courage in your writing

“Writing, true writing, requires a level of commitment most people can’t even imagine. You need passion and discipline and incredible amounts of courage.”Robert Dunbar

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I’ve always recognized passion and discipline as necessary elements of writing, but after reading Mr. Dunbar’s interview at TQR Confidential, I started thinking about courage and how it relates to my writing.

An incredible amount of courage is exactly what it took for me to pick up a laptop and begin An Autumn Tale. I had not written fiction for over twenty years, and I wasn’t sure if I could even do it again. Armed with nothing more than a synopsis and an outline, I took up Lucian’s story, and before I was two pages into An Autumn Tale, Lucian’s voice resonated in my mind.

No one must ever doubt the courage necessary for a writer to show their work to another individual. Joining a critique group was one of the hardest things I’ve done. I took several early hits by a few members who were very unhappy with Christians as a whole, and their prejudices were reflected in their critiques. They wanted a nice politically correct pat on the page and were so busy criticizing superficial symbols they missed the underlying meaning of Lucian’s journey.

At this point I stopped and reconsidered my story. I could have made up a religion and given it Christian elements, but Lucian and his story wouldn’t have been the same. I would be writing a novel based on someone else’s world views, not those of my characters. I instinctively knew it would be cheating to make my characters anything other than Christian.

I kept my courage and didn’t deviate from the religious undertones. I was rewarded with the fine critique partners I currently have. They inspire me, and they never tell me what I want to hear. Instead, they guide me toward what they believe will make my story better. They make me re-examine my characters and their motivations by telling me where they feel like I’m taking the easy way out. They force me improve my prose.

If editors shy from An Autumn Tale because of the novel’s themes, I’m not afraid. I have another story, you see. It’s simmering in the darkness of my heart right now, and I can feel Guillermo’s sad tale beginning to emerge. He is a man suffering a terrible curse that only true love can dispel, but the road to love is surreptitious, and Guillermo isn’t prepared for the sacrifice his salvation requires.

You see, I’ve found my courage in my writing. I don’t want to write pop-candy nor do I want to write obscure prose. I want to entertain you, but I also want you to think about yourself as you read.

So I look deep into my soul and show you the nightmares that plague my dreams. My characters will crawl into their fears, but before I am done, I will raise them up into the light. I am not afraid of taking a chance, and if you come with me, I’ll tell you a story, and if you look closely, you might see yourself in the tale.

How do you express your courage in your writing? Do you take chances with your themes and characters? Or do you play it safe?


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21 Responses to courage in your writing

  1. kat magendie says:

    You know, I never knew how much “courage” I’d need until I wrote a book and it was published – and then, how much more I’d have to push aside the fear when I wrote the 2nd and it will be coming out. To put yourself out there like this can be exciting, but it can be terrifying too!

    • Teresa says:

      Hi Kat! I thought it was so exhilarating to read your blog last year as Tender Graces was being published. Your wonderful attitude was what sustained me during those first few months of crits from my critique group. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. kat magendie says:

    and as to your comment – that sounds good to me *smiling* thank you, T

  3. lawrenceez says:

    Hi Teresa,

    I’m struggling with the courage a bit at present. My story needs to reflect current concerns in society and I tend to shy away from those.

    Great article, and so well written.

    • Teresa says:

      Thanks, Lawrence! I know those kinds of issues can really be hard to wrestle with, because you don’t want the social issues to dominate your story or your characters.

      What I’ve found is that as long as I’m true to my opinion and write what I believe from my core, then I’m usually okay. Sometimes you can’t worry about what other people think.

      • lawrenceez says:

        Hi, I think that’s what it’s about – I’m worried about what other people will think. Just complete the main story this evening and have the epilogue left. The antagonist gets increasingly out of the control in the closing chapters – quite disturbing, but I think it’s more convincing and better handled this time round.

        • Teresa says:

          Use the techniques you talked about in your post on stage fright! It all springs from the same source. I’m glad you’re pleased with the way your ending is coming along, Lawrence.

  4. kat magendie says:

    Before TG was picked up by BB, I can say I was a bit “arrogant” – oh not in the way I thought my stuff was great -not that–but, in the way I thought “If I just get published, then the rest will be ‘easy’…just need my foot in the door and all will slide along after that…” But, really, being published is just the beginning – because once your words are “out there” there is so much more work to be done, and there are reviews, and opinions and then the next book and will it be judged more critically and will your books sell and will the publishers be happy with you and more important your readers be happy with you and will this that and the other (you have to learn to drown out the voices in your head)

    – I can say, however, that I have been very lucky with reviews and opinions on TG *smiling* – overwhelmed at the response….but, it was naive of me to think that just being published was some end result – it is not

    • Teresa says:

      Thanks for taking the time to post that, Kat. It is easy to believe that everything will get easier, but NY Times bestselling authors have to stay one step ahead of the crowd. It’s like any business, I expect to invest time and energy into it.

