas, even when we know what we want to say?

Wikipedia defines writer’s block as such:

“Writer’s block is a condition, primarily associated with writing as a profession in which an author loses the ability to produce new work. The condition varies widely in intensity. It can be trivial, a temporary difficulty in dealing with the task at hand. At the other extreme, some “blocked” writers have been unable to work for years on end, and some have even abandoned their careers.”

Fear has the power to stop writers from writing. The power to stop writers from sharing their work. The power to stop writers from pursuing their dream. I believe fear is the seed that produces writer’s block. I know there are other cited reasons (overly complex storylines, lack of inspiration, etc.). I think it all is rooted in fear.

How does a writer combat fear? Each writer will have a different solution, but I think all these solutions launch from one emotion (just like writer’s block stems from fear).

Writing excites us. It is this passion, this desire, this need to write that is strong enough to overcome fear. The battle will take place in your soul, not on paper or the computer. You first have to establish that this is what you’re going to do–no matter what. It is a pact made between your logical, sensible self and your writer, creative self. If you can band those two together–build a team, a force, a unit–then you will be able to fend off the fear.

This means you have to want to write badly enough, and you have to be prepared for anything. You also have to be willing to pick yourself up and fight again. And again. And you have to remember that you are not alone.

                     …          …          …          …          …

If we had to say what writing is, we would have to define it essentially as an act of courage. —Cynthia Ozick

Exercise the writing muscle every day, even if it is only a letter, notes, a title list, a character sketch, a journal entry. Writers are like dancers, like athletes. Without that exercise, the muscles seize up. —Jane Yolen

There is no satisfactory explanation of style, no infallible guide to good writing, no assurance that a person who thinks clearly will be able to write clearly, no key that unlocks the door, no inflexible rules by which the young writer may steer his course. He will often find himself steering by stars that are disturbingly in motion. —E. B. White

Writing is thinking on paper. —William Zinsser

If you haven’t got an idea, start a story anyway. You can always throw it away, and maybe by the time you get to the fourth page you will have an idea, and you’ll only have to throw away the first three pages. —William Campbell Gault

Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. —E.L. Doctorow

I have never thought of myself as a good writer. Anyone who wants reassurance of that should read one of my first drafts. But I’m one of the world’s great rewriters. I find that three or four readings are required to comb out the cliches, line up pronouns with their antecedents, and insure agreement in number between subject and verbs…My connectives, my clauses, my subsidiary phrases don’t come naturally to me and I’m very prone to repetition of words; so I never even write an important letter in the first draft. I can never recall anything of mine that’s ever been printed in less than three drafts. You write that first draft really to see how it’s going to come out. —James A. Michener

A great deal of talent is lost to the world for want of a little courage. —Sidney Smith

Resistance is fear. But resistance is too cunning to show itself naked in this form. Why? Because if Resistance lets us see clearly that our own fear is preventing us from doing our work, we may feel shame at this. And shame may drive us to act in the face of fear. —Steven Pressfield

I’m writing a book. I’ve got the page numbers done. —Stephen Wright

There is always the risk that you may disappoint yourself. That risk is there even for productive writers, as most writers don’t write as often as they would like. Because of this reality, you will need to practice self-forgiveness. —Eric Maisel

Don’t feel guilty about being afraid of the blank page. Don’t think you aren’t a writer if you don’t rush to the computer first thing when you get up in the morning in order to face the empty page. Writing is hard work. Filling up an empty page with your thoughts, your pains, your joys, and your creative ideas takes immense courage. —Rachel Ballon

Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer. —Barbara Kingsolver

Once we are aware of our fears, we are almost always capable of being more courageous than we think. Someone once told me that fear and courage are like lightning and thunder; they both start out at the same time, but the fear travels faster and arrives sooner. If we just wait a moment, the requisite courage will be along shortly. —Lawrence Block

Work inspires inspiration. Keep working. If you succeed, keep working. If you fail, keep working. If you are interested, keep working. If you are bored, keep working. —Michael Chrichton

A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than for others. —Thomas Mann

By writing much, one learns to write well. —Robert Southey

Do you have a favorite quote to share that fends off the fear and inspires you to write?

