Fear shows up unbidden…and it’s rarely a useful tool for your best work. Hope, on the other hand, can be conjured. It arrives when we ask it to, it’s something we can give away to others again and again, and we can use it as fuel to build something bigger than ourselves. ~ Seth Godin
While I’m off at a conference, I’d like to share this article from my archives.
Even with my limited military experience, I know the value of training, like breaking down a weapon and putting it back together, over and over. Take care of your weapon and it will take care of you, kind of thing. Various forms of combat training, mock emergency exercises, gas mask drills—all done with the goal of solidifying the important things in the brain so when the need arises, the body reacts with little or no hesitation.
I used to volunteer with a white-water rafting company. I trained with the rest of the staff before rafting season, and during the season we trained groups of clients in river safety before each trip. Weekend after weekend, and year after year, it all got drilled into my brain. And when I actually fell out of a raft one day and found myself trapped underneath it, spinning in the current at the base of a waterfall, my body did what my brain had been trained for—and I did exactly what was necessary to escape, without panic.
Knowing the value of training is also the reason I always read through the emergency procedure literature on an airplane before takeoff and watch the flight attendant demonstrate getting out of a seatbelt and putting on an oxygen mask. I look at the pictures and go through the steps in my mind, imagining myself opening those emergency doors and escaping. I want my mind to be ready, just in case, so my body responds accordingly.
The armed forces, police, firefighters, and emergency/rescue workers train hard, and sometimes for years, in order to respond correctly in the face of danger or disaster. When asked about their bravery, many of these people will tell you they are just doing their jobs the way they were trained to do them. I can see this might be true the first time a person is tested, but what about after that?
It takes real bravery to face an enemy more than once, whether the enemy is found in nature or a fellow human. Doing so could be grounded in training, as well as camaraderie—watching somebody else’s back, not wanting to let your buddy down. It could also be the result of truly knowing what the right thing is, and doing it. Otherwise, ordinary people wouldn’t rush into burning buildings to save strangers.
But where do the roots of such bravery come from? Maybe from parents or others whom children admire, teaching them by their words and actions to love their country, respect life, do the right thing, and make a difference. These are the children who grow up to choose vocations that take them into danger or who dedicate their lives to helping others. Or who simply live ordinary lives with grace and conviction (which ultimately leads to a better world).
We may not be able to teach bravery, but perhaps we can plant the seeds of courage.
Where do you think courage comes from?
Seth Godin is the author of 18 bestselling books that have been translated into more than 35 languages. He’s also the founder of squidoo.com and The Domino Project. I’ve been following his blog for several years, and I appreciate his insight into business, marketing, and leadership and his passion for trying to change things, especially how our thoughts and actions affect others. The following article was posted on his website in June 2013.
Fearlessness is not the same as the absence of fear
by Seth Godin
When we deny our fear, we make it stronger.
When we reassure the voice in our head by rationally reminding it of everything that will go right, we actually reinforce it.
Pushing back on fear doesn’t make us brave and it doesn’t make us fearless. Acknowledging fear and moving on is a very different approach, one that permits it to exist without strengthening it.
Life without fear doesn’t last very long—you’ll be run over by a bus (or a boss) before you know it. The fearless person, on the other hand, sees the world as it is (fear included) and then makes smart (and brave) decisions.
Here’s an updated version of a Live More, Fear Less post from my archives.
There are so many things to worry about in this life: the state of the world with its pollution, wars, natural disasters, famine. There’s human trafficking, drug cartels, economic collapse. Some mothers watch their children waste away through starvation. Some fathers are beaten and killed for their faith or beliefs. Closer to home are the very real problems of putting food on the table, juggling bills, trying to keep a job, and deciding between paying the rent or going to the doctor. And then there are more personal worries like living alone or being lonely, growing old, and being forgotten.
It’s easy to worry, and it’s something I’m very good at because I’ve had lots of practice. When I feel myself slipping into that place where I need to print business cards that say “Cate Macabe, Professional Worrier,” I stop and try to put things in perspective.
If I’m living in a car or a bombed-out building, do I worry about how fat I look in my jeans? While I’m sitting by my child’s hospital bed, do I care that my gray roots are showing? What is the fear of growing old compared to the fear of having nothing to feed my children? How does the fear of crowds or heights or giving an oral presentation compare to facing the devastation of a hurricane or a flood?
