Just A Pup

FourLeaf's Surfer Girl, aka Gidget - 7 weeks old

FourLeaf’s Surfer Girl, aka Gidget – 7 weeks old

A Difficult Circle to Draw: Those of you who know me know that I am a dog lover. The last time I wrote a canine-connected post here was in February, when I delivered the sad news of the loss of our beloved Belle. I genuinely appreciate the outpouring of heartfelt condolences and support the post initiated. It was a very healing process, indeed.

We still sorely miss our Belle. The loss lingers, hitting us in unexpected ways. Today’s post is about dealing with the opposite—with the circle of life starting over again. And yet, as you’ll see, there are surprising similarities between the two extremes. If we are Facebook friends, you undoubtedly know that we have a new puppy in our lives. The steady stream of photos there are sort of my version of Rafiki holding up Simba for the appraisal of the realm.Rafiki displaying Simba

FourLeaf’s Surfer Girl, a.k.a. Gidget, arrived in our home at seven weeks of age in mid-May. She’s fourteen weeks old to the day as of the writing of this post. And she’s mostly adorable (I’ve heard people joke that puppies are cute so that we don’t kill them – I am once again reminded how bitingly funny that joke is). And quite often she’s even fun to have around. And so, in spite of life’s occasional trials and sorrows, the circle continues.

Consumed by Chaos: Gidget has now lived exactly half her life with us, and in some ways it feels like half a lifetime to me, too. It’s embarrassing to admit, but the chaos of having a puppy has more or less consumed my life these past seven weeks. The bursts of unbridled energy combined with a mouthful of needle teeth and no concept of manners can be utterly exhausting. Thank God puppies sleep sixteen to eighteen hours a day. Any more hours of that level of vitality would make raising one nigh unbearable. I’d forgotten what a relief it is to close a kennel door (as I did just before starting this post).

All of this gives me a renewed sense of appreciation for those of you who have kids and jobs outside of the house, let alone a pet (or pets), and still manage to get some writing done. I can see that it’s going to take much more focus from me, and rapid improvement from our new family member, for me to get my current rewrite done anytime soon.

Lessons at the Near End of the Leash: Sometimes I feel a bit of resentment for having to deal with such a turbulent presence in our house, in the stead of my dear lost writing partner. And I suffer occasional pangs of guilt over my increasing affection for Gidget (it’s not logical, but it feels like a betrayal to Belle). And yet I think having had so much of my attention and effort tied up in caring for and training our new family member has had its benefits. It’s a diversion from loss and grief over her predecessor. The overall experience has been a healing one. And, when I pay heed to the being at the near end of the leash, it’s been enlightening and growth inducing as well.

So, without further ado (and before she wakes up, and I’m back at it), I give you Gidget’s Puppy Lessons for Writers:

Pink puppy collar (9 weeks)*“Aww, isn’t that cute?” Sure, a puppy seems to be as cute as a cartoon character, or a stuffed animal. At least from the outside looking in. I’m always shocked when a parent blithely encourages a very small and unsteady child to approach and touch an animal that can’t possibly be relied upon to behave; one that is also teething and has a mouthful of fishhooks. I know—they’re just playing, right? I’d remind you how rough retriever pups’ play is by showing you the scars on my hands and arms. It’s nothing that won’t heal, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t sting.

It’s very similar to when outsiders hear that you are a writer, isn’t it? You can almost hear it in their voices: “Aww, isn’t that cute?” They think we’re cartoon characters, scribbling down our little stories—livin’ the dream. They can’t know about the angst the blank page can induce, or the fortitude it takes to overcome writerly dread and hit the send button—to feel the sting of even a playfully tough critique. When someone’s stroking me about how great the writer’s life must be, it’s almost enough to make me want to unexpectedly bite. “What? I was just playing,” I’d say. “It’ll heal.”

Gidget’s Lesson: Although it takes time and maturity, we can inhibit our antisocial impulses, and learn to appreciate that those who pay attention to us mostly mean well. We know that no one really likes a rough patting on the head, but those who pat are oblivious. So just take it in the spirit in which it’s intended, and move on.

