How Brave a Writer Are You?

How Brave a Writer Are You?

Bravery has been a recent theme in my household. The Lion King’s June influence in our family has had the meaning of bravery driven home countless times by wise Mufasa (and in several mediums as well). Insightful contemplation on my part also pulled bravery up to be examined – I’m glad to report I pass the test with flying colors. And a few nights ago, my wee one and I had an evening porch discussion about why watching a horror movie didn’t really demonstrate bravery.

Then Ali Hale (whom I like very much; did you know?) comes along with this post on bravery, and how being a writer is a perfectly good measure of it. Mountains, valleys, demons and swords abound. It was the perfect wrap for my bravely-themed week. Enjoy!

Has anyone recently told you how brave you are?

Probably not. The writing life doesn’t come off as requiring courage. In a normal day’s work, the worst danger you’re likely to face is a paper cut.

But if you’re a writer – if you’re taking ideas out of your head and turning them into words – then you’re sure as hell brave. Don’t forget that. Never let anyone convince you that what you do is easy or not a real job or even safe.

Here’s why:

Climbing Mountains

Every piece you write – whether a blog post, a short story, an ebook, or a technical manual – is a mountain.

Every single time you start your piece, you’re at ground level, gazing up at the words yet to be written. You might feel daunted. You probably feel excited. There’s a journey ahead, a challenge, and you’re up for it.

And you start climbing. You write a hundred words, five hundred, a thousand. You pause to catch your breath. The mountain ahead looks as big as ever. You glance back at how far you’ve come. You’re barely off the ground.

But you carry on.

You write more and more and more. It takes longer than expected. It’s harder than you thought it would be. You think about quitting.

But you carry on.

Eventually you come to the end of your first draft. You’re exhausted but elated, because there were times when you never thought you’d make it.

You pat yourself on the back and pour yourself a glass of wine. And then you look up. Up, and up, and up. There’s still a hell of a lot of mountain to climb.

But you carry on.

You have what it takes. Many people don’t. They might talk about writing or hang around writers or read about writing or think about writing. They might even start on stories or blogs or books.

But they never finish anything.

You do. You climb mountains. And you get to see the view from the top.

Traversing Valleys

The writing journey isn’t all mountains. There are valleys too.

When you feel like all the words have been wrung out of you, you’re in a valley. When you try to write but everything turns to ashes, you’re in a valley. Valleys are full of shadows. There’s nothing heroic-looking about stumbling through a valley.

At least people can see you climbing up on the mountain. They might not understand why you’re there. They might tell you to quit, or tell you that you’re on the wrong mountain, or tell you that your climbing technique looks weird. But they can see you’re doing something.

From outside, the valley doesn’t look too deep. Most people can’t see the shadows. They can’t see the demons that you struggle with. They can’t see how much bravery it takes to face down your self-doubt.

They don’t understand why saying, “I am a writer,” is so difficult and so scary and so liberating all at once.

Down in the valley, you feel more alone than you did on the mountain. You think you shouldn’t be in the valley at all. You think you’re a failure. You’re below ground level now.

You’re afraid you’ll never climb another mountain again. You’re afraid those mountains you climbed before were flukes.

But you carry on.

The valley is so dark that you can’t see the end of it. You feel like the rest of your life will be spent here. You’re not writing. You’re stumbling over obstacles: childcare duties, commitments to family and friends, health problems, work.

But you carry on.

One day, you write something. A single blog post. A snippet of dialogue for a short story. A character sketch for your novel. An outline for your next book. You hate it. You throw it away or hide it.

But you carry on.

The demons close in. They tell you all the old lies. You’re being selfish. Who cares what you write? You’ll never be any good. You’ll never finish anything.

You fight your way past. It’s hard, and bloody, and no one sees how much it takes out of you.

But you carry on.

The clouds start to lift. You see daylight ahead. And you see the next mountain.

Travelling Alone

Of course, you have companions. Maybe you attend a writing group every week. Maybe you take part in online forums or swap your work with friends by email.

