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?

25 comments on “Don’t Discount Your Courage

  1. Eileen says:

    Well said! You’re very brave, to me anyway. You’re no different than any other artist, putting your deepest emotions and thoughts out there for everyone and anyone to pick, prod, like or dislike. Your canvas is paper (virtual paper, of course) and your media is prose! It’s a humbling existence, but once you’ve made the choice to go down the road, bravery is your fuel, and your tank seems pretty full. 😉


    • Thanks, E! And I know this translates to any entrepreneurial enterprise. And that makes you and Rich two of the bravest people I know! I very much appreciate the gift of your reading and support, my friend!


  2. M.L. Swift says:


    Excellent points on courage and bravery. Sometimes the act of taking the next directed step is the most courageous thing we can do. It may not seem like much but it’s Kaizen change, continuous improvement.

    I’ve been seemingly bombarded with a great deal of adverse situations and have two choices: either fold up and throw all this to the wind or take the next directed step and keep plugging away. I choose the latter. Kaizen change.

    You’re a brave man, Charlie Brown. 🙂


    • Ah, I love the concept of Kaizen here, Mike! What a wonderful addition to the conversation. Becoming a successful writer definitely takes systematic and ongoing willingness to change for the better. And being open to having change as a part of one’s system of conduct is definitely a courageous thing. Fantastic!

      Wishing you peace and calm in the face of adversity. Keep it up! I believe in you! 🙂


  3. Julie Luek says:

    I needed to read this today, Vaughn. My theme for the year was: Be Brave. But I’m afraid I haven’t been very courageous to date. I have an idea for a book, but can’t seem to get it out of my head into a form that is interesting and readable (even to me). So instead of fighting through it, I have just kind of neglected it. And of course, you know how that goes, the more you avoid it, the harder it gets to tackle. So I’ve created a cycle that I need to break, and guess what it’s going to take? That’s right. Thank you.


    • You know, of course, that self-awareness is a huge advantage. Score one for you. And that showing up is half the battle itself. I am also sure you know (but I’ll say it anyway) that epiphanies, muse blessings, paradigm shifts, breakthrough ideas–they all come about “through” the work. None of those are things that one can just wait for to appear. When I feel stuck or down about my work, I like taking Mike’s Kaizen concept, by sitting at the keyboard a bit longer each day. Each session is an act of defiant bravery (defying Resistance–which it sounds like you’re up against; have you read Pressfield’s War of Art?).

      So glad the post resonated for you. Thanks for sharing your struggle, Julie! Wishing you the bravery I know is inside of you. Today, tomorrow, and the next day!


  4. Unsheathe thy sword and prepare to slay thy fears! Yes, being a writer takes an incredible amount of courage. From no longer feeling like a poser to assume the glorious label of “writer”, to untangling plot issues in the wee hours of the night, to riding the glorious and torturous waves of rejection and triumph.

    Now that I’m published, I can honestly say all of the pre-pub training of hardship is a must. It prepares you for the roller coaster of reviews, editorial demands, and a thirst to create more, better, beautiful books. A need to say something meaningful.

    You’re a brave soul, Vaughn. It shimmers around you like a halo. Take no prisoners and win this fight!


    • Huzzah! One of my inspirational friends weighs in! 🙂 It’s been a real pleasure watching you succeed, Heather. And it really does lend me courage. I love seeing you post updates on the work you started right after your exciting launch. You exemplify professionalism we can all aspire to.

      Thank you for your kind praise. It means a lot. And thanks for your encouragement and example, my friend!


  5. Yay about Dania! I am so excited. Vahldan and the rest of the crew will not release you, yet and with great reason, no? This is the BRAVE choice. I am looking forward to something amazing. Give Vahldan my regards.


    • B, your generosity, insight, honesty, and encouragement are definitely a big part of that decision. And you are definitely a friend who lends me courage, and resolve. You are one of the bravest people I know. So, from the depths of my heart, thank you!