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58 Responses to “Writing Courage”

  1. Hi Kate. I so agree with this post! Fear, of failure, of vulnerability, of rejection, kept me from writing for many years. I love the Thomas Mann quote! Best wishes, Amanda.

    • Hi Amanda, There are so many things to be afraid of aren’t there. I hope that you are actively writing now. Yes, the Mann quote is wonderful because it is so ironic in its truth. Have a wonderful day, Kate

      • Hi Kate. Thank you for your lovely comment. You have written such beautiful and thoughtful replies to everyone who posted here. I had your post in my mind all day yesterday, and I’ve written a response to it today on my very new baby blog. I’ve never done this before and am not sure about the etiquette but hope it’s OK to mention it here! Short answer to your question – yes, I am writing, and I am so grateful that I am now in that place, instead of where I was before. Longer thoughts on my blog, if you are interested and have time. All the best, Amanda.

      • Hi Amanda, that is so funny because I happened to see the pingback and so I followed it to your blog and left you a little note! I love what you had to say about your own writing pursuits and that you have overcome the fear enough to continue writing. Good luck with your blog–it can be very therapeutic in its own way. 🙂

      • Hi Kate. Haha I don’t at all understand pingbacks or trackbacks yet! It seems WordPress automatically put one in because I quoted your URL??? So you were ahead of me. For which I thank you very much – and for the good wishes. I’m enjoying my ventures into blogging and the people I have met so far – but I need to work out a better balance between this and the novel. Thanks again, good luck with all the interesting things you are doing, have a great day yourself. Best wishes, Amanda.

      • That’s what it’s called! Trackback! Thank you. I’ll probably forget its proper name by tomorrow, but I got it now. 🙂 Oh yes, the mystery of balancing blogging and our novels. I have yet to figure it out myself. But I’m determined to!

  2. This is a lovely post and something I was thinking about myself only a couple of days ago, I started a story a few days back, but even though I have it all planned and can’t stop thinking about it, I am struggling to get it out on paper. I know this is because I am scared witless of writing, I fear that I do not know enough about grammar, punctuation, dialogue, formatting etc etc and these fears snowball quickly into a complete block and the feeling I should just give up. I am glad to know that even professional and accomplished writers feel the same way (probably for different reasons) and I hope that I can convince myself to JUST STOP WORRYING! and carry on doing something I enjoy.

    • Hi Sophie,
      It’s such a difficult obstacle to clear, that insidious fear that is all in our heads. I think that kind of fear is more difficult than the concrete obstacles that others can see or feel.

      I hope you know that all that stuff about grammar, punctuation, etc, are mechanics and can be easily sorted out after the story is down on paper/computer file. There are plenty of writers who write without the editing portion and then go back to do all of that. If you can somehow convince yourself that mechanics are the next step after writing the story, then perhaps you can let the fear go.

      I hope you do try, Sophie. I know from personal experience that not trying is enough to make you a little sick at heart. 🙂 Have a great day.

  3. When I was going through a similar spot several years ago, I kept this quote pinned near my computer so I’d see it every day (sorry, I forget the author of it): You can’t do anything, unless you’ve done something first.

    It prompted me to just power through and write, regardless of how good or bad I thought it was, because I’d never find out one way or the other if I didn’t.

    • I love that quote. I am unfamiliar with it, thank you for sharing it here. Inspirational quotes are key to reminding us that what we’re going through is actually quite common and with a little faith we can overcome anything. I’m particularly glad that you have given yourself the chance to write 🙂

  4. A helpful and loving post for all us writers, LimebirdKate. We are so very hard on ourselves at times, and it does us absolutely no good. It just brings on the standstills and frustrations. Thus, I share this quote with you today:

    If you are seeking creative ideas, go out walking. Angels whisper to a man when he goes for a walk. -R Inman

    Take lots of deep long breaths, and realize that maybe you/we are not meant to push so hard for the words on this particular day, or this particular hour. I do believe letting up can make all the difference.