*Renewed Sense of Wonder: When was the last time you really appreciated the dew on every blade of grass, or marveled at the grace of a dragonfly? How about the splendor of the sun reflecting on the lake, or the rhythm of waves lapping on the shore? What about the feel of sun-warmed sand on your belly? How evocative is the echoing honking of a passing flock of geese in the gray of dawn? I must admit, it had been a while since I was up that early, let alone stopped and watched geese flying over. But I got chills in watching my puppy’s wide-eyed appraisal.Digging in the dune (10 weeks)

To a puppy everything is new. Every person is a marvel, there to be met and known. Every other animal is a magnificent wonder. Every new dog is a potential best friend.

Gidget’s Lesson: Seeing the world through a puppy’s eyes is a real gift. Life’s fascinating details can become peripheral to our attention if we don’t take note. And isn’t the best writing born of noticing?

*There Is No Finish Line: I keep wondering when this puppy thing will be over. When do those needle teeth fall out again? How long before we can rely on her to come when we call? When will she just chill out with us while we read or watch TV? When will she become my writing partner, and hang out in my office with me during the day (without demanding three-quarters of my attention)?

It’s pretty easy to remember the latter halves of Belle’s and Maggie’s lives, when they were ideal companions. It’s convenient to forget the years of training and the frustrating days along the way. For the first three years of Belle’s life, if she found a dead fish on the beach, the only thing on her mind was whether to roll on it or eat it (depending on the state of rot, I suppose). Paying heed to my bellowing was not even on her radar. And yet, at some point, we could easily call her off of a dead fish. It took time, patience, and a lot of soapy baths to get there. Even then, heaven knows she was no angel. Heaven also knows that her selective hearing loss was not due to her advancing age so much as to her lifelong bouts of stubbornness.

Gidget’s Lesson: This lesson is more of a reminder. Raising a canine companion is about the evolution of a relationship. The bonding and the improved reliability are gradual. It takes daily dedication and practice. And there are going to be setbacks. When reversals happen, all that can be done is to begin again. (I think the similarity to the evolution of the writing life is evident without further explanation, don’t you?)

Staying Playful:

Gidget Goes to the beach (8 weeks)

“Dogs and people aren’t normal mammals. Most mammals play a lot when they’re young and then gradually become more sedate… There are few other animals, besides dogs and humans, who also show high levels of play as adults…Overall, the young of any species are much quicker to welcome change than their elders… From a broad perspective, adult humans are amazingly flexible compared to the adults of other species. Our love of play goes hand in hand with that flexibility, and it’s one of the defining characteristics of our bond with our dogs.” ~Patricia B. McConnell, Ph.D. (from The Other End of the Leash)

Some days I think I’m getting too old for this puppy thing. On a recent trying day I even told my wife that I thought this was the last time. “The next one’s going to be an adult rescue,” I vowed. But on the good days, I’m not so sure. And history indicates I have a short memory for these types of vows. Perhaps Gidget is just the ticket to shaking this staid writer back to flexibility—both physically and mentally. A reminder to stay playful, about my work and my life, might be just what I need right now.

First water fetch (12 weeks)I’ve noticed that, through happenstance during play, Gidget is learning and growing. By being interested in a toy bumper, and chasing it, she’s learned both to swim and retrieve—both important aspects of the serious work of her lineage. Labs were originally bred to haul nets in the frigid Atlantic, after all. Through play, she’s gaining the skills and the aptitude for work. And it’ll be work she’ll enjoy for the rest of her life.

Gidget sees every waking hour as a chance to play. Perhaps I should take that approach to my own work. Perhaps that’s not such a bad thing to stay a pup.

Paying Homage to Predecessors:  I said at the onset that there were surprising similarities to this post and the one I wrote after Belle’s passing. The lessons I note that Belle taught me are about patience, finding the joy in chaos, showing up every day, and that a job well-done was reward in and of itself. I’ll be damned if those aren’t lessons needed for raising a puppy. I also once wrote that because of Maggie before her, Belle had a specially blessed life. Now it’s Belle’s turn to pass along the blessing.

Not a day goes by that I am not grateful to Belle for the lessons she taught me—lessons so keenly needed now. And she’s there for me when I lose my patience, too—reminding me that I can do this. Belle reminds me that if I could survive her puppyhood, I can deal with just about anything the world dishes up. I close my eyes, then look skyward and take a deep breath, and I realize this puppy will be worth it.