When I received the news that a friend of mine lost her teenage daughter to the hands of a murderer, the first thing I did was cry, and then I wailed. I was devastated for my friend, the heartbreak she felt, the horror of the crime. And I cried out for her daughter. There was so much she didn’t get to do. She was too young to be taken from this life. The next thing I did was look at my own teenage daughter and my life with her. Did all my rules, and nagging, and too-high expectations create the relationship I wanted? Did I want to push her away or look at each day with her as a gift to cherish? I decided, on the day I got my friend’s tragic news, what was truly important and began making choices accordingly.
Don’t wait for a disaster to give you a new perspective. Decide now what is most important and take practical steps to follow through.
If living longer and enjoying your family as you age is what you worry about – walk a little everyday, make better food choices, exercise your mind. Is getting a job or holding on to one a concern? Update your skills, work for a temporary agency, volunteer in your field of interest.
Doing something for someone else can shift our focus and also change how we look at our own lives. Visit an elderly neighbor, hold the hand of someone who’s grieving, watch a busy Mom’s kids to give her some alone time, send thank-you cards and letters to soldiers serving overseas (especially in combat zones).
Today, this minute, we can’t help a starving child or love an orphan on the other side of the world, but we can contribute money or time to organizations that can. And if we have the heart for it, we can foster or adopt and change the life of such a child.
Unless we do something with our worry, it becomes a waste of our time and energy because it’s really only a useless exercise of the mind. Don’t let the worries of life get you down for long. Take one step back if you have to, then two steps forward and keep looking ahead.
What do you do to stop worry from getting out of hand?
Image “Keyhole And Ladder” courtesy of Master isolated images / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
WANA (We Are Not Alone) is an organization started by Kristen Lamb as a way for creative people to connect with each other to serve and support one another. WANA Con, their annual online two-day writing conference (in February), offered plenty of encouragement, as well as classes that focused on topics ranging from character development, scene structure, and self editing to social media and website building – all at a cost far less than a “real” conference, and much more convenient.
I attended WANA Con 2014 wearing sweats and slippers, with a bowl of popcorn and a cold soda within reach, expecting it to be a good experience. But it ended up being a great one. Here are ten of the best take-aways from this year’s online conference:
1. Jami Gold: An Introvert’s Guide to Twitter
“First, let’s accept publishing guru Dan Blank’s challenge to not define ourselves as an introvert simply for a blanket excuse to avoid being social. As he points out, we can respect the ways we’re introverted while still taking social actions. Our introversion is a starting point for finding methods that work for us, not an excuse to avoid all social activities.”
2. Marcy Kennedy: Put Your Inner Editor to Work: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers
A main character must be interesting and likeable – but just because you’ve written an interesting character doesn’t mean you’ve written a likeable one. “Your main character needs to be interesting enough that a reader wants to spend 10+ hours with them…The reader also needs to like them OR pity them OR want to see them get what they deserve.”
3. Marcy Kennedy: Put Your Inner Editor to Work: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers
A story needs an antagonist, but the antagonist is not necessarily a villain. “A villain is evil. An antagonist is just someone who’s standing in the way of your main character achieving their goal. You must have an antagonist. A villain is optional.”
4. Gilbert Clay and Stacy Brewer: PDMI Editorial Presentation
Writers have long been advised to know the rules before they break them. We also need to have good reasons to do so. Know the following before breaking the rules: what effect it will have on the story; if it will help tell a better story; how will it affect the reader’s experience. Just because a well-known author breaks the rules, doesn’t mean all writers should.
5. Ellie Ann Soderstrom: Collaboration Station
If you’re working with others to produce your book, it’s not a good thing to “defend your manuscript the way a mother bear defends her cubs. Your book is a gift, not a baby. If you want to write for yourself then keep it to yourself. If you want to write for others then give it to a trusted editor.”
6. Julie Duffy and Gabriela Pereira: Rock Your Revision
Rocking your revision starts with Character as Cornerstone – “get your character in place and trigger the domino effect.” Keys to a strong central character: an ordinary person who becomes extraordinary; a defining characteristic; the most interesting character in the story; must want something and need something (not necessarily the same thing).
7. Lisa Hall-Wilson: Beyond Basics: How to Write Effective Inner Dialogue
Internal dialogue is an indirect method of description. “That is, the writer does not directly describe a person, scene or event, but rather processes the description through the character’s consciousness. Once we enter a character’s internal world, we must consider how the character’s consciousness filters the description and shapes the telling of the tale.” ~ Word Painting
8. Shirley Jump: Writing the Compelling Scene
There are two types of scene goals:
♦ The Author’s Goal • What do you want to accomplish in this scene? • How will doing this change your reader’s perception of your character? • How will doing this increase the tension? • How can you accomplish your goals while showing (not telling) and using action instead of passive events?
