I always thought myself brave. As a child, I grew up on stories of heroes and heroines, shepherd boys and giants, hobbits and shieldmaidens, rangers and assistant pig keepers. They were the stories that shaped me, molded my character, taught me to be brave.
It wasn’t that I was never afraid. Oh, I feared all right. I feared large crowds, strangers, speaking in groups, and goblins invading my room at night. In fact, I slept with a little sword made of aluminum foil by my bed. My dad made it for me, handcrafted my very own Sting, and in the making he taught me a great lesson. Even though I was afraid, I could be brave.
He taught me that I couldn’t let fear control me. I couldn’t run from it. I couldn’t hide beneath the covers until morning drove it away.
I had to stand my ground.
And face it.
And in facing it undaunted, I could be brave.
It was a good lesson then, and it is a good lesson now. It is one that I, as a writer, have to learn over and over again. Each time I set my fingers to the keys, each time I open a Word document and stare at the blinking cursor on the blank page, each time I read the words I have written and wonder if they mean anything to anyone at all.
Maybe that’s why fear crops up from time to time in my novels. They are fantasy tales, so my heroes and heroines battle impossible circumstances, overwhelming odds, and the occasional monster. Plenty to fear, right? A different sort of fear than the sort we might face. But while we may not battle monsters of flesh and bone, we face battles aplenty of our own.
Recently, I stumbled across this paragraph while reading through the manuscript for book three of the Songkeeper Chronicles. It’s still in the draft phase, so this may not even make it all the way through the publishing process, but the words pierced me right to the marrow. I had reached a stagnant phase where I was writing purely to get words on the page, struggling to carry the story along, and feeling like every ounce of creativity had withered within me.
Then I read these words.
The griffin on the other hand, was very much alive. She could feel his gaze like a knife slicing beneath her skin. For a breath, he halted beside her, touching his wing to the top of her head. A benediction, it seemed. Or a comfort. But there was nothing comforting about the words he whispered in her ear. “Tell me, little one, when did you allow fear to become your master?”
Then he was gone.
And the cold of the night settled around her.
– Book Three, Songkeeper Chronicles
When did I allow fear to become my master? When did I forget to be brave?
Fear of failure can be a huge stumbling block for a lot of writers, I believe. (Though it doesn’t apply to writers alone.) Fear is a cage, whereas creativity is wild, fierce, and free. They cannot coexist peacefully. Fear stifles creativity, chokes it into nothingness.
So once again, I had to remind myself to stand firm. To face the fear.
And in facing it undaunted, to be brave.
I almost ran with the word fearless for this post, because we would all like to be fearless, wouldn’t we? Can’t you picture it? Standing atop a mountain peak with the wind billowing the hair back from your face while you scream your fearlessness to the skies.
But true fearlessness is rarely possible. Being undaunted is. When you stare in the face of the fears that assail you and choose to go on despite of them, to keep on standing in spite of them, to press forward through them, that is more than being brave.
It is being undaunted.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to let fear be my master. I don’t want it to slither in and gather me in its coils like a constrictor, until it squeezes every ounce of creativity and life from within me. I want to live undaunted. To approach each day, not with the expectation of being fearless, but of being ready for fear to come and of standing firm despite it. Looking it in the eyes. And remaining undaunted.
How about you?