So I will end this post as I ended that last one, by publicly restating: “Thank you, Miss. For everything—for all the lessons, all the stories, all the laughs and tears. I promise you, they will not go to waste. I will never forget.” It’s important to remind myself, because I’m still learning, still growing. It’s important because, after all, in many respects I’m really still just a pup.

I'm a big girl - Gidget at 14 weeks.

I’m a big girl – Gidget at 14 weeks.

How about you? Are just still “just a pup”? Give me your puppy stories. Do they apply to your writing journey? 

Author Journeys Interview – Redirect to John Robin’s Blog

 Autumn HazelhurstWU–Friendship Fountainhead: I’ve recently gotten to know a fellow fantasy writer, John Robin, and you’ll never guess where. Just kidding. I know you’ve guessed we became acquainted through Writer Unboxed–where else? John was kind enough to select me as his first subject for a new series he’s calling Author Journeys. I’m grateful. In the process, John and I discovered we have much in common as writers. I’m looking forward to watching his journey unfold.

The Road Goes Ever On: I’ve been interviewed before, and I’ve interviewed others, but John’s offer came at a good time for me. I recently came to a fork in my writerly road, and I’ve finally decided which path forward I will take. I haven’t abandoned the trilogy, but I’m going to set it aside for a few months. I think a break from book one rewrites will do me some good. Instead I have been working on a rewrite of my fourth manuscript, The Severing Son, which is the story of the rise and fall of Vahldan the Bold–the father of Thaedan, the primary protagonist of the the trilogy. It’s a long one–the longest of four very long manuscripts. I can now see how this book can be broken into yet another trilogy–one that will precede The Broken Oaths trilogy.  Two of my very dear friends and colleagues have been gracious enough to read The Severing Son and their praise and insightful critique have me very excited to dig into the project. Hopefully the work will lead me back to a rewrite of book one of Broken Oaths with a fresh outlook.

So you see, the chosen path will most likely lead me back to the characters that brought me to this crazy-making dance. It may be the long way around, but it seems fitting. I’ve rarely taken the easy road, but I continue to learn a lot along the way.

Please head over to John’s blog, and share a bit of your journey, and take a minute to check out what John is up to.  Happy Independence Day to my American friends. Happy summer to all!

Written To Death – Writer Unboxed Redirect

Caspar_David_Friedrich_-_A_Walk_at_DuskOnce again, I am honored to have one of my essays featured on Writer Unboxed. I never quite know when these opportunities might arise, and it seems a bit unfortunate to me that I chose a fairly heavy topic (death) and that my chance occurred on a sunny (here in the Mighty Mitten, anyway) early summer Friday. It may be a heavy subject, but I tried to keep my take lighthearted. Those of you who’ve read my work know that I do not shy away from the topic on the page. And I’m fairly certain that upon closer examination, death plays a role in your work as well. After all, death is a part of life. Hence, it should be a part of story.

On that sunny note, Happy Friday, everyone. Please smile as you head over and check out Written to Death, on the best darn writing blog on the interwebs, and the mothership to my writing community, Writer Unboxed.

Story Research – Letting the Brain Assist the Heart

Research BooksAn Intricate Mess:

“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, then what are we to think of an empty desk?” ~Albert Einstein

I’ve written about my approach to world-building before, in general here, and in regards to names and naming here. But my friend Heather Reed recently undertook a new historical fantasy project, and she asked me specifically about my approach to researching the Broken Oaths trilogy. In looking back at my notes, I’m both excited for her and amazed.

Excited because they remind me of the adventure of the hunt, and the thrill of discovery. But amazed by the wide and disparate variety of sources that I mined for my story elements. In wading through what can only be called a disorganized mess, it’s a wonder that I was able to arrive at anything coherent.

This is one of the reasons I subscribe to the notion of a story muse. I’m the antithesis of organized, which seems contrary to being a good researcher. And yet somehow I was able to pull a story out of my intricate mess.

As an example, I give you my namey-namer cheat-sheet (see photo). It’s a simple 81/2” x 11” sheet of plainLOBO Cheat-sheet white paper that started out as a short list of possible character names. It’s now covered, front and back, with hundreds of names and obscure references. Please note there is very little means of organization, other than a handful of breakdowns by character group. And yet it continues to serve me well. I’m not sure how I find such a crazy resource helpful, but every time I need to check a name, this is my go-to reference. Honestly, I rarely need it. It’s mostly in issues such as: “Now what’s that secondary character’s grandmother’s name again?” And somehow I know what part of which side to look to find gramma’s name. This from a guy who honestly can’t recall his own phone number. Go figure.