  6. Heather Reid says:

    To me, even putting one work on a page is brave. You have four books under your belt, each a thing of courage and heart! You have walked the writer’s tight rope, stared down into the abyss, and made it to the other side more than once. Don’t sell yourself short, that takes incredible feats of courage and skill. Being brave doesn’t mean you don’t still have fear. It means you look that fear in the eye, acknowledge it, and move forward anyway. Fear doesn’t go away once you’ve been published, it just takes on a different form and like Heather said, all the pre-published training helps prepare you for what’s to come, and believe me, readers can be harsher judges than some industry professionals.

    ‘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 remember feeling the same way, Vaughn. Here’s my two cents. Only you know what’s right for you writing journey. In some ways it takes more courage to stick with a story you believe in than to throw it away. Honestly, I believe some writers give up on a manuscript too soon, too easily. Drafting is like falling in love. The story is new and fresh. It makes you feel alive. In the excitement, you begin to think ‘this is the one’. Then the drafting is over and reality sets in. You start revising, live with the day to day, sentence to sentence of the story. In the act of taking your work apart again and again, examining it’s ugly flaws, trying to mould and shape it into something better, you forget all the beauty of the story you fell in love with in the first place. The falling in love portion of the writing is done, this is going to take a lot more work than you expected. When those cracks appear and the hard work begins, a lot of writers use that excuse to start a new work, to say ‘this isn’t the one’. The choice, of course, is up to the individual. No word written is ever wasted. I will say that some writers are addicted to drafting, to that first love. I’ve seen it over and over again. They write novel after novel but never really take the time to spit and polish. Don’t get me wrong, you learn a lot from writing a new story. Drafting is important, but drafting and revising are two different skill sets, and in my opinion, revision is the most important of the two. Learning how to self-edit, how to figure out what’s working and what’s not within your own work, and how to fix it are invaluable. To re-write, and revise a story until it works, if that takes ten months or ten years, is invaluable.

    So I say, long live Dania!


    • Damn Heather, there’s a lot of wisdom packed into that comment. Very concisely, I might add. And thank you for confirming that sticking to this series is courageous. That means a lot to me.

      There have been days when I questioned whether I’m up to yet. Another. Rewrite of Bonds (book one of the trilogy). Each one takes me about four to six months. That particular part of the story has lost its luster, for sure. But I have to remind myself to be patient. The jury is still out. And perhaps just some tweaking would do it. Just not sure yet.

      But one thing I know is that, even if I start with the prequel, I am staying in this story world. I feel it both in my heart and my gut–this is a place and a group of characters readers will enjoy exploring. If I can just present it in the proper form (it’s the writer’s limitation, not the story’s).

      You have been a huge inspiration, Heather! I’m so proud of you, and glad to have you in my life. You are another one who lends me courage. You’ve really shown your bravery, particularly since you published Pretty Dark Nothing. Thanks for your encouragement and for sharing your wisdom here, and for being such a great role model, my friend! Onward! 🙂


  7. ddfalvo says:

    I love Tonia’s inspiring drive for Being Brave in 2014.
    Like you, I’ve been pondering what that means to me in my quest to complete my epic, and like you, I am fully committed to my characters, my settings, and their journey.
    If I’m truly fearful of anything it’s that time keeps slipping through my fingers–devoured by the too many obstacles that grow like weeds. I spend less time on SM these days in order to carve out the hours I need. I miss the interaction, but our WU tribe is always present and ready to lend support and grace for the absent fold members. And then there’s the wonderful blog posts, like yours, that remind me why I keep trying hard to make it all work.

    Thank you for keeping the torch for bravery burning bright and continuing to inspire us all, as always.


    • You’re another generous soul who’s done so much to keep me going over the years, D. So I’m very happy to hear that posts like these contribute to returning the favor. Reminds me of that old Steve Miller Band song: “Time keeps on slippin’ slippin’ slippin, Into the future…” So true! From what I know and have seen of your world and your characters, you absolutely owe it to us to continue and ultimately deliver them to us! 🙂

      I know everybody misses the light you bring to our community, but you’re right–this is a bunch of people who will always be there for us. I appreciate it as much as I know you do! Thank you! Hang in there, D!


  8. I think I’ve told you more than once, but not only have you become a dear friend, fellow partner-in-literary-crime, confidante, music buddy, but my mentor as well. I once read an article about choosing mentors. Choosing people we want to be more like in our lives and our careers. I do observe you- your wisdom, talent, energy, and kindness. I’ve learned a lot from you, and I continue to all the time. Yes, you’ve shown tremendous courage. You’ve accomplished much. Reading your first book, I’ve taken notes on the way you bring a new world to life, the textures and complexities of your characters and their histories.

