Hello and here I am - finally - with the third essay all about creative bravery.
As before I've copied the essay below and attached as a PDF.
I do hope you enjoy it.
Thank you again for ALL your support. Large and small. I appreciate you all more than you know.
Creative Bravery by Helen Redfern
Essay No.3 from The Confident Creative
Did I ever tell you about the moment I picked up a lamb for the very first time?
I was wearing my special blue jumper. A jumper I felt good in. And when you feel good you’re more inclined to be a little less fearful.
At a homestead in the Peak District belonging to a friend of my parents during very early spring, I grabbed a small, cute little lamb and gave it a cuddle.
It proceeded to empty the contents of its bowels down the front of my favourite jumper. How the other children laughed.
That jumper wasn’t so blue now. And sadly it never fully recovered.
Then there was the time I went to stay with a friend for the weekend. We all went out adventuring and exploring and ended up in a farmer’s field. I jumped into a ditch where a boy was already standing and encouraging me to make the leap. It was a big drop and the girl I was with was all ‘Eek, I can’t jump that height’.
I’ll show her I thought. So I leapt.
And landed in mud that went up to my backside.
I remember both times feeling utterly mortified. As if I should’ve known a lamb’s bowel movement was imminent or realised that the solid ground some boy was standing on was next to a vat of brown slop.
The thing is, on both occasions - in my child-like way - I was putting myself out there. I was trying something different. I was trying to be brave, as only a ten or eleven year old could be by keeping up with the older children and exploring a world I wasn’t used to.
But each time I did I ended up with brown, disgusting stuff all over me.
It felt like a slap down. A get back into your corner sort of thing. Stick to what you know, little girl.
Fast-forward a few years. Yes, okay, decades. I’ve not thought about that blue jumper in a long time. What I do remember very well, though, is that feeling.
As I went on to navigate university, adulthood, new motherhood, becoming a writer – if I was ever tempted to put myself out there – maybe join a university team, or to meet new mums in my local village, or join a group of writers online – that feeling that I might end up feeling humiliated with brown goop all down me was right there at the forefront of my thoughts.
It’s that exact feeling that has stopped me forging ahead with my writing ambitions over the last fifteen years. The uncertainty of doing something new only to end up with everyone pointing and laughing. Well, it’s thirty-two years later and those feelings are still alive.
It’s difficult to push fear to one side and risk humiliation. I’m not very good at ‘shaking it off’. Some people are able to laugh and carry on. Me? I’ll sit and stew about it for days. In some cases it’s years later when I’m lying in bed and shuddering at the memory.
Yet I’ve chosen to become a writer. A writer who writes online. In public. In front of EVERYONE.
Whether it’s a tweet, a Facebook status, an Instagram caption, a blog post, an essay, a book proposal, a novel - that feeling of leaping and potentially landing in an embarrassing mess is something I face every single day.
You might see an Instagram post of mine where I share my writing in the picture and wish you were brave enough to do that. Or maybe you’re reading this essay, reading a blog post or watching me on YouTube. Maybe you’re wishing you, too, could be confident and put your creativity out there?
Well, it’s taken me fifteen frustrating – irritating - years to get here. And in those fifteen years I had a number of solutions to this fear:
Solution Number One: Stop writing and blogging.
I tried it. But it made me miserable. I love writing, I love blogging, I love being part of a community. This was not a long-term plan.
Solution Number Two: Write but don’t tell anyone.
Instead of telling people that I was attempting that jump I’d do it quietly whilst no-one was watching. Or I wrote but around the corner from where everyone else was sitting and talking. Then there was nobody to see and laugh if I ended up covered in mud.
I have a description for Solution Number Two. It’s called hiding underneath the kitchen table. It’s a lonely place sitting there on the cold kitchen tiles. Yes, there’s no-one laughing, pointing or criticising. There’s also no-one there reacting to and being moved by my words, no-one cheering me on or congratulating me. There’s no-one to talk to and discover shared experiences. There’s no-one to inspire me or give me a helping hand.
It’s just me. My thoughts and the crumbs left over from breakfast.
I spent a long time over the last fifteen years under that table.
There were occasions when I would poke my head out from under the table and make a stab at bravery. I went to a writing class in my local town and read out my short story. It was met with silence and one woman saying, ‘I don’t get it.’ I was utterly crushed. And retreated back to the safety of that table.
Criticism may not happen all the time and can even be quite rare but it does mean every time you write something and press publish for the world to see you’re waiting. Waiting and imagining what people are going to say. The worst possible things you can think of. It’s preparation for when ‘those comments’ come.
