Caution or Fearlessness? Bronwen Griffiths

 On the whole I’m quite a cautious writer. I am afraid of causing offence. That doesn’t always extend to my other life. I have a tendency to lose my temper and shout both offline and online – not always a good trait I admit – but that’s who I am, for good or ill. Yet at the same time I can sometimes be overly apologetic and cautious. Women especially are brought up to be polite and consider others – an admirable trait unless someone is literally or metaphorically treading on your toes – but politeness and caution doesn’t always help us get places.

Elfrika Deposit Photos

What about caution and fearlessness in our writing lives?  I’ve written before about how fear can hold us back in our creative work. We fear we are not good enough, we fear to submit our writing to journals or publishers because rejection and criticism are hard to take. We fear to take risks with our writing, perhaps keeping to the same old paths. If you are going to be a published writer, or if you attend writing classes, you will need to learn to overcome this fear. But what of the actual process of writing – is there ever a need for caution

If you are going to write about something difficult you need to be brave. In writing about something like sexual assault, for example, caution is not your friend. If you are going to do something experimental and news, caution is again not your friend. But…

When Googling articles for this piece most pieces I found were about how to overcome your fears, how to be brave, how fear can hold up your creativity. There is much truth in this but caution (I won’t name it fear as I think that’s too strong a word) can be useful especially when it means taking the time to process and edit our work.

In one of the few articles discussing caution (Tanner Christensen, October 2015) Christensen talks about how fear and caution is necessary in everyday life to stop us jumping off buildings, or behaving recklessly, but that caution is also necessary in the incubation part of creation. We need to trust the incubation process. Maybe we aren’t always quite ready to commit to paper and should allow time to think and daydream and perhaps just take notes. Trust the incubation process. Allow time. But again we must also instinctively trust when it is necessary to dive straight in.

When I need to write a difficult e-mail I will leave it a day or two before returning to it and then sending it out. I may be so angry and upset when I first write it that I’m not thinking straight. Sometimes I will also tweet something angrily and I often regret that. I haven’t allowed myself time to process and think.

Little My by Tove Jansson

When it comes to our creative work caution can be our friend. I’m sure we have all sent off work that isn’t quite ready. When it is rejected (and of course work isn’t always rejected for that reason) we realise that we have not been cautious enough - the work still needs further editing. The editing process is mixture of throwing caution to the winds and treading carefully. That may sound like a contradiction but it isn’t really.

Perhaps you are the fearless type in your writing and maybe you need to exercise a little more caution at times. Or perhaps you are the cautious type and need to take a deep breath and jump. There’s no right or wrong way. It’s a matter of knowing yourself and acting accordingly – when to jump and when to hold back.

Bronwen is the author of two novels and two collections of flash fiction. Her flash fiction pieces have been published in the Bath Flash Anthology, Barren Magazine, FlashBack Fiction, Lunate Fiction, Spelk, among others.

Bronwen tweets @bronwengwriter – she is working on her incautious tweets but sometimes feels the need to rant


Sandra Horn said…
Thank you for this, Bronwen - when to hold back and when to close your eyes and jump? Aye, there's the rub! I wish I could say I always (or even usually) get it right, in life and in my writing...
Please don't over-edit your ranty tweets, though!
Griselda Heppel said…
Ah, so that's where that delicious picture of Little My comes from! Thanks to Sandra I had to go straight to Twitter and follow you, even before commenting on this wise blog post. I still squirm to think of the submissions I made blythely before they were good enough - inexperience was key but also lack of caution. And you're right, facing and overcoming the fear of writing/submitting has nothing to do with maintaining caution in the process. (Your difficult email advice is spot on too.)
Eden Baylee said…
.... when to jump and when to hold back.

That is the question.

Great post, Bronwen. My gage is to write from a place of honesty. I find that sharing 'my truth' is the best way to create fiction that is authentic for the reader. If that offends some, then so be it. For me, too much caution in creative work can be a detriment -- it can create work that's been over-edited, even censored, to ensure that it offends no one.

It's a fine balance!

Peter Leyland said…
Just went back to read this again Bronwen as I'm trying to decide on my next AE piece: The safe one about eco-poetry or the more risky memoir one? We'll see, as I used to say to my daughter, much to her dissatisfaction!

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