Getting Wet:

“Pearls do not lie on the seashore. He who desires one must dive.” ~Chinese Proverb

We’re in the information age, right? And with so much access to a mighty river of information, the toughest part is going to be finding the tributaries and offshoots that apply to your story. In order to do that, sticking your toe in will not do. You’re going to have to get wet.

JORDANES Origins & Deeds of the GothsAnd you never know where the currents will carry you. For example, my quest for original source material about the Goths swiftly revealed a scarcity. Which is why I was so excited to find one of the few existing documents about the Goths by a Goth—Jordanes’ The Origin and Deeds of the Goths. Although I quickly realized Jordanes was writing about previous generations with few specific references and an obvious quantity of bluster, one note caught my attention and held it. He claimed that the Greek myth of the Amazons originated with the Ancient Greeks’ discovery of a group of Goth women whose husbands and sons had left them on the north shore of the Black Sea to raid in Persia and Egypt. I was fascinated, and it led to months of study of the Amazons and related myths and topics. And ultimately, to my creation of the Skolani—an all-female warrior sect that plays a prominent role in all of my work. All from a paragraph in an ancient treatise. There were no kickass warrior women on my radar at the onset, but oh-how-glad I am that I was willing to dive and found my way to them. They are most certainly a pearl.

There’s a lot to take in, on most any subject. But it’s difficult to pick and choose your sources. I say dive in and let it wash over you. Go with the flow. You might end up somewhere you like.

Panning For Gold:

“The subconscious is a hundred times smarter than we are. We’re just taking dictation.” ~Steven Pressfield

In hindsight, I wish I’d worried less about delving for specifics. I wish I’d gone in with only the idea that I was going to educate myself and feed my enthusiasm, knowing the rest would more or less take care of itself. Because that’s what ended up happening.

As another example, in my research of the Goths, I began by broadly perusing subjects pertaining to the Germanic Tribes at the height of the Roman Empire. I studied their social structure and kingship. I went on to study their laws and mores, settlement layouts, agriculture, games and amusements, clothing and jewelry, migration (causes and effects), and their weapons and warfare. What I really wanted was more specific information about how they governed themselves. Sadly, there is little information, and much of it is conflicting.

futhark ring hiltsBut in the course of my search, as I studied the last topic—weapons and warfare—I now see what became the roots of my solution. There is an entry in my notes from a book called Battle-ax People, by Olivia Vlahos. The note pertains to the expense and significance of swords, and how certain swords became important relics passed from father to son, occasionally symbolizing a legacy of chieftainship. From another book called The Everyday Life of Barbarians: Goths, Franks, and Vandals, by Malcom Todd, I note that some important swords are inscribed with oaths, and occasionally such oaths appeared in the form of rune rings, attached to the hilt. The two notes are only a few sentences each, and were taken several months apart. And yet they clearly led to the Futhark swords of the Gottari ruling clans—the symbolic relics which represent the leadership of my two ruling clans.

I don’t see any notation that I’d put the two together—inherited swords symbolic of leadership and rune rings on hilts—at the time. But when it came time to outline, a symbol was needed, and there they were: the Futhark swords. I invented much of the rest of the elements of their governance from other tidbits gleaned over the course of my research, and it all fell into place once I had the Futhark swords. So I’d advise you not to bother looking for bright baubles as you go. Just scoop it in. Your muse (or your subconscious) will sift through for the gems.

Take It From Me (Or Don’t):

It might seem silly, now that you’ve read this far, that a guy who admits he’s a disorganized and somewhat aimless researcher is now going to give you advice on researching. But I am (going to give advice, not silly—or is it both?). Take it or leave it. It’s all in good fun (as any research for fiction should be).

*Find your passion! As I say, this should be fun. If you’re passionate about your subject or era, your research will not only be easy, but a pleasure—something you’ll look forward to doing.

*Give yourself ENOUGH time, but not ENDLESS time. If you’re having fun researching, as you should, you might find a point of diminishing returns. At some point we all have to stop researching and start writing.