This is your base camp. You share stories with these people. You realize that everyone’s mountain is steeper and harder than they imagined it would be. You hear about other journeys through the long and lonely valley.

You’re inspired and encouraged and invigorated by your fellow writers. They reassure you. They give you the weapons you need to fight those demons in the valley. Writing matters. Writing can change the world. I’m happiest when I write.

Your friends are brave and strong and they care about you.

But they can’t climb mountains for you. They can’t walk through the valley for you.

When you’re writing, you’re in a room on your own, climbing and climbing and climbing. You carry the inspiration and encouragement that your friends gave you back in base camp. You’ll stop along the way to watch their progress on their mountains – and to share your progress with them.

But, ultimately, it’s your bravery which counts.

Bravery is carrying on when you’re tempted to quit. Bravery is climbing a mountain when the world says you’re crazy. Bravery is taking the thoughts that you’re scared to show to anyone and putting them into words.

No matter how hard it is, no matter how scared you are, no matter how much mountain you have to climb or how deep your valley goes, you can always take one more step forwards.

Climbing a mountain? Stuck in a valley? The rest of the world might not be able to see what you’re going through, but we can – and we’re here to help. Drop us a comment below.

Read more about Ali Hale’s dragon-slaying prowess and valley-crossing bravery at her site, Aliventures. You’ll soon be swinging blades along with her.

Post by Agent X

Agent X is the name many mysterious and intriguing people take on when they guest post at our site. Their mission is to slip in like a thief in the night, leave you with entertaining, valuable and useful content, and slip away again - without getting caught.

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  1. Wow..Excellent article!

    I was totally immersed in the piece that you wrote!

    And it depicted the situation of quite a lot of us!

    You are absolutely right. Writing does take a lot of bravery, and not everyone can see it.


  2. ^^ Like Nabeel, I was immersed too, great writing.

  3. I can’t be the only one humming along to “River Deep – Mountain High” right now ;)!

  4. Love the metaphor – great post 🙂

  5. As I celebrate my first year blogging, I appreciate this post. Thanks! 🙂

  6. Hey Agent X!

    Great article.

    Yes, writing is an act of bravery/courage. You cannot try to please your entire audience. If you do, you’ll edit yourself into oblivion. I write hard hitting opinion columns for a newspaper as well as self-revealing essays. My philosophy? If it’s wimpy, why bother to write it. The world doesn’t need watered down writing, it needs watered up writing!

    If folks want to be published and paid, you have to keep climbing the mountain even if you get rejected. Take rejection slips and toss them in the trash. Persistence is an important virtue when it comes to writing. The more you write, the tighter and braver your writing gets.

    Pick up a pen and see where it goes …

    Thx. Giulietta

  7. Loved this post! Exquisite writing like this lights me up like a blast of good java. Makes me believe the world can be changed with words. Makes me appreciate the courage it takes to write for a living.

    Well done!

    Joe 😀

  8. I loved this post, too, and wanted to mention that this is as true for novelists as it is for articles, blog posts, or any other type of writing.

    Thanks so much for this!


  9. I loved this blog too! It’s as true for novelists as it is for article writers, copywriters, or any other kind of writer.

    Thanks for this!

  10. Hi Ali, Did you have fun writing this post, or what? It shows!

    Really enjoyed this post & I think you’ll help a lot of people.

    Wanted to add one point. If thriving as a writer-hero is an inside job, working with a coach (once or over time) can help you quickly discover where you need to reinforce your armor, how to burnish your sword point, how to know when the battle is over…

    Looking forward to more from you, Ali & MenwithPens!

    Life Coach for Writers

  11. Aww, thanks for all the love, folks! 🙂 This one was an immersive writing experience; glad that came across in the reading too!

    @Giulietta – Great point about not watering down! (A lot of us, me included, sometimes need to add a shot of something strong to our writing.)

    @Joe – Cheers! 🙂 *takes a bow*

    @Sara – Oh, definitely. I wrote this primarily with my novel-writer hat on, actually. (If anyone’d told me at the start of my current novel-in-progress just how long it would take, and just how many words I’d write and rewrite and bin and write again … I’d probably not have even started on the mountain. But I’m glad I did.)