So that was my two options.
Don’t write. Or write and tell no-one about it by having my social media settings on private.
Until one day, I realised a change had happened over time and I discovered I had a third option.
Solution Number Three: This option was to write, edit, publish it and tell people I’d done it.
Using this option I gained feedback from a community saying they understood what I was writing about. That they felt the same way. Some blog posts passed by with no comments, some got one or two. And some caused a stir on Twitter and got a big conversation going. I did that.
Now I press that publish button on my blog with excitement. Sometimes I press it too fast and have forgotten to do all the fiddly last minute touches to a blog post. And I’ve even added video to my repertoire. And you can’t record video from underneath the kitchen table.
Don’t get me wrong. The fear is still there. I still open Instagram or YouTube and expect to see a horrible comment. This is social media after all and people can be mean.
But I am no longer allowing these faceless people in my imagination to quash my ambition. I’m not letting the occasional mean comment I’ve received dictate my creative life.
How, you might be asking, did I get to that point? What happened?
1. I started calling myself a writer.
This was a big moment. Huge.
Calling myself a writer has been one of the most empowering things I’ve done in my creative journey.
Seriously. It kick-started everything.
There is this view, and I don’t know where it comes from – probably the same place as all ‘The Blogging Rules’, that you need to be published to call yourself a writer. This is not true.
If you write, you’re a writer.
If you work full time at something that is as far removed from writing as possible and you still write in the evenings, in your lunch break, or at the weekends. You’re a writer.
I see it a lot online and know it wasn’t just me who felt unable to describe myself this way. People are too afraid to use the word ‘writer’ and instead use the phrase ‘aspiring writer’ or ‘wannabe writer’. The half-way house was using the term blogger instead of the word writer. A blogger is a writer. Own it.
I’d been writing for thirteen years before I dared call myself a writer. It was March 2016 – three years ago (and I know the date because I wrote a blog post about it!)
Someone had said to me ‘you’re a writer aren’t you?’ and I replied ‘yes’. I didn’t apologise for it. I didn’t say ‘well, yes, sort of, I write stuff, so yes, I guess you could call me a writer...’ I just replied with a firm ‘yes.’
And I’ve never looked back.
It was a pivotal moment.
From that moment I took those words and made them mine. I might not fully have believed it, but by describing myself as such it made me believe. I guess it’s like doing those affirmations or looking into the mirror and saying I am beautiful. Say it until you believe it. A self-fulfilling prophecy.
And by saying it, and by starting to believe it, it gave me a little motor on the back of me. Motorised wings I like to think. They were self-propelled and pushed me forward. It made me think: well, if I’m a writer I should write. It encouraged me to start thinking of my writing as a business. And by using the term business I mean it made me prioritise my writing. I stopped feeling guilty for writing instead of, for example, cleaning.
It gave me permission to write and put my writing out there. Which then snowballed into new directions, learning new skills and exploring a range of possibilities. Excitement overcame fear.
2. Understanding my fear
When I’m launching myself into a ditch why am I fearing the mud so much? Is it the mud I fear or the reaction from the people around me?
Well, of course it’s the reaction of the people around me. Their criticism, their mocking laughter, their finger pointing whilst shrieking ‘what makes you think you can do this you talentless piece of...’
These people can have faces. They can be the mums at the school gates, they can be family or they can be an ex-boyfriend or the children you went to school with some thirty years previously.
In reality the face is that of yourself. Because it’s not these other people shrieking at you with mean put-downs. It’s you. In your head.
So, why do we do it?
Is it a form of protection? Your brain wanting to stop you from being hurt?
Is it a fear of failing?
In this essay I am admitting to you, people I’ve never met, that I am a big old scaredy cat. Scared of trying new things. Scared of calling myself a writer and putting myself out there amongst far more talented people than myself. Scared of failing, of being rejected by publishers of being told ‘Helen your essay is rubbish this month’. But also scared of something else.
Scared of success.
I mean I’m a writer so I do have an imagination. Which means I think about: what if my book topped the bestseller lists? What if Oprah recommended my book and it became famous worldwide? What if a movie producer wanted to option my film and pop a mega Hollywood actress into the staring role? (I’d prefer Sheridan Smith but you know, whatevs...)
I mean. I feel a bit wobbly writing all of that.
Four years ago if that had happened I WOULD HAVE BEEN PHYSICALLY ILL.