*Start online, but zero in with books. Nothing beats the internet for gaining a broader understanding of a topic or era. But you’ll soon realize that if you want any depth and citation, you need to go to books. I buy as many as I can, but for most of us, trips to the library become an indispensable part of any major research project.

*Don’t be afraid to follow the rabbit down the hole. I think I’ve pretty well illustrated this point. If you’re writing about Goths and Romans in the 4th Century AD, don’t be afraid to spend a few months chasing Amazons across Ancient Greece and beyond. Or something along those lines.LOBO Research Notes

 Let Your Brain Assist Your Heart:

“I’ve noticed this effect: When writers undertake to write a story, the insights and information they need to write it well tend to arrive unasked for. Those things arrive at the right moments, perfectly timed gifts from the story god.

Or, is it rather that an author’s brain, working on a story, begins to grab available information and synthesize it, which is to say bend, blend and meld it to the purposes of the story?

Is it magic, serendipity or synthesis? Whatever it is, I don’t think it’s accidental. I think authors make it happen. It’s the brain assisting the heart.” ~Donald Maass

Don’s quote above is from a comment he made on a wonderful WU post this week. The post is largely about the mysterious and seemingly random serendipity of the power of the brain, by Maureen Seaberg, the co-author of Struck by Genius. And, as he often does, for me Don took the post to a whole new level.

The Dreamer, by Caspar David Friedrich (1835)I allotted a year to research when I began my manuscript in earnest. And I ended up with a pile of notebooks even larger than the one pictured above. But once I started writing, I rarely dug through that disorganized mess (perhaps in part because it was disorganized). The insights and information I needed tended to arrive as perfectly timed gifts from the story god. Or did my brain somehow know better than my conscious self which bits to grasp and gather, to then “bend, blend and meld to the purposes of the story”? Either way, I’m glad I somehow found my way to allowing my brain to assist my heart.

Moving forward, I’m hoping I can repeat the process, but I’m not too worried. I’ve already stumbled onto streams that have led my subconscious to begin the bending, blending and melding all over again.

Now it’s your turn. Is your research organized? Do your notebooks have color-coded tabs and an index? Do you trust that your brain will know better than your conscious self, and will assist your heart?

Chatting With A Hero – A Video Interview of Therese Walsh

ThereseDefining “Hero”: So I was sitting here wondering how to title this post. I jotted the words: “Chatting With A Hero.” Then I wondered if I was overselling (I’m sure she’d humbly say as much). But a hero is someone admired for their courage or outstanding achievements. And, I would add, someone who inspires courage or the aspiration of others to strive for the outstanding. I was surprised when I googled “hero” to find the words “typically a man” in their definition. I consider quite a few women to be heroes, my wife first and foremost. So then I wondered if I should switch it to “heroine.” But that word seemed to relegate the subject to the pages of a story or the script of a movie. And Therese Walsh is definitely a real-life, flesh-and-blood person that I admire; for her courage, for her example in persevering to accomplish the outstanding, and for her inspiration. She fits the billing. So hero it is.

An “Interesting” Experiment: What (I hope) you are about to witness is an experiment. I’ve never really interviewed anyone, let alone in a video format. But when Therese and I stumbled across the idea, I thought that it would be a lot of fun, at the very least. And it was. But in hindsight, it also gave me a huge appreciation for those who interview writers they admire, and for those who do so on camera all the more. I hope you’ll forgive my inexperience but, as I said, at least it was a lot of fun. And although I’m not the most experienced moderator of such a discussion (we occasionally got a little carried away, enjoying our shared passion for writing), thankfully my subject is interesting and wise and her new book is wonderful. These things, I think, come clear throughout our occasionally rambling discussion. Besides, as I said, T inspires me. And I’m willing to bet she’ll inspire you, too.

So, without further ado, please enjoy my discussion of a new favorite book of mine, The Moon Sisters, with its author–my hero and friend, Therese Walsh.

(Side Note: The reason I’m laughing at the opening is that I couldn’t get our Skype session to record. My guest was not only gracious during my 20 minute technical struggle, she googled the problem and read the step-by-step solution to me as I fumbled to success.)

About The Moon Sisters:

“The night before the worst day of my life, I dreamed the sun went dark and ice cracked every mirror in the house, but I didn’t take it for a warning.”

