Why You Need to Be Fearless in Your Writing

OVER THE PAST FIVE MONTHS, I’ve challenged myself in ways I never have before.

In the early stages of this pandemic I decided to jump into the void of uncertainty by leaving my job to go after a life which only I could create.

I planned to leave home to teach English in Japan. I needed to get uncomfortable.

I wrote an article about the decision — I put my heart on the page — I was scared to publish it because I questioned what others would think.

The fear felt good, because it proved how important the decision was to me. My mom cried when she read the story, and I knew I had something real.

It may be another year or so until I’m finally able to live the dream I had intended. But in life, we seldom have control over our circumstances. How we react to them is all we can hope to change.

I realized that whatever happens in my life, fearlessly writing about that experience brings peace and further understanding. This belief hasn’t failed me yet.

By letting go of that dream for now and focusing only on what I can do in this moment, I’ve discovered more about who I truly am than I could have imagined.

As human beings, we derive true fulfillment from working through problems we genuinely care about.

There will always be challenges, but finding our purpose is about discovering which ones we are willing to take on. I decided to leave my job to become a writer because writing is the challenge I love.

Maybe if life had gone perfectly I’d be packing right now, planning where I’d visit first once touching down in my new home.

But that’s not how it went; life changed, and I’m carrying on.

The day is no less beautiful. Perhaps the universe has something else in store, a new story waiting to be written.

The universal human spirit connects us all, that which adapts and grows and changes. Writing about our journey through change conveys the power of the human spirit.

Those are the stories we crave — not perfect writing —  but the pieces that show who we authentically are and communicate that we’re in this together.

We tell ourselves that somebody has obviously already written about our idea. But who cares if what you’re writing about has already been said?

There will always be somebody who connects with what you say because it’s you who said it, in a way that only you can.

You must write not to prove yourself to the world, but because there’s a light in you that needs to shine, with no better way than through the expression of the written word.

You must write fearlessly and always because you’re a human being who’s experiencing life in a way nobody else is.

We live in an incredible age to be a writer.

It isn’t any easier, yet today we have a community like Medium where anybody has a right to their opinion. And that’s what Medium must be, a community.

Still, it’s natural to fall into the trap of viewing writing as a competition. When we do, it’s time to ask why we’re writing in the first place.

The English poet William Blake said:

I will not reason or compare, my business is to create.

When time stops and I can feel nothing but the fluid energy of creation, it doesn’t matter what others will think.

I know writing is what I must do.

I write to be a part of our modern world, where the free flow of ideas connects us in ways unimaginable in the past.

The fact that we can publish our thoughts and beliefs in modern democratic societies is an incredible right that mustn’t be taken for granted.

In the early 20th-century, Virginia Woolf longed for the freedom we have, a place where she could express her ideas and those of others from around the globe without the restrictions of the day.

In 1917, she and her husband Leonard Woolf created their own publishing house out of their living room, the Hogarth Press.

They dedicated themselves to creating what they hoped to be a community to exchange ideas, free-flowing, and wide-ranging.

Literature is no one's proving ground,

Woolf insisted in a 1940 lecture to the Workers’ Educational Association. [1]

Literature is common ground. Let us trespass freely and fearlessly and find our way for ourselves.

Like with anything we do, beginning to write a story can be the most difficult part.

We strive to create an intro that will lay the foundation for a piece as heartfelt as a Tolstoy novel yet as concise as Hemingway’s finest.

When we focus solely on the big picture, it can be daunting to write that first word. We lose sight of how important it is to simply put the wheels in motion.

If you get stuck, start small with personal experience and details, and allow the seed of an idea to blossom with patience.

Try not to overthink it; just put your words down in an eruption of thought and emotion. Get it all out of your system as if the story were for your eyes only.

And maybe it will be, but you’ll feel better for letting your thoughts unravel on the page.

Isn’t that why we write in the first place?

After the initial downpour, the real fun begins.

One of my favorite early 20th-century writers Stefan Zweig describes his editing process in his autobiography, The World of Yesterday:

It is an unrelenting throwing overboard of ballast, an ever tightening and clarifying of the inner structure.

Editing is not an easy process, as the decision to cut down your work can feel like picking which kid is your favorite; you don’t want to decide!

In the end it becomes a kind of joyful hunt for another sentence or even merely a word the absence of which would not lessen the precision and yet at the same time accelerate the tempo.

Zweig captures the joy of the writing process — starting with a seed of an idea and watching it grow into an unruly tree, to shape until all that’s left is the essence which leaves no more desired, yet enough to stand its ground.

When the thoughts are down and the initial editing is done, you must decide what is good enough without killing yourself by striving to be perfect.

There will always be another idea, another story, another slice of life to be illustrated through the written word.

But to be open to the spirit of life always looking to flow through us, we must be willing to let go of our work when we’ve given all that we can and continue moving forward.

Brenda Ueland writes in If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit:

There are wonderfully gifted people who write a little piece and then write it over and make it flawlessly perfect. These people only emit about a pearl a year or every five years. And that is because of the grind, the polishing, the fear that the little literary pearl will not be perfect and unassailable.

Don’t worry about making your writing perfect; in fact, it shouldn’t be. Your writing should reflect who you are, a human being unlike anybody else.

That’s what others connect to; that’s why we’re here writing in the first place  — to understand what makes us human.

Then, as Ueland says:

Working is not grinding, but a wonderful thing to do.

No matter what life throws in our way, there will always be something worth writing about, if only we’re willing to fearlessly put our thoughts on the page.

Writing will always be a wonderful thing to do. 


[1] McTaggart, Ursula. €˜Opening the Door€™: The Hogarth Press as Virginia Woolf’s Outsiders’ Society.€ Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, vol. 29, no. 1, 2010, pp. 63€“81. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41337032. Accessed 26 Aug. 2020.

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