Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Courage

Courage is a word we’ve heard a few times throughout the last week and a half at the Olympics. I’m sure everyone will agree that courage is a prerequisite for being an Olympian. It takes a great deal of courage to move away from your home to train, to postpone marriage and family, to take a poor paying job because it fits with your training schedule. It takes courage to overcome personal challenges, injuries and family tragedy and to endure incredible public pressure and scrutiny. Anyone who relentlessly pursues a dream that may seem unrealistic to others is definitely courageous. You need courage to push all those issues and thoughts aside and focus on the ultimate goal when it is time to perform and a single second’s distraction can determine whether you earn a medal or not.

As viewers, we may marvel and wonder at the single-mindedness and determination of these athletes. We admire them, we cheer for them, we hope and we cry for them as we do any individual who demonstrates courage.

As writers, courage may be the most common and most important trait we instil in our characters. This is true in any genre be it Suspense, Intrigue, Fantasy, Romance... With courage your hero may tackle gunmen, leap off buildings, take a bullet to protect someone, or drive like a maniac to make sure the villain doesn’t escape. With courage your heroine may battle supernatural forces, run into a burning building to save a loved one, or trust a man she knows nothing about. Undoubtedly both hero and heroine will require courage to overcome personal challenges or tragedy, to take a risk and to grow and develop into a stronger individual. Falling in love might be easy, but it takes courage to act on it.

If it is the conflict that drives the story, it is the struggle for courage to overcome that conflict that drives the characters.

But courage isn’t just for elite athletes and fictional characters or even rescuers and proclaimed 'heroes'. Every time we put our deepest most personal thoughts and ideas down on paper, we—writers—are courageous. For many of us, writing is an intensely personal experience. Some writers have pieces that they refuse to share, ever—these works are too important and personal to the author to be put out there for other people to read, evaluate, and judge. What we write, what we share, is a deep part of us. It takes courage to share oneself. 

It might be hard the first time you send your writing to your critique partner. It is harder still to send your precious manuscript to an editor because you know you will receive negative feedback. I think one of the hardest things might be standing up in front of a room of people and reading your own writing out loud. As if sharing your work wasn’t hard enough—you have to read it out loud to a group of people who will react immediately to what you’ve read.

The good thing about courage, I think, is that it is often rewarded. When you step out of your comfort zone, you allow yourself an opportunity to grow and to learn.

Writers...step out of your comfort zone. Push yourself to create better, stronger, more courageous characters. (Remember courage doesn’t necessarily mean leaping tall buildings in a single bound—in fact, that took very little courage since Superman could fly.) Set deadlines for your writing and tell people about them. Share your writing with a critique partner and listen to their feedback. Take a chance on a new story line. Write for a different genre. Ask yourself what would happen if your character took a risk and stepped out of their comfort zone.

A big cheer out to Annette Bower, Anita Mae Draper, Karyn Good, and Susan Easton who demonstrated enormous courage when they shared their writing last night at the Regina Public Library’s  Romancing the Word: An Evening with Saskatchewan Romance Writers. Super job ladies!

13 comments:

Vince said...

Hi Anne:

Courage has many faces.

Is fear of failure courage? Is winning worth everything? If the goal is fame and glory for doing something ordinarily not worth doing, is this courage or is it something else?

Determination. Persistence. Obsession. Stubbornness. All do not courage make.

A young person devotes four or more years to excel at a sport not many people have ever heard of and which has no practical application in the scheme of life. Should we call this courage?

A young person gives up a personal life, invites social arrested development, has no time for friends and no patience for non- aficionados, is this courage?

Some say we have no heroes. That Joe DiMaggio was the last hero. I say we have too many heroes. I say our hero soup is so thin that any additional nutrient stands out and is worthy of its fifteen minutes of fame.

Courage should be made of sterner stuff.

I agree with the post that courage is standing up and reading your paper to a group of critics. This does not take imitations of courage, it takes pure courage.

Congratulations to those who have done this. I think there is more authentic courage expressed in the writing life than is dreamt of in the Olympic pantheon. : )


Vince

Karyn Good said...

Thanks for the kind words, Anne. I'm not a public speaker so it was a big deal to get up there and read but I'm so glad I did it! I learned A LOT.

Joannie Rochette's skate last night gets my vote for most courageous performance at the Olympic games. I can not even imagine what it took for her to skate last night after the death of her mother on Sunday. My thoughts and prayers are with her and her family.

