Courage

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“You get knocked down, you get up again. I also think writers must have great courage, the courage to trust your own life and your own voice.”

— Ashley Pharoah

I have that quote on a postcard tacked to the wall next to my desk. I look at it from time to time and I find it reassuring because often when I’m writing I find myself hedging about and avoiding expressing my opinion. It is hard to put your opinion out there, because you risk having someone come along and point out all the flaws in your argument. The postcard reminds me to do it nonetheless. It reminds me to trust in what I have to say. It also reminds me that having a dialogue with others is what writing is all about, that words on a page that go unread and unchallanged may as well have never been written at all. Afterall, you get knocked down, you get up again.

Writing doesn’t necessarily seem like an activity that requires courage and perhaps for some it isn’t, but I often find doubts creeping in. It takes courage to trust that what you are writing has value and that it isn’t necessarily about being right. In a way this point is especially pertinent for a nature writer because our experiences of nature are often deeply personal. It is all too easy to feel that there is a correct way of responding to certain landscapes and to ignore what we really want to say.

This point was bought home to me this morning as I listened to a recording of Radio 4’s Bookclub. The book was The Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane and one of the questions related to the shortest chapter in the book in which Macfarlane spends a night on the summit of Ben Hope in Scotland. Macfarlane says: I thought it would be an absolutely exhilarating place to be. On a long winter night, with darkness and almost no evidence of human presence or habitation. I seemed like a kind of pure, old wild. But I was very cold, rather bored, and pretty frightened, which explains why the chapter is as short as it is. It is this kind of honesty that I think takes courage and that is so important in nature writing. It is about trusting the real experience – not the one you feel you should have.

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