But if that happened to me today? Today – I think I’d cope. I’d shake, I’d laugh and cry, I won’t believe it and probably imagine all sorts of scenarios of me falling on my arse – literally and figuratively.
But I don’t fear succeeding any more. Because now I’m purposely driving towards it. I’m making myself drive towards it. I have motorised, self-propelling wings.
You can do it too.
3. Marketing myself
I read a few years ago about this woman who wrote a well-read blog and was writing a book. She was talking to this chap, also a writer. Now I’m enormously paraphrasing here but he was saying to the woman: it’s been an easy ride for you to get published. He was saying, because she had a successful blog it was easier for her to get published.
The woman turned round to him and said: I’ve worked hard on that blog. I’ve put in the hours and I’ve shouted about it online. What have you done to get your work out there? Are you on social media? Where is your manuscript now?
He replied: It’s in my drawer. And social media is beneath me (okay, he didn’t say the latter but it was inferred).
How do you expect to be published, she asked him, if you don’t tell people about it?
There is this snobbery directed at social media by some writers. I’ve come across it myself and was made to feel cheap. A sneery ‘you’re not a real writer’.
But not telling anyone about your work can also be a self-depreciation thing. Where you think your work isn’t good enough to put out there. That there are enough voices and the Internet doesn’t need yours as well.
So, you write a blog post and don’t bother to tell people about it. Even though you’d love people to read it. You write a newsletter but don’t tell your community. Or write monthly essays and not mention that either.
I am often completely surprised when I discover some of the people I follow on Instagram have a blog. Some people never mention it exists. Why don’t they mention it in their Instagram Stories or in their main feed?
I’m asking because I’m looking for inspiring blog posts to read. Seriously. I love reading blogs. I love discovering a blog and getting so swept up with a person’s writing that I binge read the rest of it.
I realised people wanted to read. And I wanted to write.
When I got my head around this I started to mention my blog more. If I have a new post I won’t just mention it once. I’ll remind people twenty-four hours later. I’ll include the blog and YouTube links in my Patreon blog posts and my newsletter. They’re reminders for those who missed the first announcement or didn’t have time to read the first time that the post exists. After all, we all have busy lives.
No-one is going to stumble upon your blog and give you a book deal out of nowhere. You owe it to yourself and to your writing to tell people it exists.
Put it out there, pretend to be brave even if you’re not.
4. Write, edit, publish and move on
Thinking or talking about writing but not actually doing it will not make you a better writer. Reading books about how to do it and how to find your writing voice will not actually make you a better writer. Neither will dreaming about your book being made into a Hollywood film.
If you’re putting off writing a blog or a book until you’re a better writer I’m going to let you into a little secret.
The only way you’ll get better is by writing. In blog terms this means write the post, edit it, publish it and move on to the next one.
Writing two posts a week is what made me a better writer. Crafting quick captions for Instagram also made me a more confident writer.
I am not saying it has made me the best writer. But I’m improving every day. I’m learning. I’m writing quickly, I’m becoming proficient, I’m productive with my time and I’m building up a body of work.
Write, edit, publish. Move on.
The more you do it the less scared you’ll feel.
5. Learn new skills
One of the great things about the online world is how much you can do yourself from your own laptop and phone. Want to create a beautiful Instagram grid? All you need is a phone and an app or two. Want to create videos? You can do this on your phone or your laptop. Want to write a book and publish it on Amazon? Everything you need is on your laptop and at the end of the WiFi.
Want to add a piece of code to your blog? Watch a tutorial on YouTube then crack on. Want to create a logo? Again all the answers are there. You can do it.
In the last few years I’ve learnt how to use Wordpress and Squarespace for blogging. I’ve created myself a logo and branded colours. I’ve learnt how to record and edit videos and upload them to YouTube. I’ve learnt how to use my phone to take better photographs. I’ve mastered the art of the flat lay! I’ve written and delivered courses. I’ve worked out how to take payments through my blog.
Every time I’ve approached a new thing I want to learn to do I feel apprehensive. I feel that I won’t be able to do it. Yet each time I manage to work it out.
It gives you a sense of accomplishment. You believe in yourself that little bit more. Your confidence goes up.
You become that little bit braver.
So my message to you today is: stop thinking you’ll do this ‘one day’. One day when you’re more confident, one day when you don’t feel as scared, one day when you feel you’ll be a better writer. Just – take that leap. Take it. Today.
I did it. And I’m still here. I’m unscathed.
And I know you can do it too.
Here – grab my hand...