Great post, Anne.

Anita Mae Draper said...

I watched Joannie when I got back from the city last night. I could feel her skating for her Mom. Yes, that's what the Olympics is all about. Courage in the face of adverstiy.

Karyn, you were riveting last night. It was so nice to hear everyone's work.

Thank you Anne and Vince. I didn't know what to expect as it was my first reading, but doing it with 3 other writers whom I have great respect for made it easy.

I brought my 11 yo son with me and I think the highlight of the evening was when we were on our way home and he said, 'You were great, Mom. I really like your story'. Yay, a future historical romance reader. :)

Jana Richards said...

Hi Anne,
I didn't realize how much courage writing took until I actually started to write and to share my stories. Everytime we send a piece out for critique, or to an editor or agent we must screw up our courage and brace ourselves for the rejection that may be coming our way. I've managed to be brave enough to send things out and take critiques, but I've not done much in the way of public speaking. Kudos to all you ladies for wowing them at the Regina Public Library with your readings!

Jana

Janet said...

Anyone who relentlessly pursues a dream that may seem unrealistic to others is definitely courageous.

Somedays you wonder if it really is worth pursuing - thanks for calling it courageous, some days I call it insanity!

This is a great post, Anne - and I love this When you step out of your comfort zone, you allow yourself an opportunity to grow and to learn. Most people are afraid of change, afraid to take a risk - those that do are usually the ones with a much broader vision of the world, and themselves. I hope I never stop growing and learning.

I will add my thoughts and prayers for Joannie Rochette. I don't ever remember watching figure skating and needing tissue at the end of a short program. Heartbreaking and awe-inspiring all at the same time.

And I will also add my congratulations to Suse, Karyn, Annette, and Anita - and their successful reading at the library. I just wish I could have been there to cheer you on!

Anne Germaine said...

Thank you everyone for your comments. I have been without a computer today so that makes responding to posts in a timely manner challenging!

Anne Germaine said...

Vince, you always bring a unique perspective to this blog. Thank you for that. Often words have different meanings for different people. For you the word courage clearly has a very strong meaning.

Anne Germaine said...

Hi Karyn and Anita,

I only spoke the truth! You were great.

I was thinking of Joannie and her courage to continue on with her goal when I wrote about the Olympics. I didn’t watch her, but heard she did well, especially considering her loss.

Anne Germaine said...

Hi Jana,
I couldn’t believe how hard it was for me to share my writing for the first time. I had written it with an audience in mind, but sharing it with people I knew...wow, that was difficult.

Anne Germaine said...

Janet—some days (most days) I wonder too. Do I really want to write? What am I really going to get out of it? Will I really miss it if I quit? These questions are constantly in my mind. Sometimes I think that if I could quit I would—it is that frustrating. The only thing more frustrating is having all these ideas and characters floating around in my head and not being able to put them down on paper fast enough.

Vince said...

Hi Anita:

I think it is wonderful that your son saw you speak. I know from many years in Toastmasters that when a child comes to speeches, that child usually becomes an excellent speaker with no fear of speaking. What a good example you set.

I think it takes real courage to share very personal writing. I have four books I wrote just after college that I have still not shared with anyone but my typist. They are highly philosophical and I know people close to me would disagree with them. To me, writing them was the important thing.

I do define ‘courage’ narrowly. I think a lot of what is called courage, is what I would call ‘character’. A person displays character or moral excellence when they do things that are hard to do but are the right things to do. These do not always involve courage.

Again, another very good post topic. I really like this blog.

Vince

Anita Mae Draper said...

Thank you Anne and Vince.

Hey Vince, I haven't seen those 4 books under your bed, (why does that sound weird?) but I sure enjoyed reading your challenge entries over at eHarl. Instead of a philosophical feel, I always thought they had that British feeling to them.

And I'm very glad you like this blog because it's always a treat to get your unique perspective to our posts. :)

Anita Mae Draper said...

Thank you Anne and Vince.

Hey Vince, I haven't seen those 4 books under your bed, (why does that sound weird?) but I sure enjoyed reading your challenge entries over at eHarl. Instead of a philosophical feel, I always thought they had that British feeling to them.

And I'm very glad you like this blog because it's always a treat to get your unique perspective to our posts. :)