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When Encouragement is Not So Encouraging

I often hear or read authors and other creatives offering encouragement to those who are not (yet) actively creating. "Try!" they conclude, "Or you'll never know if you can."

It's well meaning, but it's useless.

When you fear to try, "...not knowing if you can..." is your current state. A person stuck in their current state is, at some level, more comfortable with their current state than with the risks needed to change it. As an exhortation to action, "Try, or you'll never know if you can..." really means, "Try, or things will stay just like this."

Which is true, but it doesn't motivate someone to take a risk.

And writing, creating, doing, feels like a risk -- even when it's not. Or not as much as we fear. The real answer is to understand what you fear and why. A person (myself included) paralyzed by fear to the point of not doing has a real reason for that fear. Somewhere, somewhen. Even a non-verbal, forgotten fear -- a haunting from the past -- we can no longer identify.

What do you fear?

There is something real there, haunting you, if only the reverberation of a memory.

Find it. Say it out loud. Put it down in black and white. Chew on it, tease it out until you can say it clearly, exactly like this: "If I write (paint, exercise, put myself out there as a mime, whatever) then BAD THING might happen."

You feel this already, or you'd be doing instead of waffling. You fear the BAD THING. The BAD THING is real in its origin and impact on you. I do not mock when I frame the issue like this. What is your BAD THING? Once you say it aloud in the above form (or a form close to it), the BAD THING may lose its power over you -- or at least lose enough power to free you to do. You will certainly know more about what you fear and why for having asked. You will know more about what inside you (and not outside you -- that's a different issue), holds you back. And you will therefore be better equipped to overcome it.

Practically and for real. Identifying the BAD THING you fear is the same as identifying your resistance to doing. You will find your courage and, as needed, be able to say to yourself, "The BAD THING will not happen, or if it does I will survive the BAD THING. I will not let the BAD THING stop me from living my dream. It's true that if I try I might fail and BAD THING might happen. But if I do not try then I know one thing for dead certain. I will never succeed." I think this is the true use and meaning of the ancient exhortation "Know thyself!" ("gnothi seauton" or γνῶθι σεαυτόν for you Greek scholars) inscribed over the entrance to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi (if you believe that Pausanias hack, any way). Know yourself! It is command, prescription, and encouragement all in one. Much more useful than the well-meaning, "...or you'll never know."

Geez Louise, there's very little those Greeks didn't frame for us first. It's almost annoying they left so few thought-stones unturned. Now, please go find a quiet spot, take a breather, turn your eye inward and... know thyself. The BAD THING won't happen, and even if it does -- you'll survive. May you find peace, prosperity, and success in all to which you aspire.

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Lou is an Ennie award-winning game designer and author of Club Anyone, a neonpunk novel set in the acclaimed Interface Zero game world, coming soon from WordFire Press. Words Like Bullets is his blog on writing, the writing life, and what's new with Lou. You can receive these blog posts direct to your inbox by subscribing to Lou News or just learn more about Lou at

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