Practice The Art Of Fearlessness

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Ernest Hemingway

I’ve learned from the best. I’ve had a top education in schools located around the world. I have various undergraduate degrees and even managed to snap up a Masters on scholarship from a prestigious university. So what is the most important lesson I’ve ever learned?

The message came to me in my late 30s through the television of all things. I’ve always been a creative sort, but stumbled because I tend to be a perfectionist. I squashed many of my interests simply because I didn’t think I could do it. Decorating and design shows were just starting and I consumed them. This was a passion of mine and I had a ton of ideas but I never allowed myself to jump in because I might not be any good at it.

In steps a funny fellow named Christopher Lowell.

He was a brilliant designer, played the piano, and dispensed wisdom through yards of material and buckets of paint. The moment came at the end of one of his shows when he read a viewer’s letter explaining how they were stuck because they were afraid to do anything. He set the letter down, looked into the camera and said these words. “There is nothing worse to fear than the fear itself.”

Those words shocked me. There’s nothing worse than embracing the fear. It is the fear that paralyzes you. It is the fear that keeps you from doing the things you love. I knew I had to fight that fear.

That was the year I started painting. It was the year I started writing a book. I pulled out my old sketch books and started drawing. It was the most fun year I’d had in a very long time. It didn’t matter whether I was any good or not (and I wasn’t- trust me!) I learned to tell the fear to shut up and let myself play.

Ralph Waldo Emerson states, “Do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain.”

We can get so caught up in the idea of writing a “really good book” that we forget to simply write for the pleasure. The fear of not creating a masterpiece or at least writing something that’s publishable can be overwhelming. Suffocating. Paralyzing. Often, I find that the fear itself keeps me from doing anything at all and I have to start fighting this age old enemy all over again.

James Scott Bell also has some words of wisdom found in his book The Art of War For Writers. He writes that while fear is a fact of existence, it need not lead to defeat. Dwell too much on these fears and you can become catatonic. He then tells a story of young Teddy Roosevelt. Teddy was a very sickly, weak child. So he stayed inside and read a lot of books. In his biography Teddy explains what he learned. “In this passage, the captain of some small British man-of-war is explaining to the hero how to acquire the quality of fearlessness. He says that at the outset almost every man is frightened when he goes into action, but that the course to follow is for the man to keep such a grip on himself that he can act just as if he was not frightened. After this is kept up long enough it changes from pretense to reality, and the man does in very fact become fearless by sheer dint of practicing fearlessness when he does not feel it.”

JSB goes on to say that from that day on, TR determined to live his life just that way. That chapter ends with three rules for writers: 1. Act as if you had no fear. Act as if you are a writer. 2. Don’t wait for your feelings to change. Turn fear into energy for writing. 3. Set goals that challenge you. Then take an immediate step toward that goal.

Fear. It’s a big topic and one that we constantly battle. Remember there’s nothing worse to fear than the fear itself. Don’t let it stop you. Practice the fearlessness found in all of us.

 

15 Responses to Practice The Art Of Fearlessness

  1. A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer.
    -Ralph Waldo Emerson

    It takes a genuinely brave man to admit he is scared.
    -Rodney Whitaker (Trevanian)

    Anyone who says he is never afraid is either delusional, psychotic, or lying.
    -Anonymous

    Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.
    – John Wayne

    There can be no courage unless you’re scared.
    – Eddie Rickenbacker

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  2. Excellent quotes, my sweet William. You are a steadfast rock. Thank you.

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  3. Reblogged this on Ella Quinn ~ Author and commented:
    Great article. What do you fear?

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  4. I’m humbled that you liked it enough to reblog. Thanks so very much. I think I still battle with the idea of “Am I good enough?” and “Do I really want to do all the stuff that seems to go along with writing? ie. marketing etc.” Here’s hoping to put on my fearlessness face and get the job done!

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  5. This is a wonderful article. I know people who have written for years, but are afraid to take the next step and still call themselves aspiring authors. If you write, you’re an author. Take the leap.

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  6. I’m afraid I am one of those authors in the “aspiring” column. One book mostly done and about 100 pages into the next and I’m stuck. Sigh. I move ahead in spits and starts, but can’t seem to get the fluid traction that I crave. Writing this article and sharing my thoughts with folks like you has helped. Thanks for being such a loyal reader.

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  7. jeff7salter says:

    Great column today, Stacey.
    I have the common (I suppose it’s common) fear of rejection … which kept me from submitting things for years.
    But I don’t think I have some of the other writing fears you mention here. I do recall worrying if I would be able to actually finish my first novel ms. When I did, I began to worry if I’d have a second novel in my head. After I completed that one and began the 3rd, I worried if I could finish it (because it was quite complex and rather long). After completing seven novel ms. my big fear was that none would ever be published. But after getting two of them published, my fear is that nobody will BUY them.
    Good grief.

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  8. I know, right?!?!? It seems like we have an endless stream of things to worry about. I’m so proud that you have continued to move ahead and slay the beast residing within all of us. Congrats on your books. You rock!

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  9. Nancy Kay Bowden says:

    Really great post, Stacey! And ironically, I just finished cleaning out my arts and crafts cabinet in the kitchen this morning and was thinking about Christopher Lowell. He taught me so much–and I definitely was a viewer who realized the message about fear wasn’t just applicable to paint and gesso, fabric, and glue and staple guns! 🙂 I am about to finish revising the novel that’s been in progress much too long and I am going to recite all these quotes (thanks for more, Will) along with a prayer and several Bible verses every single day when I sit down at the computer to write. Can’t wait to press “send.” Pretty sure you’ll hear the scream of victory at your house when that happens! And I want to THANK YOU SO MUCH for scheduling JSB’s appearance at our RWA chapter conference. Excellent!!!!!!!

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  10. I knew you’d remember Christopher! He was such an inspiration to me and led me to believe that I could do anything and create anything I put my mind to. I’m glad you are drawing your novel to a close and about to send it off! Keep fighting, take a deep breath, and push that send button. Who knows what adventures lie ahead?

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  11. jbrayweber says:

    Terrific blog, Stacey. And oh, so appropriate. Though I seem fearless at times, I’m not always as confident. However, I subscribe to the rule of jumping in feet first – come what may. 🙂

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  12. I know this about you! I tend to be a bit more cautious which is why we make a good team!!

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  13. Okay, something is wrong here with Musetracks. The screen is telling me Jenn said something about not always being as confident as she appears? Must be a monitor flaw or something….:)

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  14. I know- hard to believe!!

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  15. jbrayweber says:

    Humph…laugh it up, you two. 🙂

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