Be Brave, Be Delighted
By: Joanna Koch
I started writing about ten years ago with no MFA, no writing group, and no idea what I was trying to achieve. My daily creative practice up until then was drawing or painting. Writing always seemed so cerebral, so out of the realm of possibility for someone who processes information visually and spatially, that I never considered it a viable creative endeavor. Being an author was not part of my life plan.
And marketing? Oh, please.
The best things that happen in life are usually not part of the plan. Often, they’re the result of mistakes. Glorious, foolish, cringe-worthy mistakes. When you feel lost about what to do, deep in the thick of the woods and bound by the inextricable path of a bad choice, you’re well on your way to discovering something better than you’d ever plan.
Next time you’re lost, and there’s always a next time, try to remember that it means you can end up somewhere unexpected. In darkness, there is the potential for delight. (Oh yes, I did just plug a new anthology I’m in from Corpus Press. Check it out.)
It’s the nature of creative thinkers to doubt and question, and to turn the critical lens upon themselves. Too often, it’s turned inward destructively. In a culture that historically tells women to be quiet, tolerant, and nurturing to others, our internal critics can crush us if we don’t turn our support and generosity towards ourselves.
Perhaps it’s impolite and uncouth to be bold or brash or delighted about your own work. Writing this article, part of my brain is nudging me right now to apologize for not having enough published work to validate giving my opinion. I haven’t finished a novel. Every time I post links to my work on social media, part of me cringes. Am I making an idiot of myself? What if the work isn’t good enough?
It’s the same with submitting stories. Doubt, doubt, doubt. I doubt and I cringe and do it anyway.
I think we all know that inspiration is a myth, and that the biggest part of creativity is just showing up. We show up and put down words whether we feel good about it or not. We put in the work hours and gradually the muse unveils herself.
We have to show up and market whether we feel like it or not, too. Speaking up when the broader culture says not to speak is a political act. Art with no political agenda is a political act. It’s not the content, it’s the act. Publishers are looking for underrepresented voices. There’s no excuse not to take the leap.
Faking confidence is one method of overcoming a fear of the leap. It’s how I’ve survived as a shy person in an extroverted world. I ask myself, what would a totally confident psychopath do? They’d write that cover letter and send the thing in with no apologies. They’d send it to that big publisher, the one paying pro rates or the one with a roster of authors from your dreams. I generally stop emulating psychopaths before any blood gets shed, though. Generally.
Doubt is also a useful creative tool. When you doubt, you’re open to making changes. It takes doubt to edit your own beloved work, to listen to feedback, and to let things go. Doubt examines. Doubt hones.
Too much doubt silences. Alternative voices carry a double burden of doubt when cultural messages become internalized. The trick is not to take doubt too seriously, to treat it like a flashlight. Take it out when you need to see better, and then put it away when you’re done.
Authors who have been writing much longer and much better than me silence themselves by conceding to doubt. You know who you are. I’d like to hear you speak out. The ratio of highly visible male to female horror writers is skewed. Let’s fix that.
Let’s also be delighted when we succeed, even in the small things, like getting out of bed. Let’s congratulate each other for showing up. If writing feels useless, write anyway. Crank out some words. Their worth won’t be known until days or months have passed, and today’s failure may be the seed of tomorrow’s success. Unless you’re the person who stole the time machine my cat was building in the basement and know what the future holds, there’s no way to predict the outcome of today’s work.
Be brave, be unapologetic, be delighted. Go write or market or submit something right now. Do something you aren’t sure you can do. Fake it if you must. It is a brave and worthy endeavor to strive to create art.
Author Joanna Koch writes literary horror and surrealist trash. Her short stories have been published in journals and anthologies including Storgy and Doorbells at Dusk. She’ll have new work out soon in Synth, Sanitarium, and in anthologies from Corpus Press and Carrion Blue 555. Joanna is a graduate of Naropa University who lives and works near Detroit. Follow her monstrous musings at horrorsong.blog.