Brené Brown is a research professor studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. I found out about her while browsing TED, and her talk on the power of vulnerability is still my favourite.
“When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make.”
Briefly, what I took from her talk is that vulnerability is all about risk, uncertainty and emotional exposure. Life is uncertain and risky though, and allowing yourself to be open to that risk, to be vulnerable, has been shown time and again in her studies to enrich lives, making them more joyful. People who live with armour to protect themselves from pain, shame, embarrassment and failure also cut themselves off from love and joy. It takes great courage to allow expose yourself to risk, but through this comes growth and fulfilment.
What does this have to do with writing? Well this idea that vulnerability is a strength and that it requires great courage changed Brené’s life, and I think it can change the life of every writer. We’re here to tell the truth, even in fiction. A book that doesn’t ring true emotionally or deal honestly with human life might keep people entertained for a little while, but if people can’t connect to it, to its emotional truth, it can’t ever be a great book.
Writing is an intensely vulnerable act and often a scary one; just the thought of other people judging our writing can stop progress or hold us back from saying what we really mean. Perhaps that’s why writers often say it doesn’t get easier with time, or if you’ve had more books published. Every time you sit down to write you expose yourself, and that takes courage every single day.
But it’s vital, especially at first draft stage, to write from the heart without censorship. If it feels uncomfortable to write, if you’re not sure you really dare say something, it means you’ve hit the nerve of something that matters. If you have the courage to write the truth your writing will be immeasurably better. This is something you have to work on every day and you don’t risk failure (and probably actually fail a few times), you’ll never be able to succeed. If you don’t write the truth and write badly and do all those other things that are uncomfortable, you’ll never find the beauty of your voice.
I often try to ask myself in the morning, what am I going to create today? This reminds me to try to do the important stuff and not get bogged down in all the non-stuff that we fill our days with. I’m also convinced that noticing things you’re grateful for (which Brené also talks about) changes your perception of the world, and thus changes how you see your work and writing. At the end of this talk I came away with another couple of things to add to a little list in my head of things that writers should do every day. I’m not, in all honesty, really into rousing/heartwarming slogans, but when I got back I taped a piece of paper up by my desk. I think if I can look at this and try to live by it every day, my life could look very different in a year. It says:
Every day be:
Maybe I should change that, so it just says ‘Dare Greatly’?
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