Friday, 1 November 2013

Being Brave

It’s been a strange kind of week. I...
  1. spent days trying to make sense of Apple’s App Store submission process
  2. discovered Jedward in my office (they were filming a TV series, apparently) and
  3. was told by a novice writer that I was "very brave" to submit my work to agents and publishers
While point A could probably make for a cathartic but boring post, and point B would guarantee me plenty of retweets, I’m going to write about point C because it carries over the theme of bravery from last week (although in a different context).

I have to admit that the other writer’s comment wrong-footed me somewhat. Sending stuff out is what writers do, and there was a voice in the back of my head saying "that’s not bravery, that’s just business." But I accepted the compliment gracefully, and the more I thought about it, the more I realised the truth of what she had said.

According to my handy dictionary (OK, I actually have an office full), courage and bravery are "the ability to do something that frightens one." Sometimes, it seems to me that the very business of writing is about controlling and conquering fear. Reading Candy Gourlay’s Words & Pictures post earlier this week, the main point I took away was the sheer terror that gripped her as she tried to write a follow-up to Tall Story.

I fondly remember the days when I could sit down and just write stuff, free from the pressures of craft and quality. As much as I try to get back to those playful times, I often feel the icy fingers of fear slip around my heart as I open up my laptop. Sometimes, when things are going well, I can trick myself into thinking that I’m not writing a book, but as soon as I realise what’s happening, the game is up.

Somehow, I get through, wilfully (bravely even) turning up each day until I have thirty, forty, fifty thousand words of a finished novel. And then, briefly, I reach a moment that is positively golden and I’m sure what I’ve written is totally amazing. Perhaps I could even extend that moment by shoving the manuscript in a drawer and never looking at it again. But I don’t do that, because I need some kind of payback after all that hard work.

So I have to let other people read it.

This is a different kind of bravery, the willingness to let others poke and pull at what you’ve created, to suggest improvements or express disapproval. I find giving my work to another writer just as frightening as giving it to an agent. Although you only get one chance with an agent, at least they will generally let you down lightly, with an anodyne form rejection or a comment about not being "excited enough" by your work to take it on. A fellow writer, on the other hand, will often take a work to pieces and give you a list of instructions on how to reassemble it. This is all in the spirit of making the book better, but it sure can sting an awful lot at the time.

If I'm being honest (which I am), even the process of writing a blog every week makes me a little scared. I hit the publish key, send a couple of tweets and emails, then wait to see if anyone wants to read it, or even better, to comment on it. Some weeks, there's just an empty silence that makes me wonder if I've written something so terrible that nobody can bear to tell me about it. Call it insecurity if you will, but the part I find hardest about showing my writing to the world is the idea that someone (anyone) might dislike what I've done. Given the subjective nature of our craft, I guess I need to gather up my courage until I can face that idea and move past it.



  1. First of all, thank you for not writing a blog about Jedward! Secondly, I think there's an enormous amount of bravery involved in writing. Putting yourself on paper to some degree and then sending it out to be judged takes courage. Following a dream and taking the chance you might never get there takes guts. We should feel proud of ourselves for taking that risk.

  2. It's hard when people don't like something. That doesn't always mean that what you've written isn't good. But it should help crystalise your reasons for doing it the way you did. And if you don't keep challenging yourself to do even better, you can only stagnate.
    On the other hand, when you've written something great - and with the hindsight of having left it aside for a while you know it is - that's triumphant.

  3. In the programme last week about people with severe OCD it said that the therapists were taught not to reassure them because it only reinforced the idea that the fears were real and justified.

    I don't think it's helpful to say you're being brave, or courageous, by putting your work 'out there'. All it does is say, 'oooh this is a VERY big deal, this is a step of incredible magnitude and significance, this has the power to wreck your life.' No wonder people get scared.

    I think the answer is to send out so much stuff so often that you become blase. It's like buying one raffle ticket and hoping to win the big prize - if you buy 10, 20, 30 you might be in with a chance, but one?

    BTW Nick, I always read your posts with interest and enjoyment, but Google often won't let me comment...hope they will today.

  4. I am new to writing and only in the last few months have I been brave enough to show my writing to the world. Or rather to my critique groups, and then wait to hear all the good as well as bad things about it. Then you have a load of feedback and decide which advice to follow and which to not!

  5. Well I read every single one if your posts! We would not be human if we didn't suffer when under criticism and rejection ... writing is what we like to do - if only writing didn't require an audience! On the other hand, isn't it great when someone says they like what they read?

  6. I read what you write on here and always get something out of it. Keep on at it. Also, I think Sarah Duncan above has a point, too.

  7. Hi, lovely post Nick. It's such a hard balancing act... being committed to keep trying but holding back until the work is of the best possible standard. I think the word 'brave' though, often gives the impression that it's a foolhardy thing to do - it's clearly not if you're well prepared but because there's so much luck as well as skill involved you do have to be prepared for rejection, and that does take courage.

  8. Oh Nick this so rings a bell. It's so hard, once you've started sending stuff out, to keep on doing it. There are expectations - perhaps only from yourself - that the quality needs to be maintained, but also that you need to send it out. Here's to be being brave in 2014!