After their mother’s probable suicide, sisters Olivia and Jazz are figuring out how to move on with their lives. Jazz, logical and forward-thinking, decides toThe Moon Sisters get a new job, but spirited, strong-willed Olivia, who can see sounds, taste words, and smell sights, is determined to travel to the remote setting of their mother’s unfinished novel to say her final goodbyes and lay their mother’s spirit to rest.

Already resentful of Olivia’s foolish quest and her family’s insistence upon her involvement, Jazz is further aggravated when they run into trouble along the way and Olivia latches on to a worldly train-hopper who warns he shouldn’t be trusted. As Jazz and Olivia make their way toward their destination, each hiding something from the other, their journey toward acceptance of their mother’s death becomes as important as their journey to understand each other and themselves.

Buy the book! (Yes, now, before you forget.) 

About Therese Walsh: 

Therese’s second novel, The Moon Sisters, was published in hard cover on March 4th, 2014 by Crown (Random House). Her debut, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, was named one of January Magazine’s Best Books of 2009, was nominated for a RITA award for Best First Book, and was a TARGET Breakout Book.

Therese is the co-founder of Writer Unboxed, a site that’s visited daily by thousands of writers interested in the craft and business of fiction.

Before turning to fiction, she was a researcher and writer for Prevention magazine, and then a freelance writer. She’s had hundreds of articles on nutrition and fitness published in consumer magazines and online. She has a master’s degree in psychology.

Aside from writing, her favorite things include music, art, crab legs, Whose Line is it Anyway?, dark chocolate, photography, unique movies and novels, people watching, strong Irish tea, and spending time with her husband, two kids and their Jack Russell.

Visit Therese: At Her Website, On Twitter, and On Facebook:

Your turn! What are the unique aspects of your writing process? Have you read either of Therese’s books? If not, what are you waiting for? Could there be a more gracious interview subject, or a more bumbling interviewer? Please share your thoughts in the comments. 

The Arts & Crafts of Writing Fiction – Writer Unboxed Redirect

Horseshoe Front door 1Having one of my essays featured on Writer Unboxed is always a thrill and a distinct honor for me. Since I always say this, may I attempt to explain? As most of you know, it’s the Mothership blog of my writing community. It’s so special for me because it’s the first place I found that I felt the empathy and specific, relevant instruction that one can only feel from others undergoing the same journey. It’s a special sense of belonging, and it’s ongoing. And I hold the founders and regular contributors in such high esteem.

This time around, I wanted to demonstrate how my love of all things Arts and Crafts fits into my philosophy on writing. Some of you might have read my post on what building our Arts & Crafts bungalow taught me about writing, which might give you some idea. This time I delve a little deeper into the A&C Writer’s lifestyle I strive to live. It’s about how beauty can be found in simplicity and functionality (like our front door and Pewabic pottery–a few of my favorite Arts & Crafts possessions). So please head over to Writer Unboxed and join the conversation. A&C Pottery

Don’t Discount Your Courage

the-frontiersman-N.C. Wyeth (1911)Reflecting on my Deflecting: I’ve been deflecting. Ever since my friend Tonia Marie Harris, an inspiring and courageous writer in her own right, started her #BeBraveIn2014 campaign a few months ago. Each time the topic arises among my friends I say something along the lines of, “I’m not sure what being brave this year will mean for me.” I said it again recently on a small group thread, and in response Tonia posted a fabulous (and inspiring!) post called What Being a Brave Writer Means to Me. You should go read it.

As great as Tonia’s essay is, I still don’t know. Sounds like a cop-out, doesn’t it? Sorry. But the post got me reflecting on courage. In the interest of showing my support for the #BeBrave theme, I do know that in whichever direction the next steps of my writing journey lead, it will take courage to take them. And I am committed to taking them.

A Bit of ‘Smalley’ Talk: I hate to get all Stuart Smalley, but, okay—haul out the looking glass. Let’s sit stuart_smalleyand have a little affirmation together, you and I. Say it with me: I’m good enough, strong enough…

But seriously, I realize that I’ve already taken some steps that require courage. And I’m pretty sure you have too. And I think it’s important that we acknowledge these things once in a while. In the interest of affirming my own fleetingly-felt courage, and fostering yours, I’ll want to share a few of the brave bits of the writer I’ve become.

“Courage is knowing the sum of all your fears, and proceeding anyway.” 

