A Writing Life Requires Bravery

story of fish and snail

Anyone who reads my blog regularly knows that I have a wee obsession with Deborah Freedman’s picture book, The Story of Fish & Snail. The art is crazy good, but it’s the message that makes it a favorite title to share with pre-service teachers: Be brave. Leap. Or, in the words of the wonderful Deborah Freedman, sploosh.

The story lends itself to a variety of post-reading quickwrites. What would you do if you were brave? How would you teach if you were brave? What does a brave classroom look like? Define brave learning.

In Special Methods class this week, we tackled this question: What would your writing life look like if you were brave?

Pens were moving furiously. But only one writer was brave enough to share. And granted, her piece was one of those knock-it-out-of-the-park freewrites that comes out powerful and strong in four minutes, so I do see how it could be intimidating to share after that. Still, that moment where I asked for volunteers and not one person raised their hand to share was informative about where we are right now.

At the mercy of fear and judgment.

Held back by fear of what we might reveal about ourselves through our writing. Held back by judgment—the ways we judge ourselves (this isn’t an attractive thought, this isn’t a good piece of writing) and the ways that we imagine others will judge us (you aren’t a very nice person, you also don’t write very well). We worry about quality far too early in the writing process—when we’re still trying to work through our thinking.

That silence when I asked for volunteers to share showed me more than words could just how vulnerable these writers felt.

What I hope for my students is that they will learn how to write–and share–through that vulnerability.

If we’re writing what matters, we’re probably going to be working right there on the edge of fear much of the time. I feel like a Jillian Michaels video here, but we have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Writing that feels safe is often writing that’s just going through the motions. When I’m uncomfortable in a piece of writing, that’s when I know I’m getting somewhere.

There are different ways to be uncomfortable in our writing. Maybe we’re exploring subject matter that makes us feel vulnerable. Maybe we’re on the edge of what we can manage stylistically or technically. Or we’re trying something new—a new genre, a new format. Maybe we’re pushing our thinking and uncovering new beliefs. Or we’re challenging ourselves to articulate in words what we’ve never before spoken.

Discomfort is necessary if we’re going to grow and develop as writers, and here’s why: the discomfort is really about fear of failure. We aren’t sure that we can pull off what we’re trying to do. But if we aren’t risking failure, we aren’t learning. I can’t get better by doing the thing I already know how to do. At least not if that’s the only thing I do. And so when I’m uncomfortable, I know I’m growing, learning, discovering, developing.

A teaching life also requires bravery.

My pre-service teachers want to teach in radically different ways than they were taught. They want to teach in radically different ways than most of their colleagues will be teaching.

To do that and to sustain it, they will have to be brave.

Their writer’s notebook is one place to start. Sharing their own words aloud is another.


Image copyright Deborah Freedman at http://www.deborahfreedman.net


7 responses to “A Writing Life Requires Bravery”

  1. nickybanz Avatar

    “Or we’re challenging ourselves to articulate in words what we’ve never before spoken.” Thank you for the encouragement on my Slice Of Life that I’ve been absolutely stuck on.

  2. Matt Renwick Avatar
    Matt Renwick

    Terrific post, Elisabeth. You have revealed the anxieties that most writers experience while in the creation process. Applying this concept to teaching makes a lot of sense, which supports the complexity of our craft. Thank you for being brave.

  3. margaretsmn Avatar

    This post resonates with me. Ah, to be brave enough. I have moments of bravery, but most of the time I feel less than brave. I like to think about Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” If you aren’t scared, you aren’t alive. That’s scary.

  4. […] of bravery in her sixth-grade writer’s workshop. I’m super flattered that my post, A Writing Life Requires Bravery, inspired her to write […]

  5. Ramona Avatar

    So glad that Dana shared this. It’s a keeper, Elisabeth. “Discomfort is necessary if we’re going to grow and develop as writers…” thanks for this reminder!

  6. […] A Writing Life Requires Bravery is one of my own favorite pieces of the year. I love it when writing a piece helps me discover […]

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