What it means to be brave

You know you’re up for a challenge when the first thing required of you is to be brave. Such was the condition to be eligible for the #SparkNA class. Your Main Character, and in extension, you as the writer, must be brave.

Different people have different definitions of what it means to be brave. I think “brave” is a product of your life experiences, what is courageous for you may not be courageous for another individual. For some people, bravery is cliff diving and roller coaster rides, for others bravery is simply getting up, showing up, and doing the next right thing. In the research I conducted to understand what it means to be brave, I came to the conclusion that courage is vulnerability.

Here are the highlights:

Brene Brown is a social researcher who studies vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. Through her TED talk, we learn that we build up all these fronts because at the very core of our existence is the very real fear of holding our hearts out for the world to do whatever it will. All of us know what it’s like to be rejected, what it’s like to have our hearts broken, what it’s like to be made fun of for caring too much. We are all afraid of our shame. We’re all afraid of what makes us human so we build up all these walls to protect us from the bad, but hiding from the bad also means hiding out from the good. These walls are not semi-permeable membranes or ion-gated channels that are activated by specific ligands. You either keep it all out, or take it all in.

I think that’s the scariest part of all.

We live in a society where it’s cool to be indifferent. The more sarcastic, ironic, and detached you are, the safer you feel. No one wants to stand in front of the sun so people could see through them. But writing stories is exactly that.

No matter what anyone says, writers leak into their narratives whether they are aware of it or not. The craft of a writer is hiding their (or another person’s) shame underneath layers and layers of constructs. Fiction is hiding truths beneath the lies. To write is to be vulnerable. But to be vulnerable means to be authentic, and to be authentic is to connect.

This whole Be Brave thing really hit me hard at the start of the workshop. I thought I could get away with just writing a story, and that it would be enough, but it became so much more than that. If you’ve kept updated with the hashtag on Twitter you’d notice all kinds of fears surfacing from our classmates. There’s the pressure of writing 20k words in two months, the challenge of your MC being brave and not a writer, and then came the homework.

Out of all the challenges we had, I think the Outline was most dreaded of all. Not everyone works well with outlines. Not everyone knows what happens in their story. Some writers work better when they just go with the flow and let their characters take them where they will. These writers found the outlining too rigid, too stifling, too against their natural process that it did them more harm than good. Meanwhile, others worked too hard to follow the outline they had submitted that the story and the characters had to take a step back. Both are paralyzing processes. I think it broke a few of us.

For me, I struggled with what it meant to be brave. I had an outline, I had characters that I believed in enough, and I had a story. But I was afraid of this story. I was afraid of what it could mean to me, and I was afraid of what it could mean to anyone else. I was afraid I couldn’t do it justice. I was afraid it wouldn’t be good enough. I was afraid, ultimately, of how much it would take out of me. I was afraid that in the end, it would just be a story, nothing more than a bunch of words pretending to have meaning.

I once attended this workshop where the speaker said to us that in every story, we should aim towards one authentic sentence. Everything in our narrative should be written towards that one authentic thing because that thing will define the work. That thing, the same Thing we were asked of in the very first activity, will be our contribution. Thinking of it that way made it even worse. So I forgot about all that and I went back to the basics.

I went back to the story.

I let myself just write. And when I let myself just write, actual writing happens. And when actual writing happens, you just get lost in the zone. And when you’re in a haze and have completely given up control, you end up surprising yourself. And I did.

So now I have a draft. It’s not done yet since I’m rewriting Act Three, but I have something I am proud of. Something I had to be brave for in order for my MC to be brave, too. Other things happened in between all of this. Things that I can’t really talk about, but things that defined “brave” for me.

I’m still afraid of what happens next once this story is out, but just like I learned, all I can do is get up, show up, and do the next right thing.