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S.K. Quinn, Independent Author of Science Fiction

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

How to Be Brave

Writing is an emotionally risky thing to do.

[ETA: This post on Fear and the Creative Worker is intimately tied to this post. You may want to read that first.]

You discover things about your characters. You discover things about yourself.

(You fear, perhaps, those things should remain undiscovered. This is never true.)

When I posted an article on FB by Brene Brown about Why Vulnerability is Courage, the talented and fabulous Angela Ackerman pointed me toward another of Brown's TED videos about Shame. It was held up in a forum as a way to write complex characters, but I think it speaks not only to our characters, but to ourselves (as these things often do):

It's worth every one of the twenty minutes.
(I'm totally using this with ALL my characters going forward.)

In short:
People need connection - it's the most important thing in our lives. Shame is the fear of losing that connection over something we've done or something we are. Being vulnerable means taking action that allows people to see the things we fear will be shameful.

Here's the key: Being vulnerable is a measure of courage.

“Vulnerability is courage in you and weakness in me.”

It is precisely when we are feeling vulnerable that we are being courageous.

Part of me knew this intuitively from very early on; part of me is just now getting it in full.

Example: A lot of people tell me I'm brave. This isn't something that's happened since I've started writing or self-publishing. This has been going on my entire life, and on a fundamental level, it perplexes me. My own mother was telling me this ever since I was 18 months old, climbing out of the crib and heading for the 6 foot chain-link fence that separated our apartment complex from the freeway.

My mom: You had no fear! Fearless, I tell you! You would have climbed right out onto that freeway if we hadn't stopped you!

Me: You nearly let me crawl out into traffic?? Well... that explains a lot.

Growing up, I dreamed big (wanted to be an astronaut) and went after things that seemed to make other people cringe. It wasn't that I was tremendously brave, I just never let my fears and anxieties stop me from the things I wanted to do. It perplexed me that not everyone did this, and I figured that maybe other people didn't experience the fear in the same way. As I grew up, I explained my apparent bravery as "not letting fear stop you," but I knew that was an incomplete understanding of it. Because there were times that the fear stopped me. However, most times not, and I began to see the ability to be afraid and keep going as a strength.  

I remember very clearly telling my husband (before he was my husband) that, "Being able to be emotionally vulnerable is strength." What I meant was that "not letting the fear stop you" was a strength, not a sign of severe mental illness masquerading as reckless abandon in decision-making (which was how he described many of my actions).

He clearly thought I was nuts, but he married me anyway. (A topic for deeper analysis, to be sure.)

The aha moment for me today came while I read Brown's article about vulnerability being courage: I realized that all along, all that fear that I had - about not being a good enough writer, about failing as an author, about writing things that were too dark, or too sexy, or too emotionally raw - all of it was me feeling vulnerable while doing something brave

I've known for some time that being brave isn't about being fearless. The fear is always there. But the aha came in realizing that the fear wasn't weakness, something you overcame by not letting it stop you, but that...

Fear is part of courage itself.

Fear is a sign that you're letting yourself be vulnerable.
You're taking the chance of exposing your weaknesses to the world. And Brown found in her research that it was precisely these people - the ones who risked being vulnerable to the world - who were the most connected and had the strongest sense of worthiness and belonging in their lives.

"The courage to be imperfect. To tell the story of who you are with your whole heart." - BrenĂ© Brown

Thank you, Brene Brown, for being brave enough to point that out.


  1. Definitely true! If being open and honest were easy nobody would hold back. Keep on getting edgy, Sue.

    1. Thank you, Veronica! Never thought I was edgy before, but I definitely went there with Debt Collector!

  2. "...and I began to see the ability to be afraid and keep going as a strength."

    I totally agree with you here. I've been ridiculously brave many times in my life. I wouldn't be in Egypt or done many of the things I did in life without it.
    Great post! :-)

  3. Love this! I'm going to dive into that video tomorrow. (bedtime now and I FEAR not getting enough sleep. =)

    1. I hope you find the video as amazing as I did! Thanks for stopping by, Elle!

  4. well said and so true. Fear is the mind killer.

  5. That is fascinating!! The ones who risk vulnerability had the strongest sense of worthiness. Love it. :)