For some reason, several people in recent weeks have taken the time to tell me how brave they think I am. I presume this means they think I’m brave for putting my dreams on the line and for following the impulse to write, or perhaps for entering competitions and submitting pieces of work for publication.
I don’t feel brave, though. Not at all. I feel like the biggest quivering chicken in the history of the world. Surely, if I was brave, I’d feel more like I was channelling Queen Boudicca instead, taking on the might of the Romans with little besides a bow and some facepaint. Isn’t that how it works?
It’s hard to feel brave when you have to force yourself to check your email in case there’s a note of rejection in there. It’s hard to realise a piece you’ve written is really not very good – and it’s especially hard to realise this after you’ve submitted it. Some of the stories I’ve entered into competition over the past while have been catalogues of rookie mistakes, and I’m learning the wisdom of the saying ‘measure twice and cut once’ – or maybe, in this case, ‘read twice before submitting’! I don’t feel brave because I’ve started this process; I simply feel like an amoeba in a very big pond, realising just how much I have to learn.
I feel like what I’m doing at the moment is an apprenticeship, something everyone who wants to write has to go through eventually. I’ve done things in the past which I’ve needed bravery for, sure – giving lectures in front of hundreds of people, for instance. Taking an oral examination. Going up in front of a funding board made up of six senior male professors, and arguing for the validity of the research I was doing at the time. I still can’t quite believe I’ve done all these things, because even the memory of having done them makes me quake in my boots. All those things made me sick with fear before I did them, and I felt like I’d accomplished something when I’d managed to get through them.
Submitting stories for publication feels more like a compulsion, though – and, like any compulsion, it can sometimes be impossible to resist. I feel like I have to submit something I’ve written, perhaps before it’s ready, because the urge to do it is overwhelming. It’s only afterwards when I realise ‘perhaps that piece could have done with a bit more maturation time.’ But it’s too late, at that point, to retract it. It’s almost like my enthusiasm gets the better of me and a certain recklessness gets into my blood. So, off the story goes. Submit in haste, repent in leisure!
This isn’t to say that the pieces I’ve submitted haven’t been my best effort at the time. I feel like there’s something of value in everything I’ve entered into competition, and I’ve done my best. But it’s the same with everything; after the fact, you wonder if you could have done better, and what you should have changed to make the piece stronger. But if you followed that logic to its extreme, you’d never submit anything. You’d spend the rest of your life tweaking your first piece of writing until it’s beyond recognition, and nobody else would ever read it. The process of writing and submitting and being rejected is a terrible crucible, but it’s absolutely necessary. I know I have to go through this process of learning in order that something I submit, somewhere, someday, might meet with approval.
So, I don’t feel like it’s brave, as such, to send things away for other eyes to read. It’s horrible and I don’t like to do it – but I don’t think it’s the same thing as being brave. However, there’s a certain amount of facing your fears involved in living through the days afterward, when you’re waiting to hear the results. You may never hear how you got on, of course. There are a lot of voices clamouring for attention, and I know it will take a long time before my words will warrant any recognition. The process is somewhat analogous to shouting into a hurricane – your small contribution is swirled up into the whole and becomes lost. But the value of it still lives inside you. You know that you tried, and did your best, and over time the process gets easier (hopefully, at least.) In my case, it’s even true to say that every submission makes me feel a little better about myself – at least, until the doubts start to creep in. But I don’t think doing what you have to do is brave, really. This is a process I have to go through, and I’m just doing what I must. It does make you feel vulnerable, and it’s not entirely pleasant. But, given the choice between doing what I’m doing and trying to live any other life, I’d happily choose what I’m doing.
I do appreciate being considered brave, though. I try to remember it every time I’m faced with the prospect of entering another contest, or laying my work out in front of someone else like a merchant laying out her wares. I remember it every time I have to check my email, or every time I wonder ‘should I enter something into this contest?’
Maybe that’s what being brave is all about, though – taking a chance on something even though you’re not sure what the outcome will be, and hoping for the best. In that case, every one of us is brave.
Maybe sometimes there are things you cannot see. But others can. You are so much “inside” the process and it’s not exactly pleasant all the time so you don’t consider it “bravery”. But people who look at you and realize they would not be able to do the same admire you for what you do. Because, well, you are brave.
I’m among the most cowardly cowards there has ever been. My parents sometimes joke that it’s easier to say what I’m not afraid of then to list all the things that scare me 🙂 So imagine my utter amazement when, during the last meeting of the yearly self-growth group, practically all of the participants said that they “admire my bravery”. Something that doesn’t seem like a great deal to me, ie the ability to share my feelings with others and work through those feelings even when it hurts, is, as it turned out, not something everyone can do. I’m still struggling to understand how someone can actually think of me as brave but hey, I like the idea 🙂 It’s a completely different perspective of myself. Maybe you should also look at yourself with other people’s eyes and see your bravery for what it is, and appreciate it. You do have it. We all see it. Hopefully, we can’t all be blind, right? 🙂
Well, if you can share your fears and feelings with a bunch of other people, then you’re braver than I’ll ever be. 🙂 I know I do it on my blog, but it’s a different thing when you’re doing it in person.
I raise my hat to you, young lady. 🙂
P.S. Thank you for your lovely words.
Thanks, that’s very kind of you 🙂
Yoda says ‘Try not. Do or do not. There is no try’ but I believe *trying* is one of the bravest things you can do. You are definitely brave. You too Ania. 🙂
I love that Yoda quote. 😀 Thanks, Kate. I’ll be thinking of the little green dude all day, now.