I feel a bit wanky typing a title like that, but let me explain…
Of course I don’t mean the kind of bravery that involves the removal of neophyte humans from fiery edifices, or storming the Normandy beaches on D-Day. But all creativity involves the possibility of ridicule, and, despite what Adam Ant suggested, ridicule is something for many of us to be scared of.
Let’s just take a small example: you’re sitting with friends in the pub and a remarkable witticism occurs to you. Timing it just so, you send it out into the conversation with its best foot forward only to watch it fall sadly flat, necessitating a self deprecating reference to tumbleweed as you try to internalise your embarrassment. And that’s just one little bit of unsuccessful ‘bantz’; not too much riding on it and plenty of chances for another go during the rest of the evening, but it still stings a little. As with all creativity you took a chance: would your bons mots bring the house down or become the proverbial fart in the lift? Only one way to find out, and you had a couple of seconds to formulate the gag and decide whether or not it was too near the knuckle, safe and dull, or of a high enough standard to meet with your friends’ approval. You had to judge your audience and the moment, then write and deliver the gag as brilliantly as possible.
And I say again: this is a joke in a pub.
What about when it’s your job? When you have much of the above riding on what you come up with (probably not the pressure of spontaneity) along with your ability to pay the bills, raise your family, be professionally fulfilled, get the next (better?) job etc. And have you wasted the last week/month/year/decade of your life with a an ad/article/screenplay/novel that no one wants?
That’s a hell of a chance to take.
I’ve probably littered the conversations in my life with many thousands of attempts at humour, big and small, funny and flat, and it still amazes me when I have a little go with a nothing comment that I don’t think much of only to see it bring the house down. Equally, I can fire what I believe to be an Exocet missile packed with the ghost of Richard Pryor and every great gag Louis CK ever wrote, only to watch it slide to the ground like a turd that’s thoroughly ashamed of itself.
So imagine what it was like when I sent my first novel out to the 29 agents who said no to it. That was literally years of work that I might have had to consign to a dark and shadowy corner of my desktop. Fortunately it didn’t turn out that way, but when I embarked on the three years when I could have been skipping through tulips with my wife or not ignoring my son’s formative experiences, it might have been an utter waste of a large chunk of my life (educational experience aside), and that’s a BIG chance to take.
So that’s what I mean by bravery. If you spend your time doing a job where there is a definitive, objective right or wrong then you don’t have to go through that. You can add up numbers or ride a bike or mop up the floor of a peep show, and as long as you put the hours in you know you’ll complete your task with success. But if you write music or design houses or come up with headlines that translate Brazilian shampoo ads for a multinational conglomerate, you’re taking a chance.
And that’s bravery (kind of).