Be Brave

What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?

                                    Vincent Van Gogh


Writing is a scary endeavor, don’t you think? There’s that frightful blank page staring at us, taunting us, daring us; then the first sentence; the first paragraph; the first page; the ending; and all those paramount decisions we make to fill the space between. Our nerves quake against the inner critic with a dialog stuck on repeat: What if I can’t do this? What if the world finds out I’m a fraud? What if I’m too scared? What if the reviews are hurtful-or true? Every time we face the page, we are taking risks. Big, potentially-career-changing risks. Damn right, we’re scared. Or… maybe it’s just me?

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “I dip my pen in the blackest ink, because I am not afraid of falling into my inkpot.”

Well, good for ole Ralph! But I’m currently knee-deep in research for two books I’m writing for an educational publisher, and I am a tiny bit afraid. Partly because of the reeeally short deadlines, and partly because I’ve agreed to write about subjects that deserve the utmost sensitivity and respect. And I know very little about them. Yikes!

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My declaration of independence aka: cowardly badge of courage

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I instinctively reached for my version of the Cowardly Lion’s badge of courage. Ain’t it purdy? See, a million years ago, in 1994, I suffered a slobbery, whimpery, crushing heartbreak. You know the kind. I was a weak-kneed wreck until I ran out of tears. One day, the cosmic switch flipped and I found my sea-legs again. I dressed up in my favorite white suit with a red belt and red pumps (you can tell this was pre-writing career.) I trekked to the nearest jewelry store and zeroed in on this pendant. The cute panda on the front wasn’t the draw. The back, however, was engraved 1994. Sold! Originally, I called it my declaration of independence. I know, I know… corny, right? This piece of gold and credit card balance had a purpose: to remind me to never be a human door mat again; to stop hiding behind insecurity; to take risks; to be brave!


This symbolic shot of courage has been with me through tough times and triumphant times, in my writing life, and my personal life. I tend to reach for it when I’m feeling anxious, or vulnerable, or just plain scared. Like when I hiked the glacial ice fields miles above Juneau, Alaska; scuba-dived in various oceans; white-water-rafted; blew both knees in skiing trips; submitted to agents; collected rejections; gave my heart away again. I do think we need to step outside our comfort zones sometimes, to remind us we are alive.

Andre Gide, recipient of the 1947 Nobel Prize in Literature wrote, “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”

I love that, don’t you?

I’ve struggled to push myself out of my comfort zone (aka the shore) at the page. I’m not alone, right? The best stories come from weaving our souls into the stories we tell. It would be easier not to dig that deep. I am in awe of all you mega-talented authors (I’m looking at you, fellow EMU’s Debuters) who have stared down the inner critic to push boundaries. You write from the pov of the opposite gender, you dare to write torture, you use language that would make your grandmother blush, or touch on subjects that might shock someone, all because it is paramount to your stories’ heart. Art takes courage.

Last month, I survived a sweltering weeklong Boy Scout camp in Arkansauna with 150 sweaty Y-chromosome-beings, a bazillion ticks and spiders, and nights full of creepy crawlies that wandered in and out of my tent and my bedding.DSC03097

But, when I faced the multi-stage high-wire COPE (Challenge Outdoor Personal Experience) course, I got scared.

The voice of doubt rang in my ears, “You’re crazy! You’re too old, You’re not fit enough, strong enough, tough enough! And, oh-my-gawd, that’s high!” What I learned about walking a highwire is to 1) always look ahead, 2) tell yourself YOU CAN, 3) Remember that someone is watching your back,  and 4) Breathe! Sounds a bit like a writing career.

An unfamiliar scout dad left his son behind and followed my progress through the various stages of the course. He hollered up to me at one point, “I don’t know many women who would try that.”

“It’s my year to be brave,” I said.

And it still is.

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Let’s all be brave, my friends.

Madeleine L’Engle once quipped, “When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-ups we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability…To be alive is to be vulnerable.

Smart woman, that Madeleine!

