Permission To Be Brave

For the first day of National Novel Writing Month, commonly known as NaNoWriMo, I have a special treat today. Fellow coffee aficionado, blogger, and How To Revise Your Novel classmate Anushka Dhanapala is joining us today all the way from Melbourne, Australia with a few words of encouragement about how it’s okay to write something … um … less than stellar in pursuit of a finished story.

Take it away, Anushka!

“To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong” –  Joseph Chilton Pearce

Growing up as a child I was terrified of many things. Monsters, zombies, soggy jeans, the devil living in my closet, people who never blink, and goldfish (don’t ask). Little did I know then a far more terrible thing would come to haunt me.

The first draft of anything is a scary beast, especially when you come face-to-face with that mirror of insecurity – the blank page. Every imperfection you have about yourself, including that ginormous zit that arrives three seconds before a first date, is reflected back at you in all its glory.

It mocks you. It laughs. It gossips about you with the other blank pages. You on the other hand now contemplate having your coffee Irish styled just to get through, or better still, begin cleaning the house. Doing the laundry is just riveting isn’t it?

There have been many times I would rather have faced a zombie apocalypse, even a plague of hairy black spiders than face that page. Yes, the probability of a premature death would be high, after all I am one of the most uncoordinated people on the planet, but the laughable attempt of wielding a sword and possibly a stiletto is far more bearable than staring into a blank page. You know, the one I am meant to miraculously transform into gleaming prose? In my head I must also accomplish that feat in one go. Talk about unnecessary pressure.

That blank page knows everything, my thoughts, the insecurities that reside within me and probably the name of my first crush. What I hate about it the most is that it knows I suck.

The. Blank. Page. Knows. Everything. 

My story sucks…

I haven’t planned enough.

My characters aren’t engaging.

I don’t know what comes next.

I have no arcs.

My beginning is rubbish.

I don’t know my ending.

Everyone is going to laugh at it, including that man and his pet llama that died three centuries ago. (Did I mention the llama had offspring? Just in case you were wondering they would be laughing too.)

However there is something beautiful about that blank page. It gives you the opportunity to fall royally flat on your face.  The first draft after all is meant to be the worst version of the story you have written. In fact, it cannot possibly get any more dreadful – the greatest blessing.

It’s meant to be disjointed and rubbish with bits – normally important bits – like say, conflict, missing from it. Characters disappear, the middle sags, storylines flicker and die, random subplots of no importance make an entrance, dialogue is awkward and so bad you wish you could blame the writing on the cat (or the man with the llama)… the list goes on and on. From my experience, if you have encountered all of these problems you are doing something right. You have conquered the page and put something down. This is where the whole bravery thing comes in.

By allowing yourself to be brave you give yourself permission to make mistakes. Letting yourself submerge completely into a cave of literary abandon truly is a wonderful thing. You should never deny yourself from experiencing that.

The first draft is your precious gift to yourself. I believe a lot of writers, between procrastinating  and not having the courage to put down any words at all, forget this sometimes, including myself, and I love getting into the first draft. But the fear of failure will always be there if I let it.

My first drafts are broken, underwritten and more often than not slapped together with a lazy ending. They are in dire need of CPR and intensive surgery, but that’s the beauty of revision. It brings everything you have put down to life.

So be brave. Write badly. Write well.

Put something down.

Writing is a relentless rollercoaster of emotions and as you face each new blank page remember this.

“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great” – Zig Ziglar

Good luck to all of you doing NaNoWriMo, I’ll be cheering right alongside of you. You can find me under findingmycreature where I will be wrestling with the blank pages and winning. Well, until I see that zit. To the rest of you tackling your story, no matter what stage you are at, be brave and I’ll be cheering wildly for you too as I furiously write through my first draft in the hopes of uncovering those unexpected gems.

Have you discovered any beautiful first draft gems?

Love and light,

Anushka xx

Anushka Dhanapala blogs at Finding My Creature where she shares beautiful vistas and encouraging words about her own writing journey.

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20 thoughts on “Permission To Be Brave

  1. Great Post. Thank Kirsten and thanks to Anushka for sharing. We all fight the blank page syndrome. Especially as a novelist every new chapter starts with a blank page. It is like going through what she describes forty to sixty times in a single book. It makes you wonder OMG what am I doing and once you figure out what you are doing, then you ask why am I doing it? I think probably the number thing I learned that turned my writing around was that the First Draft is CRAP! Whether NaNo or just regular writing time, it all applies. It is just at NaNo time that it gets a little bit crappier.

    1. LOL. I think you’ll be surprised by how fixable your NaNo draft will be, along with all the really cool surprises that sneak in while you’re not fretting about comma placement and getting exactly the right word.
      That’s my experience anyway!

      Happy NaNo-ing! 🙂

    1. Don’t worry, I’ve got my IWSG post all ready to go, well, in my head at least! Got some words to write for Nano first.
      I’m glad you liked Anushka’s contribution to A Scenic Route. 🙂

  2. Thanks very much, Anushka. Inspiring. Truly. For me, the blank page isn’t so scary as much as the thought of I don’t want to have to waste all my time making something sucky and ‘insult’ the blank page. I sometimes feel like I’m going into battle without proper training. I think its good to have those moments, because it forces you to go back and better equip yourself when you finally do hit the blank page. But I can’t forget that I can’t keep preparing and never tackle that page. Thank you very, very much. And thanks Kirsten for sharing.

    1. Hi Dan,
      Welcome to A Scenic Route!
      I definitely agree with you. Seeing a lovely white page waiting for beautiful words to fill it is beyond intimidating.
      I finally figured a way past that when I realized that writing a first draft is much like sketching out the bones of a painting or a sculpture. In the early stages of the story, I’m still figuring out what I’m trying to show, and so there will be a few stray lines that don’t quite fit. Later drafts will fill in the rest of the picture, and the early mistakes are covered up.

      Write something crazy today! 🙂

      1. Ah–yes, the painter’s approach. I do the same thing. What I do is just write a word or a sentence. Double space, write another word or sentence, keep doing this over and over until the next thing I know it, I have a skeleton of a scene. By then the juices are churning and I can go back, link those sentences and words and crank out something. I call it bursts or seeding (like a garden).

  3. Thanks for this Kirsten and thanks to Anushka – you have no idea how much I needed to hear (read) this today! I’ve been avoiding the WIP for a week now because of those negative voices in my head telling me my story sucks! Thanks for the encouraging post, girls 🙂

    1. Hi Virginia,
      You’re welcome! I don’t think I can ever hear it enough. Especially with Nano, it is so important to be banish those negative thoughts!

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