    • Hi Rebecca,

      You’re right, we are hard on ourselves–which is so silly when life is already hard enough! I love that quote, and I think it is totally spot on.

      Taking a day at a time is great wisdom for finding the courage to write. Thanks for stopping by.

  5. I think this is true. Fear keeps us from many things; writing is one of the biggest. I interviewed a local novelist with ovarian cancer last year, and she said she hadn’t been able to write fiction since she was diagnosed… but she had been writing a chronicle of her experiences with cancer. I thought she was a great example of tunnel vision writer’s block… although she was blocked fictionally, she continued to go forward without fear in the nonfiction realm.

    • Hi Anne,

      That is a wonderful example of how we stop ourselves from doing the things that would benefit us greatly, but for whatever reason, cause us the greatest anxiety. Thanks for chiming in.

  6. Great post, that quote by E.L. Doctorow is my favorite 🙂

    • Hi Neeks,

      haha, yes. I tend to see that Doctorow quote a lot in relation to many elements of the writing process. It’s astounding in its simple logic, but the metaphor renders the quote genius. 🙂

  7. Great post! The comments all resonate with me as well. I don’t know if it’s a fear of failure or perhaps a fear of success. We all know it takes someone with a thick skin to put our work out there, so if we succeed in finishing a novel and getting it published, then with success comes a lot of input from all over, some good and some hurtful. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve received on the whole good reviews, but I’ve seen other work being slammed and at times, the reviewer makes it personal against the author, so it makes a writer cringe and worry that may happen to them. However, I love writing as do most writers and it comes with the territory.

    I am a slow writer (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. LOL) I tend to polish and edit and not move forward fast enough, but I’m slowly (again with the slow LOL) changing that habit.

    I once listened to an interview with Fannie Flagg about how she had writer’s block for four years after writing The Whistlestop Cafe, because it took off and became a best seller. She panicked, thinking, she couldn’t possibly duplicate this success. (Fear of success, as I said above). Then one day, she thought about it and said, “It’s only a novel, not cancer.” That statement made so much sense to me. I try to remember that when I get over anxious.

    • Hi Selena,

      Exactly! Fear of success is very true–and I think in turn that becomes fear of failure anyway. Writers can be terrified of doing too well for fear of failing to continue the success. I like Fannie Flagg’s outlook. That’s the kind of view we all need to take when we get a little too serious about the writing process.

      Thanks for commenting.

      • I know that everyone says we need to have a thick skin, and I will readily admit, I don’t have one. It’s great to read all these responses and realize I’m not alone in all the self-doubt and fears.

      • Agreed! I actually find boundless inspiration from seeing this fear is quite common and maybe I’m not so doomed after all. We writers must stick together 🙂

        As far as thick skin–I don’t have it either. And I’m not entirely convinced it’s foolproof anyway. There’s always something that can hit a nerve, thick-skinned or not. (Now I have this visual of someone tearing off a crocodile’s scales! Yikes!)

  8. Fantastic post, Kate! I think that, in my mind, the moment when I made it as a writer was when I stopped letting fear keep me from writing. After that victory (17 years in the making), everything else that might happen with my writing, any success or failures I might have in publishing and sales, all that is gravy to me.

    • Hi Julie,

      I think you’re probably right. That would have had to be a pivotal moment for you. You’re smart to not worry about how well you do–as long as you’re actively writing you are meeting your needs. Thanks for stopping by.

  9. Maybe one of the root causes of writer’s block is the fear of what others will think of it. As writers and bloggers, we put something of ourselves into everything we write and rejection or criticism is no fun. But I don’t mind constructive criticism providing that it improves what I’ve created.