*I Am A Writer, Dammit: I’m not sure how many years I dreaded the inevitable question. You know the one, at the dreaded social event—the kind where you meet strangers, and they almost always say: “So, what do you do?”

I’m not even sure how I finally got over it, but I’m beyond the squirming and the hemming and hawing (not to mention the dissembling that preceded it). I can now, without batting an eye, say, “I’m a writer.” And unsurprisingly, the more unhesitant the assertion, the less they prod you about it.

For me this took time and practice which, in hindsight, resembles courage. Small steps of it, but courageous steps nonetheless. I now realize most new acquaintances are not asking to see your tax returns, or looking for a way to judge you. Most just want some interesting small talk (and the others shouldn’t matter to me anyway). They’re looking to get through the dreaded social event, same as you. Talking about writing really isn’t so bad (after all, it’s why we’re here, right?). And if they aren’t interested, or if you find it uncomfortable, you can always throw it back: “And you?” Problem solved (most people love to talk about themselves).

*I’ve finished something: Four somethings, actually. Sure, I recognize that all four of my manuscripts are all still works-in-progress. And they will be until they are published. But I persevered through to “The End” four times now. It takes a leap of faith and no small amount of resolve to finish a manuscript. As Barbara O’Neal recently said in a great post on Writer Unboxed: “Over and over I have said to you that writing requires such a weird combination of gifts and faults that anyone who has written a novel hasn’t done it by accident. The work called you, made you insane for it, and you followed. The world might not understand that, but I do. So does everyone else here.”

By “everyone else here,” she means us. Those of you who’ve finished a draft know. And I’m sure that those of you who haven’t yet are determined enough to know it, too. It’s not just that it doesn’t happen by accident. The faith and resolve required throughout are borne, in some measure, by courage. Regardless of what we face afterward, we should own it.

*I’ve Submitted to Feedback’s Four Stages: This is something ongoing for me. And I think all four stages require some measure of courage. They are: 1-Acknowledge I need feedback. 2- Actively seek it. 3- Evaluate it without reacting (or overreacting) to it. 4- Formulating a plan based on it, and purposefully executing that plan.

I must admit, I still struggle mightily with this one. My stomach still twists every damn time I hit the send button. And I’m jittery each time I hear back from someone reading—both excited and terrified. Initially, I’m usually overly focused on the negative (often to the point of being temporarily blind to praise). I remind myself that everyone who takes the time to read and provide any amount of critique is offering a great gift. One they most likely would not offer if they didn’t believe in me. Their belief lends me the necessary courage to endure the stages. But lent or not, it’s courage nonetheless.

*I’ve decided I’m committed to Dania! This last one is rather personal. And some might interpret it as stubbornness rather than courage. But it feels like courage to me.

Allow me to explain. It seems like every time I turn around someone is advocating that writers should be willing to shelve a manuscript and move on. Especially a first manuscript. I’ll admit to occasionally considering it—wondering if this might be “the brave thing to do.” But let me tell you, nothing gets my characters riled up like considering shelving them. They invade my brain in open revolt. Makes it tough to sleep, let alone consider other courses forward.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that I cannot abandon them. And it’s not just to quell the voices in my head… Well, maybe that’s part of it. But after all we’ve been through together, after all they’ve taught me, after all the laughs and the tears, I feel like I owe it to them to make the books worthy of their ongoing inspiration. It’s fitting, since so many of them are brave. I know they make me a braver writer. (Even if some of them are also pretty damn stubborn.)

Eowyn and MerryThe Courage of Friends: I hope I was able to remind you of your own bravery. But I know I’m more lucky than brave. My writing journey is blessed with the time to write, and the perfect place to do it. I am blessed by a loving spouse who not only encourages and supports me, but who reads and offers brilliant input and suggestions. I have friends who read and believe in me, and who pick me up when I am down. Thank you, one and all.

In contrast, there are writers I know and have heard about who overcome so much to pursue their literary dreams. I routinely hear the stories of writers who struggle to find an hour or less a day to write (often at the expense of sleep); of writers who overcome health issues and difficult living conditions to practice their craft; of writers who continue to write with little or no support or encouragement; even writers who write in spite of the discouragement or open opposition of those who surround them. These are the truly brave writers. I am humbled and inspired by their efforts.

What about you? Have you given yourself credit for your courage? In what ways are you a brave writer? Are you inspired by your friends?