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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Learning to Be Brave, Not Blocked


Kelda learning to be brave with big sister Blue

Fear is the Tuition for Bravery

Dogs, like people, are born with different temperaments including how they react to surprising stimuli. Kelda was born with a tendency to startle easily. New people, a plastic bag blowing in the breeze, a garbage can that had been moved in the park were all very scary when Kelda was a puppy. Both Claudia and I worked with Kelda to help her be more calm and confident.

Kelda checking out the camera

We had help from some excellent trainers who showed us the “check it out” command. “Check it out,” means Kelda should touch the palm of my hand, which I hold close, but not too close, to whatever it was that startled her. When she touches her nose to my hand, I click the clicker and give her a treat. Then I move my hand closer to the startling object and repeat until Kelda learns that what scared her is really okay and actually a source of good stuff (i.e. treats).

Someone in one of our classes once commented on how what a good job we were doing with “a fearful dog.” Months of training Kelda had trained me, too, and my immediate response was “Kelda’s not a fearful dog – she’s a dog that has learned how to be brave.”

Compared to other dogs, Kelda has had a lot more opportunities to investigate, move in and move away, sniff, explore and check out scary stuff with one of her people right there to reward her bravery. And I really see these as opportunities to learn how to be brave, how to encounter the strange with confidence.

For Kelda, “Fear is the tuition for bravery.” This is a corollary to a saying someone in a Sufi community shared with us: “Pain is the tuition for compassion.” Until you’ve experienced deep pain yourself, you are incapable of the compassion that calls forth the best parts of human beings and allows us to connect heart to heart, deep below the surface of ordinary interactions.

Writer’s Tuition

Frustration is the tuition for persistence

For writers, “Frustration and rejection are the tuition for persistence.” If we want to reach our writing goals, we have to persist in taking action, we have to keep showing up and taking risks.

Check the statistics and I think you’ll find that every successful writer is or was a persistent writer. I bet that every writer you admire went through some character-building life experiences that s/he would’ve rather avoided (at least in the moment even if s/he later realized the experience was valuable).

Having someone reject our work, entering and not winning a contest or applying for and not getting a grant, struggling with a chapter or section that just won’t come together, running into dead ends during our research, all these frustrations and rejections are exactly what we need to learn how to persist. These challenges teach us how to stand firm in our identity as writers. How else would we realize that we can keep on keeping on no matter what?

As exhilarating and rewarding as it is to have someone applaud our work, offer to publish and pay for it, give us a grant or make us a contest finalist, those experiences don’t challenge us to learn and develop as writers and as human beings. 

Are you paying your tuition? Or are you letting resistance keep you from “attending class?”

Let fear and frustration guide you, not stop you. As we say to Kelda, “check it out.

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  1. Wise Writers Step Back From Procrastination | The Bane of Your Resistance - September 10, 2014

    […] me tell you about our dog Kelda to illustrate. As I mentioned in a previous post, Kelda notices anything that is out of place or different. She used to be fearful in these […]

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  2. Embrace Uncertainty and Reject Writing Resistance | The Bane of Your Resistance - May 30, 2013

    […] fear is the tuition for courage. You can’t be courageous if you’re not also […]

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