Dani Shapiro
May 30, 2012

On Doing What Scares You

I’ve been thinking lately about courage and confidence and how these are two words which might seem, on the surface, to be closely related, but actually have very different implications when it comes to the writing life.  Confidence is highly overrated.  Show me a confident writer, and in all likelihood you will also be showing me work that falls short of originality or greatness — because originality and greatness come from the willingness to take risks.  To leap into the void.  To do what scares you.  And while it may seem that this leap would take confidence, what it really takes to leap is courage.  Which is a whole other kettle of fish.

Courage involves feeling your fear — and doing it anyway.  There isn’t a day when I sit down to write that I am not afraid.  Oh, this fear can disguise itself in any number of ways: it can look like resistance, or exhaustion, or distraction, or despair.  It can even look like online shopping.  But what it is, really––bottom line––is the fear that I won’t be able to pull it off.  Whatever vision exists in my mind, whatever perfect iteration of an idea, will never be achieved.  So why bother?  Why even try?

I’ve been reading quite a lot of work lately that plays it safe.  Some of this work is very good, technically.  It reads smoothly, it contains within it some lovely imagery, some fluid sentences.  But in the end, I walk away from the page, already forgetting.  If we are going to spend our lives sitting alone in rooms––I don’t know about you, but I’m still wearing this morning’s yoga clothes, haven’t even practiced yoga yet, and haven’t left the house today except to walk the dogs––if we are going to live this strange, out-of-step existence,  sometimes lonely and certainly filled with rejection and indignity––then the reward for that, counter-intuitive though it may be, is to face our fears, to make the leap, to dare, to be willing to fall flat on our faces, every day, every single time.