[SWP: Behind the Book] Doing the Write Thing and The Courage to Create

The other day I autographed my novel, Warming Up, published by She Writes Press, for a friend of a friend who I was told was a writer herself.  Since my novel is, in part, about talented artists who are unable, at the start of the book, to practice their art, I wrote, “because you have the courage to create.”  In Warming Up, a chance encounter with a homeless boy changes how the main characters relate to their talents, and writing the inscription reminded me again that it does take courage to start, finish and then publish a novel, especially when one goes the independent route through a press like She Writes.

The courage to write.  We all must have it, or we wouldn’t be doing this.  Where does it come from?  In my own case, about twenty years ago, I gave up the full time practice of law, which was very lucrative, to write novels, an enterprise which so far is running in the red, financially, but otherwise feeding a very hungry soul.  There are a lot of precious sayings about why we write, about how we have to or we will die, and a lot of those are hogwash, at least in the physical sense, but in my case I can say simply that I knew that at the time, it was for me the—no pun intended—right thing for me to do.  I was, luckily, able to afford to not work full-time, and I knew that I would regret not trying to write a novel more than I would regret not billing a law client another hour.  So, I started out, taking classes, joining workshops, writing daily, and have managed to keep writing—so far ten novels (two now independently published), one memoir, one produced musical (about golf, honesty, and love) and a handful of short stories (two published). 

Every so often I go through a rough patch when I question that original decision, especially when a manuscript seems a mess, when two rejections come on the same day, when a friend wins a prize I should have (!) (Hey, I know I sound  a bit green, but I’m just trying to be honest with you.  I’m sure that no matter how happy we are for our friends, we all have that moment of “Why not me?”)

Looking back, I’m amazed that almost 20 years later, I’m still plugging away.  Is that courage or foolhardiness?  What gets me through?

I’m stubborn.  That helps.  I love where I am when I’m writing—and to remember that the rough places feel especially rough because I miss that state helps too.  That other writers have been there is encouraging. 

Writing is for me a spiritual exercise (not a religious one, mind you, but a soul-making one) because: 

  • it is humbling, requiring me to honestly face my imperfections and request and accept help;
  • it focuses me on the things I can do (I can write and I can publish with She Writes, but I can’t make anyone read it or like it or make it a bestseller), and
  •  it gives me great joy in the “now” moment of actually writing. 

I have also become convinced that no problem is too big not to have a solution—even if ultimately the solution is acceptance that the problem can’t be solved, it presents an opportunity.  Now that does sound like a Pollyanna attitude, but as a writer, the truth is, I’ve always gotten what I need when I’ve needed it.  The critical scene in Warming Up came out of my experience, several years prior, of having been conned out of sixty bucks by a teenage boy whose mother supposedly had told him to look for someone with “kind eyes.”  He got me, and a couple years later, I got a novel. 

I quit my full-time law practice because I wanted to write, and writers write.  They write while waiting for rejections, for reviews, for readings, for discovery by readers. I call that courage. 

I’ve finished novels and worked with editors and declared them done, and now have published a couple and done the “author” thing, and it’s a bit like doing the right thing—there’s no gold medal, parade, or financial award for having done it.  I do the write thing because it’s the right thing for me.   

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  • Mary Hutchings Reed

    All these comments make me want to write even MORE!  THANK YOU ALL for the inspiration.  I'm toying with the idea of starting NANOWRIMO.  Twice I've gotten good starts on novels from the challenge.  Any SWP Authors in?

  • Yehudit Reishtein

    Your description of the writing process as "feeding a very hungry soul" is so evocative. When I am writing< I feel in touch with my soul and am doing something that keeps it young, questing, and alive. I think the courage part comes in when one reaches out to share one's writing, because it is very much like sharing a part of the soul.


  • Kamy Wicoff Brainstorming

    Thank you for sharing your courage -- and for publishing your book with She Writes. I am looking forward to joining you on "the list"!

  • Nice post, Mary.  You express my sentiments about some of the reasons I write, too.  

  • Lisa Hamer

    To mine own self be true!

  • Kathryn Meyer Griffith


    good post. It does take a crazy kind of courage to keep writing year after year, decade after decade through the ups and downs of an author's life and career. Yes, writers write. They write through the years of their lives and hope people will read and be touched by what they've written. No, 20 years isn't too long to wait...I've been writing over 42 years, have published 18 novels, 2 novellas and 12 short stories, the first 39 years traditionally and now days self-published, and the discoveries are still coming. The readers are too. It's a LIFE sentence, my dear. I don't regret the days, weeks, years at the typewriter/computer/laptop though the income has never been there (but is getting better with my eBooks and my audio books) ... my writing has always been my heart and soul. And at the end of my days I will be able to say...I tried. And it made me happy. I was just notified that my newest book Dinosaur Lake is a 2014 EPIC EBOOK AWARDS FINALIST in their Suspense/Thriller category.  So, Mary, keep writing.

  • Perle Champion

    Nothing foolhardy in courage. I think courage is not in the writing so much as in the sending our writing out in the world. That is where courage comes in.  I've been writing some while, too and those SASE's coming back in the mail can be daunting. Stay stubborn