Have Guts and Go Dangle Them

I had lunch with another writer the other day. I rarely do that. I usually eat leftovers from last night’s meal straight from the Tupperware, often standing at the refrigerator, at around 10:30 a.m. because I have already run out of things to write.

But on this day, I put on some presentable clothes and moseyed to my local Italian place for a bona fide writers’ lunch. And felt like a player as I swirled my sparkling water in my glass and gazed with wonder at all the other people sitting at a café in the middle of the day. The waiter approached and my eyes grew big at the gigantic pizza placed before me: an ode to tender grilled chicken, brilliantly green pesto, creamy and sweet goat’s cheese…

But I digress.

My friend arrived and we were having a great writerly chat. You know, So what you working on? How’s it all going? What’s your writing schedule…when my writer friend divulged that he was frustrated with how slow his script was going.

There is no flow to it, I can’t seem to get traction, he said.

So we talked Syd Field’s turning points. McKee’s theory of gaps and antagonism. The value of trying to get up early enough so that your critic self is still asleep.

Then there was a pause.

Yeah, he said. I got all that. I don’t think it’s that.

And that’s when the F-word came up. Fear.

Fear of failure? But this guy is a professional. He knows his first draft is going to be bad. In fact it’s no doubt going to suck. But the important thing is just to get it down. To forget the next steps. To write as if it will never be edited or produced. First things first…

He shook his head. Yeah, I know that too.

There was another silence. Longer this time.

This fear is harder to navigate around, to manage. It is the fear of disclosure.

To say what you really think, in a way that will disclose who you really are.

It takes guts. It’s not talked up much these days on agent or editor blogs. More often, writers are encouraged to come up with a great idea and then to tuck in before anyone else comes up with it. And yes, our job is to entertain, or at least honor the reader, by making the experience of reading our text as satisfying as possible.

But guts are what connects writers to readers. Another aspect of our job is to say what hasn’t been said before because no one has had the guts to say it.

So writing is less about design and more about bravery.

We need to dig deep. And reveal so much that we are embarrassed. So embarrassed that if we leave the house we panic, terrified that we’ll suddenly get run over and we will have left our day’s work laid out for all to see.

Oh, the horror.

But it’s that kind of fear, that fear of disclosure, which I would say means you’re on to something. That you are ready to write something worthwhile.

So go for it.

I beseech you.

Write, cringe, and write again.


photo by Matzehielscher (flickr)



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12 responses to “Have Guts and Go Dangle Them

  1. This was totally, utterly, my problem. I couldn’t get my ms to move because I was afraid to disclose. I was afraid to bleed. But I think I’ve crossed that now because there’s blood everywhere. And the book is moving

  2. ninakillham

    Thrilled to hear about your blood-letting, Candy! Keep going… x

  3. Wow this was so very timely for me. Thank you Nina and thanks Candy for highlighting the blog!

  4. Oh my you’ve touched a nerve Nina…

  5. “So writing is less about design and more about bravery.”

    Yes. And therein lies the problem . . .

  6. This is so true. How much do we reveal about our (messy) inner world? How much *should* we reveal? Sometimes, the idea of my stuff never being read by another living soul is strangely appealing…

  7. Anne Booth

    This is so true. Thank you.

  8. I’m bleeding as hard as I can!

  9. This is dead on. We all want to read the stuff that no one we know would willingly confess. So we have to confess it to write the stuff we all want to read.

    Actually, I first picked up this advice from reading that old book Impro by Keith Jonhstone, on how to do stand-up. I used to use some of the routines in it in my creative writing classes as they’re great for loosening up and exploring ideas and characters. If you’re doing an impro routine with a partner and you throw them a line and then they hesitate or, worse, block a response, you know they’ve hit something in their minds which they’re afraid to say. Their conscious mind censors it.

    Fear. It’s not a writer’s best friend. Confession is, & with absolute honesty… and that’s really hard.

  10. ninakillham

    Thank you everyone for these great comments. Seems like bravery is the way to go. Unto the breach, dear friends….

  11. Candy Gourlay has just pointed me to your blog as I have just written about something similar. It is so good to know I am not alone. This taking risks and feeling the fear is a scary business…but maybe that makes us better writers because we understand this fear and the need to take risks and we push boundaries when they should be pushed. Many thanks for such a great post

  12. ninakillham

    Thanks for commenting, Vanessa. I’m going to definitely check out your blog.

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