Donna Bowman Bratton is a Texas author with a passion for cool nonfiction and historical fiction for young readers. Her debut book, STEP RIGHT UP: THE STORY OF BEAUTIFUL JIM KEY, will be released in spring 2015 by Lee and Low Books, followed by EN GARDE! ABRAHAM LINCOLN’S DUELING WORDS from Peachtree Publishers. She also writes books for the education market.IMG_1627a 5 x 7


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20 responses to “Be Brave

  1. Lindsey Lane

    I love how brave you are, Donna. Great posts and wonderful quotes. Bravo, brave one.


  2. Thanks for speaking about bravery, Donna. I seek it every day as I face the page.
    You’ll find your brave spot as you research away! By the time your ready to put your research to story I’m sure it will be brilliant!


  3. Rebecca Van Slyke

    What makes the elephant charge his tusk
    In the misty mist, or the dusky dusk?
    What makes the muskrat guard his musk?
    What makes the Sphinx the seventh wonder?
    What makes the dawn come up like thunder?
    What makes the hottentot so hot?
    What puts the ape in apricot?
    What do they got that I ain’t got?
    Okay, after reading this post, I guess even the Cowardly Lion would have courage! Thanks for the bravery booster, Donna!


  4. Way to go, Donna! It IS a struggle, but the world is a better place with you being fully in it. Hugs!


    • Aww, thank you, Laurie. This EMLA family reminds me of another quote, this time from Winnie-the-Pooh:
      If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together…there is something you must always remember you are braver than you believe, strongre than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thig is, even if we’re apart…I’ll always be with you.
      that silly ole bear!


  5. tamaraellissmith

    Oh I really love Andre Gide’s quote about the shore, Donna. That space when you’ve let go of one solid piece of land and don’t have a hand on the other…ooooh, it is so hard. I don’t think it gets any easier, I don’t think we move beyond that need of an (awesomely shiny!) token of courage, but I DO think we grow pretty amazing muscles in doing this day after day, month after month, year after year…ones that allow us to touch that other shore.

    Your bravery is incredibly inspiring. Thank you!


    • I think you’re right, Tam, that we grow with the challenges until the courage is more deeply embedded into our psyche. And, as for that Andre Gide quote, it seems the perfect metaphor for letting go, doesn’t it?


  6. This was a tremendous post. I’ve only blown out one knee, but I can see myself using that as an excuse to “bow out” of the high-wire. Perhaps the rest of 2014 will be my year of no excuses. 🙂


    • Trust me, Wendy, I teetered on using my bad knees as an excuse (I blew both ACLs), especially when tackling that evil rope. It swayed with movement and the distance between the rungs got greater and greater until the distance from the top rung to the giant log was my height. I couldn’t give up until I could honestly say “I am tougher than (at lease a few) Boy Scouts.” I was sore for a week. But it was a triumphant kind of sore.
      No more excuses. Make this this year for you to be brave in all you do.


  7. Autumn

    This post is so timely! I just prayed for guidance as I row through these choppy seas and opened this email. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your bravery (LOVE your medal btw!).


    • See, Autumn, none of us is alone in this. Personally, I feel relieved knowing that others have faced the same fears and anxiety I do. Remember the highwire lessons: Always look ahead of you; tell yourself YOU CAN and YOU WILL; remember the rest of your tribe is watching your back; and, most importantly, breathe.
      You can do it!

      Thanks for chiming in here.


  8. annbedichek

    “It’s my year to be brave!”

    I love that!!

    Bravery is exactly what I needed this morning. Thank you!


  9. Right on, Donna! Physical and mental bravery both. You are one courageous lady.


  10. Mary Zisk

    Hi Donna, We share a symbol of bravery. The temple on your medal is the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. I was there years ago on a tour with artists, and I had been playing it safe using pen and ink as we sketched around China. Our leader did a demonstration watercolor of the Temple and she gave me the courage to switch to watercolor. That leap took my work to a whole new level. Congrats on your bravery!


    • Wow, Mary, I had no idea about the temple image. How cool! Thank you for sharing your own story of taking chances. It reminds me of the old saying, “leap and the net will appear.” Or, in your case, leap and the art will appear. Awesome!


  11. Oh, this resonates with me. I frequently say to myself, “You don’t have to be doing this, you know.” And then I argue back, “But I WANT to.” And that reminds me that I may be unsure, I may be afraid, but I’d rather take this risk and see what comes of it, then look back and wonder what if.


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