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 writer 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?

7 thoughts on “Michille: The Courage to Write

  1. Sounds like a great book, Michille. I don’t have this one, and like many of us, I’m probably not buying another until I get through what I’ve already got. But it sounds like he’s tackling a tough topic with common sense and good humor, which should make the material more accessible for those who fear to face a blank screen.

  2. All of that sounds very familiar to me. I think I’ve hit the “expert” level in the false fear busters category. It’s actually very comforting to know I’m not the only one.

    While I also have a “no new craft books” rule in effect, I may see if my local library has a copy of this book.

  3. I feel like I might have this one, but it’s not at the front of the shelf (I’m afraid most of my bookshelves are “double parked” if you will . . . two layers of books). I’m definitely in the “no new craft books until I’ve crafted a book” category!

    None of my craft books really fit my needs at the moment. I know exactly what I should do next: find my blank index cards, and do the trick where I put a beat on each card, and then figure out what extra beats I need, which ones need to be re-arranged, and which ones can be lost altogether. I’ve got two . . . no, make that three incomplete drafts to pull beats from, so I’m procrastinating. (-: I thought Nancy had blogged about this method, but I think this is post I’m visualizing: https://eightladieswriting.com/2018/11/12/nancy-is-that-a-book-on-your-wall/ She put the whole book on her walls; I just want to put the beats on the wall (and then see if I can color-code them).

    I once read an article in the New Yorker, I think it was, about a screenwriter who was told by his therapist to sit down and write 15 minutes a day. The idea was that once you get over the psychic pain, it’s easy. I think there is some truth to that, but my Girls in the Basement got wise to it, and refuse to sit down in the first place unless they have something to say. I got excited this week when I saw on Twitter someone promoting the 5-second method of piano practice. The idea is similar: sit down and play for 5 seconds. If you want to continue, do so (up to 30 minutes), but if you want to walk away, well, you are free. You’ve done your duty to the muse, and sure. (But again, my Girls are wise to those kinds of tricks, so I think it wouldn’t work any better. I haven’t sat down to write for five seconds since I read the tip, and I’m still avoiding it right now!)

    Well, maybe I’ll have better luck re-writing. If I can’t find my index cards, I’ll make a batch of them by hand (and with the fancy card cutter at school!), by gosh, and get started on this revision thing. It isn’t going to revise itself.

    (I do plan to tackle the Friday sprint, though. Today, or tomorrow, or the next day — as soon as I get my blog posts done for the weekend. (-: This is a trick that still works. Have two or three writing projects going at the same time, and work on one to avoid all the others!)

    • I had an English teacher who taught the index card method. It was brilliant. I need to try the 15-minutes-a-day thing. Although what I really need to do is get the four manuscripts I already have in better shape and submit. So editing is what I need to be focusing on.

  4. I bought this one after meeting Ralph at a local writers’ conference. He was the person who helped me realize why it took me so long to get serious about writing: I was waiting for my parents to die. Which sounds awful, but the fear of a negative reaction from people whose opinions matter deeply to us is definitely an obstacle.

    I also have the no-new-craft-books-until rule, which I broke recently when I bought Gwen Hayes’ Romancing the Beat: Story Structure for Romance Novels (How to Write Kissing Books). It was a very enjoyable read AND it helped me finally finish Girl’s Best Friend by pointing out why my ending felt flat and unsatisfying.

    Follow no rule off a cliff.

    And, in a weird, small-world coincidence, Ralph lived in Yellow Springs, OH, when he wrote The Courage to Write, which I renamed Russet Springs and use as the backdrop for Girl’s Best Friend.

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