  12. When I’m climbing the mountain of trying to write to create my next product, I like to divide everyting up into chapters or sections. Then, your only goal is to finish that small section.

    Although I only write non-fiction, I can see how this could apply to any writing. As long as you are sticking with the plot line.

    People see this gian mountain, like they have to finish the whole book or prject at once, but really it’s just that little sections that needs your time. Pretty soon, a lot of little sections equal one big-ass piece of work that you just accomplished.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

  13. This is great. Very visual and inspiring. I never looked at writing this way.

  14. This is a great article! My best friend is a writer and just being able to call herself that was a major step. She says that there are a lot of great writers in the world but that what makes you a successful writer is actually writing (doh!) and promoting yourself in the marketplace!

  15. Isn’t it funny how sometimes the forces of the world all come together. I signed up for Johnny B. Truant’s free blog. Yep, finally did it and got the URL yesterday. And guess what is the name of the blog?

    Ali, as you talk about in this blog, I certainly have been through the ups, downs, valleys and ridges of trying to figure out the technology. But I’ve made the commitment and am starting the journey. Guess that is the humble beginning to taking the first step and beginning to climb any mountain.

    Thanks James for all your encouragement and the terrific information on Men with Pens. It is exhilarating to finally be able to put a URL in the website box.

  16. Good for you, Mary. Seriously. Good for you. I’m quietly proud and giving you applause.

  17. Hi James, I have been in those groups and forum where folk talk about writing and never get any done. A few years ago, a woman I met on a writing course began calling me on a daily basis to whinge about how she didn’t have time to write. It’s funny how it’s always the ones with no kids who don’t have time.

    Those valleys you mentioned can take some climbing out of. I was recently in one for a few months ‘cos of family problems. It’s tough to pull yourself out but you get there.

  18. Ali:

    I have read some of your posts before on various sites including your own. This I feel from a style as well a content standpoint is absolutely one of your best.

    Please don’t get me wrong, but another list of ten things to do at times is just overwhelming and I tire of those kinds of posts. This one had focus, cohesiveness, and kept me reading.

    Good job. Build on the style of this one.

    Best to you.

  19. Hi Alli,
    Really enjoyed this post. Takes me back to last November when I was doing my second NaNoWriMo. You get these really great emails to help cheer you along. At about Day 7, the first flush of excitement has faded and you take a look at what you have written. It is rubbish. Then the email drops through the box. It tells you that when you look back at what you have written, you will feel it is rubbish. It tells you to ignore that feeling and just keep writing; the time to edit will be after you have finished the story. It chimes so exactly with what you are feeling and it is always amazing to know that you are not the only one feeling that way. Keeping on with the writing is the best thing to do and when you get to the end, you can feel proud of what you have achieved.

  20. joseph pardo says:

    reading this was very inspiring and it makes me wanna kepp writing and excel at that!! have a great day! thanks for the motivation!

  21. What a wonderfully encouraging article. Thank you!

  22. @Joshua – Great point on dividing things up — it’s a great way of turning mountains into much more conquerable molehills. 🙂

    @Rebecca – “Writer” is a loaded term for pretty much everyone I know. It takes serious guts to stand up and say “I’m a writer” — cos, if nothing else, it means you have to get on with it and actually write!

    @Mary – Like James, I’m thrilled to see you with a blog of your own! I always appreciate your thoughtful comments but I’d wondered when you’d be “clickable”. Best of luck with the blog … I found myself heading up a pretty steep learning curve when I got into blogging, but it was totally worthwhile.

    @Cath – Writing (especially the more creative varieties) take a lot of energy, and I can sympathise with people who make excuses … but you’re right about the woman on the course; there’s not much point being there if you’re not going to write. Glad to hear you’re coming out of your valley, and good luck with the next mountain!

    @Doug – Thanks, I rather liked this one too! 🙂 Great to know it hit the spot!

    @Sarah – We have the NaNoWriMo book (No Plot? No Problem!), which is awesome! I did NaNo in 2007, thinking of doing it again this year, depending what stage my other writing projects are at.

