The Courage of Firsts (January Theme by Naomi Kinsman)

Today I am at the first day of the January low-residency MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Hamline University. I'm one of the graduate assistants, having been a graduate of the program for a year now.

I'm thinking a lot about firsts today, actually, watching this incoming class of ten start the program fresh. I remember my first day about three years ago. So much of writing is about starting. Starting a new book. Starting to revise. Starting a new manuscript. Starting a new graduate program. Starting a membership at SCBWI. And on and on. The list never seems to end. As writers, we are consumate beginners.

I'm reminded today, watching new students start a two year journey in which they are committing to passionately putting everything on the line to develop their skill and craft as writers, that starting takes so much courage. By starting, making these commitments to ourselves, we risk embarassment, failure, emotional pain. We know we will be challenged. We know nothing will ever be the same. Once we commit everything to our dream, the dream of being the best writer we can be, we know we won't ever be able to whisper to ourselves in the dark anymore... I didn't really try. If I REALLY tried, of course, I'd be brilliant. But what I've done isn't everything I can do. I can do more than this. If only the world could see what's inside my brain.

When you put all your creative cards on the table and honestly push yourself to do the very best work you can, there's a bittersweet quality to the experience. You find out exactly how much you can do, today. And often, the critic inside you throws a fit. "Not good enough!" she shouts. No. Maybe the work I can do today isn't the most brilliant work I will ever do. Still, the choice remains. Do I have the courage to at least work, regardless of the quality? Regardless of what people think of me? Regardless of the outcome?

Do I have the courage to try, with every last ounce of my heart?

Tonight, my answer is the same as it was three years ago: I hope so.

I hope that no matter what, I will always have the courage to admit I don't know everything, that there is always something new to learn. I hope there will always be room in my creative life for me to place myself under the guidance of wise mentors who can help me push through to the next level in my work. I hope I will never become comfortable with what I can already do. I hope I will always want to challenge myself to grow.

Bob Dylan says, "If you're not busy being born, you're busy dying." Yes. So live. Challenge yourself. Take risks. Be courageous.


  1. "I hope I will never become comfortable with what I can already do." Love! One of my favorite things about being a writer is the endless challenge. Always another hill. Thanks for your post!

  2. Thanks for a lovely post, Naomi - spoken like a true teacher. Here's to pushing past our own fears and limits to all that lies beyond!

  3. Here, here, Irene and Trudi! My favorite thing about each new challenge is that I never know where it will lead me. Here's to that next adventure.

  4. "...the courage to admit I don't know everything..." Love that.


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