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!