    Thank you for the shout-out, and thank you for the advice you gave me concerning feeling like a fraud. Just so you know, you’ve made a rough week a better one. 🙂


    • Such a kind and humbling comment from someone I admire. I’m honored to call you my friend, Tonia. I’m glad to have made your week a better one.

      And you’re certainly no slouch when it comes to breathing life into a unique world on the page! I’m honored that my work could provide any inspiration of that sort. Your talent is so vibrant, so bold. It’s rare that writers need only to refine their craft, to find their perfect pitch while singing so exuberantly. In my experience, it’s usually it’s the opposite (needing to bring it to life and to learn to be bolder). I think you have a rare and lovely gift. Keep it up! It’s not that you’re closer to the finish line than you think–you’re streaking down a whole other track, running your own race. It’s a beautiful thing to behold. 🙂

      Thanks again for your kind words, and for inspiring me–for this post and so much more.


  9. Rick Bylina says:

    I left the corporate world thirteen years ago to write. I was called crazy, never courageous nor brave. My detractors (family, friends, strangers, unicorns that inhabit my woods) may have been right from a financial aspect, but they may also have never burned from a singular unquenchable desire that eschews creature comforts. My body has been bruised by harsh reviews and critiques; scars from countless editorial trashings criss-cross my soul; my gnarled fingers have screamed in agony from extended periods of rewriting, revising, and reconsidering a story’s right to exist. Yet, I fight for that perfect sentence, the uplifting paragraph, the story that inspires strangers and the friends who inspire me with their own epic battles for publication and independent validation both won and lost. Though I often flail wildly at windmills, sometimes they really are giants that need to be mowed down by the desire to write. Don’t be brave for 2014. Be brave for an eternity. The only rule: writers write!


    • I know the feeling. Damn unicorns. 😉 No few still think I’m crazy. And not all of them because I quit the corporate world to write. It’s obvious that you’ve earned your veteran status. And great points: “Be brave for eternity,” and “writers write!” Here’s to tilting at windmills. Particularly the kind that are giants that need mowing. Thanks for the inspiration and the great comment, Rick!


  10. liz says:

    Such great inspiration, both in your blog post and in the comments! I think being any kind of artist requires courage these days, especially in publishing, where the bar changes so fast. You’ve created such a great, safe community on your blog where we can all be brave together.


    • Hi Liz! I’m so glad to be able to offer inspiration to someone who inspires me! I feel very blessed today to have this wonderful group of friends, willingly sharing their light and gifts here. Hope you’re having a wonderful weekend!


  11. I really like the outline of those four steps to feedback–though it wasn’t a new idea to me, I’ve never seen it presented in such a way. It’s true that we need to DECIDE we need feedback before actually pursuing that feedback, and it’s true that reacting to the feedback is a different thing from implementing it. I really like it. And I have spent a significant amount of time convincing people that step 1 is important, sadly. Thanks for putting it into words. And I’m glad to hear about your commitment. 🙂


    • Hey Julie! I’m delighted that the breakdown makes sense to you, and that the post resonates. Each step takes deliberation, which requires courage. And I think acknowledging our progress fuels the courage needed to move forward. Thanks so much for reading and weighing in! Hope your journey is proceeding on a smooth path these days. Have a great weekend! 🙂


  12. I know I’m late to this (it’s been a crazy winter), but I wanted to say that I can really relate to the seeking feedback/critique and how bravery is required. I just sent my latest manuscript out to beta readers including two whom I’m very nervous about. Here’s to reaching out to others for feedback and support, even when it’s not so easy. And thank goodness for the support of others (like you I’m fortunate in that department). Great post and reminders, Vaughn!


    • Hey Julia! You are always most welcome, whenever you arrive. 🙂 I’m not sure how many times I’ve done it, but for me hitting the send button on a manuscript is still one of the toughest things about this gig. I’m glad I was able to remind you of your courage. Thanks so much for sharing, and best of luck with your beta-readers (particularly the nervous-making pair). Here’s to the support of great friends!


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