    • Yup, I am sure for many of us (I know I’m one) we are afraid of how our work will be perceived. Blogging is an interesting angle of writing isn’t it. Blogging gives us this unusual opportunity to reveal our writing style and our originality and our personality without the pressure of showing too much of our work. For some that may be helpful; for others it might not matter because writing is writing no matter what form it takes.

      Thanks for stopping by.

      • Blogging exposes our inner selves, but for the most part, we can hide our outer selves comfortably behind our (mostly) anonymous keyboards. I’m finding that blogging is unleashing more creativity than I ever realized I had and I’m wondering why I didn’t start blogging years ago.

      • Hi Eagle,

        Agreed! I avoided blogging because I thought it was too egotistical until I heard that if I want to publish my book, self-marketing is now part of the gig. So, I gave in. I’m really happy I did because I have found an enormously supportive community through Limebird as well as my personal site. I have gained so much more confidence and energy and joy in my writing–and that is because of the blogging.

        I like how you say “hide our outer selves comfortably behind our anonymous keyboards”. Very true.

        I’m glad your writing life is going well for you!

  10. Love this post, Kate. This is one of the reasons why the Limebirds site is one of my favorites: there’s no preaching, no haranguing. Just honest insight and camaraderie. We’ve all been there, where a story just won’t come to our pen or fingertips, where it feels like there’s a blockade the size of the Great Wall of China barring our ideas from forming. You’re right, that fear is the cornerstone to that blocking wall.

    Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    • Hi Mayumi,

      I love your analogy to the Great Wall of China. Unbelievable how we let our fear get that crazy-big. Writer’s block is more of a pest than anything, and if we do our best to give ourselves a chance to write, then writing will get easier every day.

      Thanks for chiming in.

  11. One definitely needs thick skin to write. After my first rejections, I let fear get the best of me, and I repeatedly asked myself who I thought I was kidding by thinking I could write. But I persevered. Which is what writers do. By the way, one of my favorite writing quotes is the one you listed by Stephen Wright.

    • Hi Crubin,

      Thick skin is helpful. Rejections can ruin a writer’s sense of accomplishment. It is important to establish our courage before we set out on this journey because of the horrific trolls along the way, lol.

      Yes, Wright’s quote was too amusing not to include here. Sometimes, writing doesn’t mean pages and pages of words.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  12. Great post, I love the quotes!

  13. Great post! Fear does keep us from doing so many things but I think it can be a motivator as well. If we dig down far enough to reveal our motivations (or lack of) we will discover that they are often rooted in fear. I didn’t write for years for ‘fear’ of offending someone in my life who felt they were the writer and anything I did took away from that image. How stupid (of me) is that? On the other hand I have traveled to some pretty incredible places merely because I wouldn’t let fear stop me… Fear is something I think about a lot because I really believe it influences us everyday. Keep on writing!

    • Hi Elise,

      That would be a tough spot to be in. Writers can be touchy/prickly–especially if we’re not doing as well on our journeys as we once hoped. Then along comes another writer, and watch out! I don’t think you were stupid necessarily. I think you probably understood the sensitivity of the situation, and you were more respectful than anything.

      Ooh, traveling is one thing I don’t get to do as often as I’d like. In top 10 things I love to do, travel is third to writing and spending time with my family. But it’s hard to get away. You’re quite lucky that you have had the opportunity–I hope you have written about your experiences!

  14. Two of my favourite quotes spring to mind here. They don’t specifically apply to writing but they could do because they can apply to whatever you want them to apply to!

    – Feel the fear and do it anyway.
    – When the road of life makes you weary of walking, remember your wings.

    • Hi Vanessa,
      I love those quotes. I think they are appropriate in many situations, as you say. Both are worth scribbling down and putting in your wallet for everyday inspiration. 🙂

  15. Great post on a great topic. 🙂 Fear of failure has paralyzed me at times. I’m still surprised some days that I keep at the writing. I don’t know how I made it through the agent “passes” on my first novel. But I’m still writing. I don’t think I’ve overcome the fear. But maybe I’ve learned to work through it.