    @Joseph and @Jillian Thanks! Glad it helped!

  23. This piece very much liberates me. What I once thought as personal weaknesses, the stumbling blocks in my quest to be a writer, has now taken a different meaning. Great writing and thanks for the inspiration.

  24. Super inspirational!

    I’m definitely in the valley right now. What’s worse is that I feel as if I slid back down the mountain I was climbing, finding every bump and hole along the way, and now lie exhausted and hurting in the dirt at the base. Maybe I shouldn’t have tried to take that mountain so fast.

    It’s just that becoming a writer is one of those impossible dreams for me. I see myself here, young and inexperienced, and wish I had the confidence and ability to push farther. I want to learn and I want to succeed, but I’m not sure how to do that just yet. Maybe I’m crazy, but I feel like I have a lot to lose.

    Just have to keep pushing on. First though, I need someway to revive my poor mind.

  25. This post should be called the “Dyson” the way it sucks your ass in. Awesome. Though I never thought of writing as climbing a mountain. More like painting. I guess in either case “bravery” is needed. Painting requires you to put your creativity in front of masses and climbing mountains requires you to have large cojones.

  26. @Roy – Thanks! The writer’s journey can be a lonely one … I’ve found it really helps to know and talk to other writers (and realise that we all go through pretty much the same struggles).

    @Annie – Maybe you do have a lot to lose, but I’m betting you have more than that to gain. Take a break, treat yourself gently while you recover from that fall, but don’t give up on the dream. And psst, I’ll let you into a secret, EVERY single writer starts off young and inexperienced…

    Get hold of Stephen King’s “On Writing” if you can — it’s an inspiring read.

    Good luck with your next mountain!

    @FitJerk – Cheers! And I’m sure the same applies to painting (and in fact, any creative activity).

  27. I’m a grandmother, and I’ve been reading Aliventures for a while. I am both amazed and humbled by the wisdom in your posts. I’ve been in a deep, deep valley for quite some time and have only recently begun to climb out of it and to write again. Thanks for a beautiful post.

  28. High five. Awesome post. I’ve actually fallen off the mountain a couple of times and had to start back from the bottom. 🙂 Thanks for putting all this so eloquently!

  29. You must also be brave and face a world of critics waiting to blow you off the mountain trail because they don’t agree with what you’ve written.

  30. @Marla – Sorry, only just got your comment. Yes, I did have fun writing this! 🙂

    @Susan – Thank you! I always feel pretty underqualified to write about life (after all, I’ve not lived much of it yet…) and I’m really glad when my posts reach people.

    @Angie – Cheers! And good luck conquering the mountain.

    @Janet – It’s true that if you start putting your writing out there, you’re gonna get some negative feedback (after all, you can’t please everyone). I’ve found, though, that many many people will provide kind and thoughtful responses.

  31. Love it peaks and valleys and one step forward. I’m 56 and this is the philosophy I’ve always had…and it helped me successfully raise my family and at the same time finish my Bachelors and Masters degree and move to our dream place and so much more. Yup never give up…one small step and then suddenly a leap.

  32. Vimala Seetharaman says:

    Great Motivational Post. Thanks very much.

  33. I’m in the middle of my first novel: the deadline is September 15th. I’m climbing that mountain 24/7 and I’m exhausted, wondering if I got lost in a lonely land filled with letters and words and phrases that don’t hook together in a way that will get me on the right trail. It is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I don’t have time to sleep, eat, talk to people, go places, read, watch the news. I am a character out of Fahrenheit 451, and no words come out of me except text from the book. I loved this post. It was like a marker showing me I’m on a real mountain, one that has a top and other writers have actually seen the top. What I worry about now is that when I reach the top, I will be so crazy I’ll jump off. If I do, the main thing is the book. GET IT PUBLISHED!!

  34. Seriously, TravelinOma, EATING and SLEEPING really aren’t optional! Make time to get the rest and recharging you need, and you’ll get better words, faster.

    Very best of luck with the novel — that’s a tight deadline! But I bet you’ll feel amazing when you achieve it. 🙂


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