Don’t let fear and vulnerability keep you from writing

Overcome vulnerability. You are capable of amazing things.
Photo by Alysha Rosly on Unsplash

When I come across good writing advice, or general advice that I can apply to writing, I often think about how I would present it to a class. Thinking about how to explain techniques to someone else enhances our own understanding. It also encourages us to use the advice ourselves.

Recently, I found some great nuggets on vulnerability in Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly that I would use if I were a teacher. I’m not finished with the book yet, but the tips I found in the chapter Debunking the Vuneralbilty Myths are too powerful not to share.

Writing makes us vulnerable.

Anytime we expose ourselves, we put ourselves in a place of vulnerability. Even as fiction writers telling made up stories about people other than ourselves, there is still a piece of us in that story. No matter how far away from our own lives a plot is, it was born and incubated in our imaginations. In our heads. And it didn’t come from nowhere. The emotions and feelings our characters have are ones we’ve felt before, even if on a small scale.

The fact that we’ve experienced a range of emotions lets us empathize with others. Because I have hurt, I can recognize your hurt. Someone who’s been stung by a bee can almost feel the pain of a friend who cuts her finger on a broken piece of glass. And because we can recognize this, we can write about it. We use our experience to invent our stories.

In the same way, because our readers have experienced pain and a range of other emotions, they too can relate to the story.

However, when we write, there’s always worry that we’re exposing too much of our past hurts, sorrows, desires. That someone may assume and judge us on their interpretation of how we feel rather than our reality. We fear that because we dream up monsters, people will assume we are monsters. Or even worse, we fear that we’ll fail by not invoking any emotion at all.

We must write anyway.

There will always be people who don’t understand what we do. Look at every piece of art, literature, photography, any piece of creativity, and you’ll find a wide range of opinions. Even work that has been praised or received rewards gets its fair share of haters.

I love how in the book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert, addresses this by letting the book go. She says that her duty is to write the book and once it’s written, it’s given to someone else. At that time, whoever’s hands the book is in, it’s their book. It’s their opinion. We need to learn to let our reader’s opinions speak for themselves and not for us.

But still, it’s hard to write and finish a project when we feel vulnerable. Brene Brown talks in her book about the need to recognize that feeling vulnerable is not a weakness. She says, “To feel is to be vulnerable.” And as writers, boy do we feel. Brene continues with, “To believe vulnerability is weakness is to believe that feeling is weakness.”

Have courage to fail.

Writing through vulnerability doesn’t make us weak, it makes us courageous. The definition of courage is, “the ability to do something that frightens one.”

Writing is scary. Not only because our work could be read, but also because it might not be read. It’s scary because we could get it wrong or we could get it right. And not every idea is a good one. What if, our idea is bad or we’re just not good enough.

There are a lot of ‘coulds’ and ‘what ifs’ with writing. Are we sure we should be doing this? Only you can answer that.

In her book, Brene tells the story about a time when she was about to go up on stage, she was the last speaker at a large TED talk, and like anyone in her shoes would be, she was scared and nervous. Before going on the stage, she prayed, “Give me the courage to show up and let myself be seen.” And then as she was walking on the stage she asked herself, “What’s worth doing even if I fail?”

We cannot write every idea that comes our way. Find one that’s worth writing about even if you fail. And be sure to pray for the courage to give your full self to it. If you hold back, you may not be giving your story a fair chance.

Remember, no matter what happens, as long as you’re learning and applying the new knowledge, you’re succeeding.

Have faith that you are enough.

Another way our vulnerability often shows up is in the form of feeling that we’re not enough. That we don’t have what it takes. This is one of the hardest parts about being a writer and a human.

I’m here to tell you this feeling isn’t a true reflection of your talents. Sure, you may have to grow into a project or have to shape the project to meet your perspective, or your project may not go anywhere, but don’t get that confused with not being enough.

If I were a writing teacher, on one of the first days of class we’d talk about this. We’d talk about our fears and vulnerability. We’d talk about how to lift each other up with our critiques. But most importantly, we’d talk about how we are enough. I’d have everyone go around the room and say it. “I am enough.”

So, what is enough?

Think of it this way. For your birthday, you get an expensive pair of shoes and they’re too big. You may try to give the shoes back out of respect for the other person’s wallet. But would you say, I’m not good enough for these shoes? Or, I can never wear them because they’re too big? I hope not.

Hopefully, you’d take the gift as a compliment and either exchange them for a size that you can wear now or wait until you grow into them.

I don’t believe we’d be given story ideas if we weren’t capable of figuring out how to write that story. Not that it’s always easy, but it is possible. And we wouldn’t feel compelled to write if we didn’t have at least the beginning toolset to do so.

If it’s on your heart, then you are enough. You are capable of amazing things. Don’t let fear or vulnerability hold you back.


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