  5. Kelly Bryson says:

    Kat- *I’m not listening. I’m not listening!*

    I choose to believe that it will get easy once I have an agent. I just can’t face all of the obstacles at once. And it was incredibly difficult to join a crit group. I thought I was going to have a heart attack reading people’s comments. Then I understood what kind of a nut it takes to be a writer 😉

    • Teresa says:

      Sorry, Kelly, but Kat’s right. You’ve got to get out there and stay on top so you don’t slip to the bottom of the heap. I think an agent does make it easier to navigate a lot of the hurdles.

      I cried during my first round of reviews and debated quitting. I’m glad I didn’t. One member even asked if I wrestled alligators in my spare time because my skin was so thick. 😉

      It’s good practice for when you get published and have to face those reviews. I don’t think you ever stop sweating.

  6. Kelly Bryson says:

    Teresa, I’m not listening to you now, either. haha!

    Really, here’s what I meant-
    It’s too much for me to worry about right now. I can focus on making the story the best it can be.

    That’s what I did before I joined a crit group. I wrote it the best I could. Then I got some help from other writers. My next step will be to find an agent to work with. Together we will improve it and together we will find a publisher. then the publisher and I will do some finnagling and work together to find readers.

    I tend to get discouraged if I look too far ahead, so I choose not to worry about the next step. That said, I’ve read too many blogs from agented writers to expect it to be easy to have a manuscript on submission or to get an editing letter. I’m going for the ‘informed but oblivious’ attitude.

  7. Lindsay says:

    I have to admit I’m more of the play-it-safe type. I keep a target audience in mind when I write and try to put out stories that will appeal to that audience. I may take chances with secondary heroes and plot lines, but my good guys are always good and my story lines are ultimately a little formulaic. That’s the sort of thing I like to read, though, so it works for me!

    • Teresa says:

      Hi Lindsay! I sometimes think writing that type of novel or story can be the most challenging, because you are making something familiar new and exciting. I also think keeping a target audience in mind can be good business sense, especially in the MG and YA markets. Romance is another area where there is a formula, but there are so many talented writers out there who put a different spin on an old theme and make it fun to read.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  8. Terri says:

    I really enjoyed this article, Teresa. I think there’s two kinds of courage writers need when they first start getting their work critiqued — the courage to stay true to their vision, like you describe doing with An Autumn’s Tale, and the courage to listen to comments that might be pointing out a real area for improvement. And juggling the two things can seem really contradictory at times. Trying to figure out which comments chime with your own vision can be one of the most difficult parts of letting other people read what you’ve written!

    • Teresa says:

      Hi Terri,
      I like what you had to say about the courage to listen to critique comments and admit when you’re off course. That can be a real line to straddle at times. Likewise, sometimes it’s very difficult to critique someone else’s work without letting my personal preferences get in the way of their story.

      Thank you so much for commenting.

  9. jenniferneri says:

    Nice post, Teresa, and thanks for sharing.

    I am not certain if I take chances or play it safe. I just write it how it is. That sounds nuts, since it’s all fiction, it’s all made-up, but there is a truth in it, a truth that comes from I do not know where, and that I cannot deny.

    Ok. it’s late at night and way past my bedtime – that’s not as hokey as I meant for it to sound…

  10. Nick Cato says:

    Courage is a major factor in writing: my first novel was released last summer. A few people (editors included) asked me how I planned on doing a mob-themed story using little-to-no profanity. But I stuck to my guns and did it, despite worrying about some dialogue possibly sounding dated or cheezy. Yet, so far (most) people who’ve given me honest feedback say my dialogue is my strength as a writer and that the dialogue sounded genuine. And, no, I’m not IN the mob (although I do work in Brooklyn!!).
    Nice blog BTW.

    • Teresa says:

      Hi Nick,

      Thank you for your compliment, I really appreciate that. I’m sure it was hard to pull off a mob themed story with little-to-no profanity, especially after the Sopranos. I really appreciate your demonstration of how you can stick to your guns and come out okay for it.

      Thanks for taking a minute to comment and show the rest of us how having courage can pan out in the end.


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