“Only when we’re brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our life.” — Brene Brown
Writing is an act of bravery.
Each year, when I teach our writing workshops, I get to work with a small group of twenty-some writers, thinkers, and creatives. Inevitably, the process gets difficult in weeks two and week three, because I ask people to share parts of their stories—their wishes, hopes and dreams, who they are.
My students write with angst—"I'm behind! This is hard! I'm struggling!"—and I know this feeling all too well. I encourage them to continue, to press on in the face of fear or worry, and to get their pens to the page as often as possible. I am here to support, to encourage, and to push—just the right amount. Enough to get into it. Enough to push past the blocks and the barriers. Then the insights come: "Wow—I wasn't expecting that I'd write about that," and "That was fascinating," and "I just got lost in a 2,000 word story and I've barely just begun."
Writing is an act of bravery. Writing often means facing your own darkness and light. This is an essay for all of the students in my writing class, but it's also an open letter to all writers, everywhere, struggling.
1. An open letter to all writers.
The past few weeks have been deep, winding, and possibly full of emotions as we unpack the thoughts and ideas that have perhaps been long been locked inside of our minds. We have access to our thoughts, but not always a full understanding of them. Emotions can have such a mastery over us, and forging a relationship with your pen can help unwind parts of that. Through writing, we discover deeper truths about what we want, who we are, what we value, and the stories that we tell ourselves. Often we have to write the stories first before we can discover what it is that we’re trying to say.
For the newest of writers, I often hear that these first few exercises are somewhat surprising, bringing up past ideas and thoughts that perhaps haven’t fully percolated or settled in ways that you had thought. Often rough with emotion and tenderness, I find that writing brings up ideas and thoughts that I’m not sure how to frame, or what to say, or where to go next. It is within this context that I offer up a thought of gratitude for showing up to practice, and thank myself simply for embracing the pen and paper as a way to discover new (and existing) thoughts and ideas.
Writing is a spiritual practice, a soul-cleansing, deep-dive into the emotions and ideas we might not even be at first aware that we have.
Writing is a spiritual practice, a soul-cleansing, deep-dive into the emotions and ideas we might not even be at first aware that we have. Some days writing brings out the best in us, and other days I have to thrash through words before getting up angrily to go for a long walk, dance out my thoughts, or drown my ideas in coffee, water or wine. As we uncover the deeper truths and ideas—we become aware of who we are, and possibly the painful moments within us that have been buried for so long.
Write to discover.
Writing lets me figure out what it is that I'm thinking, by putting words onto pages and telling the story of my life, my experiences, and the world as I see it around me.
When I come back to it, I recognize patterns and ideas and realize much more about my perspectives and point of view. One of the kindest things I’ve done for myself is take the time to make space on a page, write some words down, and allow myself to come back whenever I want to talk through my ideas. Not every day is a glamorous day by any stretch, and I often struggle to sit down at the computer in the first place. In fact, it’s amazing how appealing laundry and dishes become when I’m avoiding saying the thing that needs to be said. What keeps me coming back to my practices, however, is that this is the place where I’m allowed to think what I think, write what I want to write, and tell the stories no matter how fantastical or horrible they might feel. I have permission to explore these ideas, without consequence. I can write them down. So, I write them down.
When we look at ways to talk to other people and develop communications (and stories) that teach, share, and explain—or moreover, that persuade—it often requires a deep understanding of the self, as well as a deep understanding of another person. Whether you’re a marketer trying to explain your product to an audience that could benefit from your design, a teacher trying to clarify a new idea to students, or an individual seeking understanding from a close friend or loved one, it is through our words that we take the ideas in our minds and give them shape for other people.
Words and writing are one way that we tap into our soul and ideas—words are a connection device between humans, a way to tell stories and share parts of ourselves with other people.
Words and writing are one way that we tap into our soul and ideas—words are a connection device between humans, a way to tell stories and share parts of ourselves with other people. The more we practice using our words and explaining our thinking, the larger our repertoire of sentences and stories that we can pull from to explain ourselves to other people. The more we write, the better we can teach, explain, love, persuade. Writing, as a practice, gets easier the more that you do it.
Writing is about bravery and courage.
“Give me the courage to show up and be seen.” — Brene Brown.
“We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are. We all have shame. We all have good and bad, dark and light, inside of us. But if we don’t come to terms with our shame, our struggles, we start believing that there’s something wrong with us –that we’re bad, flawed, not good enough—and even worse, we start acting on those beliefs. If we want to be fully engaged, to be connected, we have to be vulnerable.” —Brene Brown, Daring Greatly.
The beauty of writing, and this is true for me quite profoundly, is that we can often make our way out of suffering through the act of writing itself and often just by writing alone. It is not always the action or the striving that must be reconciled, but rather the understanding and acknowledgment of feeling itself.
As Spinoza, the philosopher, is quoted:
“Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it.” - SPinoza
In re-reading Man’s Search for Meaning, a gut-wrenching first-person account of surviving the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, Harold Kushner details the quest for meaning in his introduction to the account:
“Life is not primarily a quest for pleasure, as Freud believed, or a quest for power, as Alfred Adler taught, but a quest for meaning. The greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her life. Frankl saw three possible sources for meaning: in work (doing something significant), in love (caring for another person), and in courage during difficult times. Suffering in and of itself is meaningless; we give our suffering meaning by the way in which we respond to it.”
Forces beyond your control can take everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.
Writing is not just about sadness and suffering, either (and nor is life). Writing also lets us write the good things, write the ways we want to feel, and give permission to the greatness in emotion that needs as much encouragement to expand as do the emotions that make us seek understanding. Good feelings need space to expand, too. Write about all of it. Tell it.
Perhaps we are afraid of writing because we're afraid of knowing our own story.
Writing is intimidating for so many reasons. We're scared that we won't capture the ideas or know what to say—and we're afraid of what we'll discover or become if we do pencil out those terrifying thoughts. in your life do you feel brave or have you been brave? Perhaps your writing journey can begin with a highlights reel: describe a moment in your life when you encountered an opportunity to be brave. How did you react? What was the call to action? How long did it take you to decide to do something? How did you feel before, during, and after? What was the result? Who was changed as the result of this event?
Bravery is something different to every person.
To me, I can find it tremendously difficult to act upon one of my biggest dreams—the dream that I’m almost afraid to make real, the one that seems so simple to everyone else but me. In contrast to this seemingly simple thing, this act that everyone but me seems to find easy, I would rather jump in an ocean naked, swim a hundred miles, or work myself to the ground than admit to myself how important it is. When I discovered the extent to which I was avoiding doing the practice of my deepest dream, I wondered to myself whether or not taking steps to fulfill this dream was even brave. Did it matter that it seemed like the hardest thing in the world was getting on that bus and taking myself to the class I was so scared of? Did each of these actions—even just saying what my dream was out loud to those closest to me—was that even bravery?
Speak up for something you believe in.
The answer is yes. Speaking up for something you believe in, even if it’s just a laugh and a smile; holding your daughter’s arms, saying no with your eyes, writing about a story that hurts to tell, taking a class that terrifies you even though it doesn’t seem difficult to anyone else—this is bravery.
Write, tell the story of your life.
Thank you for reading and writing,
Coming soon! The Writer's Workshop and Content Strategy for Thought Leaders, as digital self-guided courses. Available in the Fall. Early-bird registration will be shared first to my private email list.