    • Hey JM,
      Well, from someone who has had the privilege of reading your work, I am glad that you have found the courage to keep at it. You make a good point. Perhaps overcoming fear isn’t absolutely necessary. Maybe all we need to do is work through it, work despite it, whatever it takes to get words on paper.

      Thanks for chiming in.

  16. Copy/past from http://jimbutcher.livejournal.com/ (author Jim Butcher’s site). He says:

    “In fact, the vast majority of aspiring authors (somewhere over 99 percent) self-terminate their dream. They quit. Think about this for a minute, because it’s important:

    THEY KILL THEIR OWN DREAM.” (followed shortly thereafter by)

    “YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE IN THE WORLD WHO CAN KILL YOUR DREAM. *NO ONE* can make you quit. *NO ONE* can take your dream away. ”

    This is what I think of when I feel like I’m an idiot for trying this.

    • Hi Shannon,

      Great help from another great source. I love the power in its simplicity. Ultimately, we have power over ourselves. Why would we self-sabotage when we are the only ones who care enough about making our dreams come true. Thanks for sharing.

  17. The scaries moment is just before you start – Stephen King.

  18. Great quotes and reminders. Thank you.

  19. Really good quotes. Hope you writing mojo flows again 😉

    • Hi Samir,

      I’m glad you like the quotes. They were fun to compile. Thanks for the good wishes, yes, my writing mojo is yearning to flow again–so I think I’m going to let it 😉

      Hope your own writing is going well. Kate

  20. A turning point for me was watching a home makeover show (!) and seeing a mural on a wall which depicted: ‘Only you can stop you’. I had a completed manuscript that was half edited that I’d left by the wayside after getting a couple of agent rejection letters. Seeing that mural awakened something in me and I finished editing that novel and it is now up to almost 50 sales in the first 3 weeks, on both sides of the Atlantic, and is getting some great reviews (It is called The Hunter Inside and crosses over several genres – a serial killer thriller filled with suspense and psychological horror with a supernatural twist). I’m now totally inspired, committed and motivated to my career as a writer and am almost 15 thousand words into my ambitious second novel, From the Sky. I also started my blog and have connected with some amazing and inspiring people. My life has changed completely, and I’ve thrown off the fear of how my writing is received – just to be reaching people with my work is amazing!

    • Hi David,

      Well, congratulations are in order! That’s absolutely fantastic. You, like Selena above, both have experienced overcoming fear and pursuing your dream to see it succeed. I’m also intrigued that you were inspired by something so random, but I totally believe in the Universe opening up doors to possibilities to all of us. In your case, the Universe opened up a television to reach you 🙂

      It’s very true, that statement: Only you can stop you.

      I can only imagine how it must feel to see your book out in the public, selling amid great reviews. It totally makes sense that you would be diving headfirst into your next novel. Congrats again, and thanks for stopping by.

  21. Well done Kate. Hitting nail on head. And what a brilliant collection of quotes! Nodding and smiling at many of these, especially James A. Michener.

    • Hi Leonard,

      So glad you like. Haha, the Michener quote was a fun one for me, because I toyed with the idea of shortening it to just magnify the big point that he was making. But then I thought, this is Michener, you can’t shorten Michener!

      Thanks for commenting.

  22. This is so very true! Thanks for writing a wonderful piece, Kate. 🙂

    • Hi Eva,

      Thank you so much for stopping by. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Best wishes with your writing. Kate

  23. Love this post. Fear comes in many guises….

  24. Great quotes! 🙂 this is the sort of thing that keeps me going even when the going gets tough.
    Thank you for posting.

    • Hi Ileandra,

      Glad you like! Quotes are heaven-sent, so post them all around you and imbibe the inspiration! 🙂

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