♦ The Character’s Goal • What does the point of view character want in this scene? • What is so important about achieving this goal? • What will the POV character sacrifice in order to obtain this goal? • What actions will the POV character take to achieve this goal?
9. Sandra Brannan: Jumping Into Bed Between Explosions & A Firestorm of Bullets
Elements of plot can be found in CHOKE:
♦ Concern – Do I care? – Through belief in, and feelings for, the characters and understanding their conflicts.
♦ Heighten Tension – The plot thickens: handicap your characters; aggravate, confuse, complicate; master the twists; readers need to be embroiled in conflict
♦ Overload the Senses – Create crisis at the peak (“Oh, no!” and “Ah-ha!” moments), readers want to be surprised without feeling duped
♦ Kill Switch – Explain the outcome (wind down the engine and let it cool off); readers want to see and feel the pieces being tied together, and suspension of unbelief but not the unbelievable
♦ Ending – Tie up all the loose ends; readers should feel rewarded, satiated (best dinner date ever: good company, great food, didn’t overeat, no rush); leave readers craving the next book
10. J. E. Fishman – 8 Ways Nonfiction Colors Fiction
Research does not lend your story conflict, give your story structure, illustrate your protagonist’s moral dilemma, or shape your story arc (but fictional elements do). Nonfiction: Gives us a geography to borrow; Provides historical context; Provides social context; Leverages known stakes; Educates us and lends authority; Provides real-life characters to ground us; Reinforces theme; Builds a point of departure for real-life outcomes
WANA Con also offers attendees the chance to be credited for their conference fee through a giveaway. This year I was thrilled to be one of three people whose names were picked at random to receive this credit (which I promptly applied to other writerly odds and ends).
One of the best things about the conference was the reminder that I am not alone on this writer’s journey. I hope you’ll consider attending the next WANA Online Conference – I know I’ll be there.
Do you wanna be a part of WANA Tribes? Click here.
Have you attended a WANA Con before? If so, what did you learn?
Busy, busy, busy. I’ve pulled a post from my archives because I just can’t seem to learn from years of experience that December is a crazy month, and I really should plan better.
I’ve been getting up early and going to bed late, rushing here and there, trying to finish everything necessary to make this a great Christmas. I overextended myself in November, so I’m a month behind on everything including making crafts, baking cookies, decorating the tree and the house, and shipping off packages still waiting to be filled with gifts. Not to mention the Christmas cards that need personalized notes (plus addressing and mailing out). I even had to cancel my volunteer day this week – just no time. I am, in fact, doing exactly what I promised myself I would not do again this year.
I wanted this Christmastime to be less stressful and more joy-filled than previous years. To follow a plan, check things off lists, and put my feet up the week before the red-suited plump guy slides down the chimney, and sigh contentedly that life is good.
Today, in the middle of all this craziness – and my broken dream of a perfectly planned and executed holiday – I remembered why I like Christmas. It’s not dragging out the decorations and the lights, or the annual five-pound weight gain, or the hours of shopping and stressing over the right gift. But I love the twinkling lights that make the world glow like a fairyland. I love sharing and eating holiday goodies. And I love giving gifts and celebrating the reason for the season: the birth of Jesus. All these things, plus the feeling that everyone seems jollier this time of year, add up to why I like Christmas so much.
There’s one more thing I remembered today. Life is good. Very good, despite the self-imposed craziness. I’m blessed beyond measure. I have a loving husband and children, friends who care about me, a soft bed and a warm house, and plenty to eat. And too many more blessings to count.
To uncrazify my days, I need to keep reminding myself that Christmas isn’t what makes me rush around trying to get things done – it’s my own expectations and what I think others expect from me.
I can still enjoy Christmas if I let go of a few things on my unfinished to-do list. If I slow down and focus on what I want the next twelve days of December to be like, I will have the best gifts anyone can ask for, or give – joy and peace, and time spent with friends and family.
How are you handling holiday stress?
Are you shy? Are you an introvert? If so, you understand the horror that is public speaking. As a child you pretended to study the book on your desk so the teacher wouldn’t call on you in class (even though you already knew the answer). You stammered or stuttered or sweated your way through the dreaded oral presentation – and you still do.
