Michille: The Courage to Write

the-courage-to-writeOne of the things that several of us 8L have said over the last months is that we won’t buy anymore craft books/take anymore craft classes until we have finished what we already have. In that vein, I did eeny-meeny on my craft bookshelf and chose The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear by Ralph Keyes, almost at random (because I have too many to choose from). The very first chapter is called Elements of Courage. It made me feel strong just reading that. There are some funny sections throughout the book like Page Fright, That Naked Feeling, Counterphobia, and Draft Dodgers.

Obviously, as I just picked it up, I haven’t gotten very far. It will probably take me a while to get all the way through it because, well, life has to happen in and around the time I set aside for craft reading. But I found encourage in the opening section. Keyes writes that “when the Paris Review wanted to interview [E.B. White] for its Writers at Work series, White said he’d be better qualified for one on Writers Not at Work,” and he then told his friend James Thurber that he considered himself “the second most inactive writing living, and the third most discouraged.” I empathize with those sentiments and feel like the first most inactive writer in this moment although I have dusted off an old manuscript to see what I can do with it.

I skipped forward to the Page Fright section because I liked the name. “Page Fright: the fear of confronting the blank page.” Yup. I’ve got that. The fear that when I sit down with the blank page in front of me, nothing will come to mind. I’m not sure what is worse, though, nothing coming to mind or crappy, useless stuff coming to mind. I know the old ‘you can’t fix a blank page’ bit, but saying it doesn’t erase the anxiety of what I might put on it once I start.

Later, Keyes gets into fighting the fear and anxiety, starting with “not writing at all constitutes the ultimate triumph of fear. But he also cautions about false fear busters. Things like buying new gear, going to writers’ conferences (instead of writing), or walking the dog. These false fear busters are from his book. I can add, trolling for pictures that look like people/places/things in my story under the guise of doing a collage, going for a run to ‘jog’ my creative juices, and reading about craft instead of practicing it.

As E.B. White said, “I admire anybody who has the guts to write anything at all.”

When was the last time you raided your craft shelf? What is next?

12 thoughts on “Michille: The Courage to Write

  1. I’ve been going through a lot of the craft stuff I’ve picked up through the years. Currently that means reading through a lot of posts from Chuck Wendig. Besides getting my mind back in the writing game, it has been a great reminder that other writers face the same kind of challenges that I do.

  2. Ralph lives in Yellow Springs, just a few miles to the east. A few years back he came to the community college where I work for a writers’ workshop and I got to talk with him. It was because of him that I realized I put off writing for so long out of concern about what my parents would think.

    I’m not one of the ladies who said she won’t attend workshops/buy craft books until I’ve finished what I have. For one thing, I might not live that long. For another, workshops really fill my creative well.

    Alicia Rasley did a pair of mini-workshops at my RWA chapter on Saturday. She talked about the heroic journey and about writing emotion without using purple prose. Great stuff–if you get a chance to see her, she’s definitely worth the time.

    And, in the 5 days since then, I’ve added about 5000 words to my WIP.

    So, while I respect your collective urge to be frugal and responsible and accountable and all that, well-filling is also important.

    • That is very true. I find all that stuff motivating, as well. I just don’t need to buy anymore with the boat load of books I have on my shelf. I also have all the recordings from RWA from last year, a Margie Lawson one on series that I never worked all the way through, and a Jessica Brody one I haven’t even cracked. I need to take advantage of what I already have (and not use it as an excuse not to write).

  3. The thing about a truly great craft book is that you can read it over and over, and find new stuff that applies to NOW (and didn’t apply THEN). So, I don’t think I need any new craft books, and since I want my writing to be self-funding, I won’t take any more craft classes until I can pay for them out of my writing profits. LOL, therapy, OTOH, is totally an option.

    There’s a book on editing that I’ve meant to read once a year, and I guess it’s just about time to re-read it again. (Already? My god. I had a brief moment of panic — of, “I haven’t done anything since I read it last!” — until I remembered that I have done some things. Not as much as EB White, but still . . . .) The book? Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.

    On a more nuts and bolts level, I also loved Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style. So, maybe in October, I’ll spend some time re-reading the craft books. I really ought to take another look at Story. I didn’t get nearly everything I could have out of it the first time I read it. (-: One more book, and I’ll have my weekends in October all full! I think I may have The Courage to Write on my bookshelves. If not, maybe Stephen King’s On Writing.

    • I also have Stephen King’s On Writing and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (didn’t we use that for the McD program?). I do want to take a course/get a book to brush up on my basic grammar. It’s been a long time since I studies proper grammar and sentence structure (too many commas anyone). Advanced Grammar and Expository Writing in my senior year of high school was a long time ago (not saying how long).

      • Can there really be too many commas? Is that really a thing? The world will have to pry my Oxford comma from my cold, dead hands.

      • This is just a thought, but a certification course in teaching ESL (English as a second language, or better yet, English as a foreign language — EFL) might be what you want to learn more about grammar. I have one friend who took that route before she came to Japan to teach English, and she knows so much about why grammar works the way it does. It makes sense — foreign students shouldn’t be taught improper grammar, and they often have a lot of questions why something has to be the way it is.

        LOL, there is a thing as too many commas. Not Oxford commas, but sticking in a comma where ever one would draw a breath. Some would say that Jane Austen uses too many commas. “It is a truth univerally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” In modern usage, we wouldn’t put a comma there.

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