Great Writers Are Fearless
The secret to impacting people with your writing.
Children are often called the seeds of genius because they are blunt, provocative, and creative. They don’t have a facade to hide their true selves, and they simply don’t care. They run around naked, and if they don’t like something, they express it openly. But as they grow older and become aware of the so-called “right and wrong,” they start wrapping themselves with dull garments to hide their original color.
And even though we don’t say it out openly, we sometimes miss or even crave this wild nature of ours. That’s why, when we are with close friends and society isn’t there to see our true colors, we feel free to indulge in childish japes by burping (or farting) and laughing, or capering freely. We also want to express our opinions and emotions like when we were children, but we find ourselves unable to.
Then we turn towards stories, where the characters do the exact thing, or say the bluntest things we would like to say, but can’t. We are drawn towards writing because, in good writing, the writer peels away those dull garments that I mentioned, and lays his whole being bare. People adore those writers that aren’t afraid of making themselves vulnerable.
A fellow writer recently published a book about becoming reconciled with the thought of death, as the writer’s father died last year. Reading the blurb, you may perceive that the book will describe his fears about death in a way that people can relate to, and finally give a solution to this fear, but it isn’t like that. The book starts with the scientific, and philosophical aspects of death, then how different cultures perceive death, then, at last, he briefly talks about how his father’s death has left a deep hole in his life.
The writer could have written about his frustration at the uncertainty of an afterlife where he could have met his father again, or at the grim realization that he would die one day, and become just a skeleton, buried under the earth, unaware of time, place, and people. No, the writer opted to hide his true feelings and give us a mundane academic lecture that we could have learned online instead of buying his books.
I went through the same phase as a writer. Whenever I had to write something personal which would have exposed my inner thoughts, I usually beat around the bush and never wrote concisely and fearlessly. It was like I was telling my deepest secret to a close friend. Of course, in that case, I would try to half-heartedly allude to it, instead of straight out telling it. That’s why my writing seemed to be dry and incomprehensive. The moment I stopped being afraid of exposing my inner thoughts, I felt like my writing got instantly better.
When you finish a great piece of writing, it is as if you have torn off your clothes, and are visible to the public eye. When people read that writing, it is as if they are looking at you naked. That’s why you might hesitate to let them read, especially your close friends and family, because that writing has laid bare your true, unsullied thoughts.
Let’s look at Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. In this story, a traveling salesman named Gregor Sansa turns into a big bug one morning and is unable to go to work. Although he has transformed into an insect, his only concern is his work, because he has to pay off his family’s debt. While in bed and unable to get off the mattress due to his size and weight, Gregor muses on his problem. He hates his work and has only tolerated his toxic workplace because he has to take care of his family. His parents are old and can’t work, and his sister is still young. But after his illness, they all find work since Gregor can’t provide for them. The father suddenly turns a decade younger, and the sister becomes a hardworking lady.
Throughout the next few weeks and months, his family takes care of him, especially the sister, but as time passes by, they get tired of looking after him and consider Gregor a nuisance. The sister laments the day before Gregor dies:
“We must try to get rid of it,’’ his sister now said solely to their father, since their mother couldn’t hear anything because of coughing, “it will be the death of you both, I can see it coming. If we all have to work already as hard as we do, we can’t put up with this endless agony as well. I certainly can’t go on any more.”
The first sentence “We must try to get rid of it,” shows how unsympathetic even a family member can be when you can’t provide for them anymore. This mirrors Kafka’s own precarious situation with his parents, and I am sure he had heard remarks close to this from his own family members at one point. Here Kafka has masterfully depicted the flimsy human relationship. This whole passage drives home the main point of the story and cements The Metamorphosis as one of the best works of fiction.
When you are first starting to write, you will hesitate to show your inner demons to the world, and that’s okay. The process of writing is cutting those layers upon layers of the facade that you have accumulated throughout the years, and throwing them aside, only leaving the original self. The process of writing is becoming fearless, because as a writer, you become a prophet, showing the world the message of the soul.
Timid people will fail, as the poet once said:
“God won’t make his work manifest by cowards.”