I am one of those writers who would happily spend my days holed up in my dark, cozy cave, stories streaming from my fingers onto the keyboard, only coming out for chocolate and Mountain Dew. That’s my idea of a perfect writing life. No public speaking for me. No selling myself. But if a writer’s goal is to be published, she must satisfy some requirements and re-enter the light every now and then.
One of those requirements is a book event – in the case of my first one of a few weeks ago, that meant a discussion, a reading, and a book signing. (Just so you know, merely thinking of doing another one makes my hands shake and my stomach turn.)
I had done my research and knew how to prepare for the practical aspects of it: make notes and study what to say, bake goodies to share (brownies and cake), gather pens (for signing, just in case), as well as a bottle of water, bookmarks and business cards. I even showered and put on clean clothes – living in a cave can leave one dusty and rumpled.
But how does a shy, introverted cave-dwelling writer stand up in front of a group of strangers and sell herself and her book? The answer is…she doesn’t!
In my search for peace in this process, for a way to make it through the horror, I discovered two simple keys to survive a book event:
1. Don’t make it about yourself: Make it about the audience.
If you were in the audience, what would you want to know about a book and its author? Keep this in mind as you plan the talk.
- Include a brief introduction about yourself, where you’re from, how or why you started on your writing journey. The audience is made up of regular people (just like you, right?) and they want to identify with you.
- Talk about why you wrote this particular book. Out of all the stories you could have written, why did this one grab hold of you and not let go? Don’t be afraid to show your passion for the project.
- Many readers are also writers or they aspire to be. Explain what your process was like as you wrote this book – your day-to-day routine, research, the cycle of editing, your challenges and victories, how you put it all together. (My audience was especially interested in the fact that I color-coded the chapter outline of This New Mountain, cut it in sections, and laid the pieces out on the floor to decide what chapters went where.)
- In choosing what to read, what excerpt most exemplifies your writing but would also most hold the audience’s attention? Whatever you decide, keep it short.
2. Don’t make it about selling your book: It’s as simple as that.
- Selling a book would be great, but focusing on that could turn you into one of those sleazy car salesmen. You know, the ones with the fake smiles who circle round and round like vultures. Don’t go there, don’t even try – giving yourself permission to let go of this is enough to make a shy introvert dance in the streets (not really).
If I were to summarize what I learned from my first book event, it would be to respect your audience. Two simple keys helped shift my focus from myself to those who really mattered – the people who took the time out of their day to drive across town to hear an unknown author speak. And that made all the difference in my ability to handle the situation.
I’d love to hear about your experiences with public speaking. What is your advice to get past the “horror” of it all?
For this post, I’ve gone into my archives and updated one of my earliest articles.
Seeing the not quite picked-clean bones of this huge fish reminds me of similar encounters at a time when I was young and innocent, playing in the sand with my silver spoons and plastic bucket, trying to dig to China. I remember how sand crabs skittered about while I dug deep holes that filled with ocean water seeping in under the beach. I remember finding the shield-like remains of a spiny horseshoe crab with its stiff dagger tail. And one peaceful afternoon, two men dragged a large thing through the surf and onto the sand nearby. A sleek, grey, smooth-skinned body with a long tail, and side and dorsal fins. I was little and the thing was huge, and it was a shark.
That creature laying on the sand made me wonder what else swam out there in the deep, among the rushing waves just beyond the shore. What else was out there that I couldn’t see? Close enough for swimmers to capture, close enough to swim among the swimmers.
I decided I didn’t want to be one of those deep-water-swimming-with-creatures kinds of people. I’m perfectly happy to watch the waves for hours, feel my toes leave impressions in the warm sand, smell the salt in the air, hear the gulls cry. At peace with the forever cycle of sea meeting land in a rush and swell, a falling back, and a reaching out once more.
The sea and me, we have an understanding: if I don’t go in too deep, it won’t eat me alive. It’s not the fear of drowning that keeps me rooted in ankle-deep surf. I can swim just fine. No, it’s the things in the water I can do without. And I’ve always been okay with this perfectly logical fear I have.
Then I took my oldest daughter on a Caribbean cruise for her 21st birthday. We explored Mayan ruins in Cancun, hiked through a waterfall in Jamaica, visited a place called Hell. It was all wonderfully normal, until she wanted to swim with stingrays. AND she wanted me to join her. How sweet of her to think of me. The water would be warm and clear, she said. Clear enough to see all those creatures living in the ocean.
In doing research for This New Mountain, I came across the following quote by Ambrose Redmoon:
“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.”
At the time of the cruise, I hadn’t been introduced to AJ Jackson (of This New Mountain) and her head-on approach to dealing with fear, but I knew deep down if I let go of this chance to share something remarkable with my daughter, I would always regret it. And a part of me actually did want to [shudder] swim with stingrays.
I talked myself into it and out of it dozens of times. I was still talking to myself as I followed my daughter down the ladder on the side of the sightseeing boat. I changed my mind again, but I couldn’t climb back up, someone was already clanging down the ladder above me. My heart pounded. I tried not to look at the water below as I stepped onto the bottom rung. To keep from hyperventilating, I had channeled deep Kung-Fu-Lamaze breathing for a good fifteen minutes up to this point. No other options presented themselves besides shoving the person above me off the ladder. I took a few more slow, even breaths, told myself to just do it, and dropped into the warm ocean.
I expected to have to push off the bottom and swim to the surface, instead I touched solid “ground” after a few feet. The water resting over this pristine reef was only armpit deep. The sand spread out at my feet soft and white and unmarred as far as I could see. No shells, no seaweed, no creatures, nothing but sand. It was as if someone had swept it clean just for me. This wasn’t so bad. I could do this.
Soon a murmur started from a group of people bobbing in the calm farther away from the boat and me, and closer to the open sea. Shadows slid through the water, dark cloaks winging toward us. I screamed along with everyone else – tenor and soprano voices mixed together, men and women alike.
But these stingrays were not there to hurt us. They were more like dogs racing in for the treats the tourist boat always brought along to bring them close. The rays hugged our legs and spun around us. My daughter, the adventurous child, hugged one back. I stood as still as possible and took photos of rippling cloaks and tiger-eyes unblinking. Soon the creatures turned and swept back the way they came.
I still don’t like deep water, won’t go in it, preferring slow walks along the edge of my mind and the surf. I’m comfortable with this fear, its limitations and its limits. I suppose I’ve always known that some things are more important than fear, I just don’t like to have to practice that particular piece of wisdom. But now I can say I swam with stingrays – and I never have to do it again.
Is there a fear that keeps you from doing something you’ve always wanted to do? Is it time to take a few deep breaths, pull yourself up by your bootstraps and jump in?
For years I’ve saved quotes about friendship and motherhood, fear and failure, life, love, and laughter. I find them on the internet, in books and greeting cards. What I like about the quotes I save is that they get to the heart of something important in life – they speak truth to me, truth to anyone.
I would love to have a single wall devoted entirely to framed quotes of every kind, but one wall wouldn’t be enough to hold them all. I would need one wall for love quotes and one for writerly quotes, another devoted to family, still another covered in ancient wisdom…but if I did that, my husband would think I’d gone off the edge and he probably wouldn’t come home.
But I should get them out of the notebooks and computer files and display a handful here and there in a more acceptable, decorative, house-wifey way. That’s for a future project. Right now I want to share a few of them with you. (For sayings with more of a country feel, see this post and this one, too.)
Here are ten of my favorite quotes:
A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees. The greatest work that kindness does to others is that it makes them kind themselves. ~ Amelia Earhart
Nobody can make you feel inferior without your permission. ~ Eleanor Roosevelt
The scariest moment is always just before you start. ~ Stephen King
The feeling of being hurried is not usually the result of living a full life and having no time. It is on the contrary born of a vague fear that we are wasting our life. When we do not do the one thing we ought to do, we have no time for anything else – we are the busiest people in the world. ~ Eric Hoffer
I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. ~ Thomas A. Edison
Find the work you love and do it, and you will not work another day of your life. ~ Confucius
Old age is that night of life, as night is the old age of day. Still night is full of magnificence and, for many, it is more brilliant than the day. ~ Anne Sophie Swetchine
The most wasted of days is one without laughter. ~ E.E. Cummings
Happiness is where we find it, but rarely where we seek it. ~ J. Petit Senn
Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope. ~ Maya Angelou
What is your favorite quote or saying that has made a difference in your life?
With Mother’s Day coming up this weekend, I’d like to share the prose poem “The Lanyard” by Billy Collins. My oldest daughter copied this from the Internet in 2005, and I’ve brought it out nearly every year since then to read it over and remember. It’s not the kind of poem you’ll find in a greeting card, but like all good writing it hits home with its truth.
The Lanyard by Billy Collins
The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.
No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly—
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.
I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.
She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light
and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.
Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift—not the worn truth
that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.