Monday, March 1, 2010

Cowgirl-Up: Courage to Write

“Cowgirl up” is an expression that means to rise to the occasion, not to give up, and to do it all without making excuses.

This phrase resonates with me since the inspiration for my first novel was my cowgirl grandmother. To me, it means having the courage to do the hard thing, to follow your dream. You don’t have to have a horse, live on a ranch or in the West to “cowgirl up.”

It takes courage to write. We are all born with a certain measure of creativity, but as we grow up, learn “responsibility” and “decorum” or have our creative efforts shot down, we stifle that urge. After all, very few make a living at writing—you’d better have a plan to fall back on, like teaching or nursing or business.

We’ve probably all heard someone tell about an early writing effort that was shot down by a teacher or family member. “You can’t write.” “You don’t have any talent for that.” That, to me, is criminal! It takes courage to overcome that squashing.

I’d been writing in various forms since I learned the alphabet, and later received a degree in journalism, wrote for newspapers and magazines. But there came a time in my life when it was necessary to take a job to help put food on the table when my husband and I were starting a new business. The job was as far from creative as I could get. After thirteen years and horrific burn-out, I was once again asking myself “What do I want to be when I grow up?” It had been so long since I’d written anything that I doubted I could do it anymore. My creative well was dry.

A friend invited me and several others to help her practice a women’s empowerment seminar she was to teach. Among other exercises, this included pairing up with someone and telling your life story as a fairy tale. I was scared to death. I can’t do this, I thought.

I closed my eyes, willed my hands to stop sweating and my voice to stop shaking. I dredged the depths of my mind and called upon all the courage I could, and I started to tell a fairy tale. It started out haltingly, then it began to flow. The feeling of euphoria followed me home and I couldn’t wait to put the story down on paper.

I still knew how to write!

So, this is for you: if you’ve thought about writing, but don’t think you can; if your efforts have been shot down, or if you’ve dabbled a little just for yourself but would like to try to get published. I encourage you to try. Start a journal. Read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Write for yourself or your children. Take a writing class. Find a mentor or creative group to join.

“Cowgirl Up!”
A native Montanan, Heidi Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. She has had her first novel published, Cowgirl Dreams, based on her grandmother. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.
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  1. Thanks for the shot of inspiration, Heidi! (She slammed down her shot glass and swaggered from the barroom, her six shooter ready to challenge anyone standing between her and publication.)

  2. Wonderful advice, Heidi. I had that long dry spell after getting shot down at a weekend writers' workshop/retreat when I was in my late 20s. Criticism hurt a lot more when I was young than it does now. Cowgirls develop a very tough hide over time.

  3. Excellent advice. You can't do something you haven't tried to do.

    Morgan Mandel

  4. Kathryn, love that image!!

    Patricia, I think we've probably all experienced some form of painful rejection that made us thing we should quit. But if writing is in your blood, you must do it!

    Morgan--so true. I've had to keep telling myself that throughout my life!

  5. Heidi, I had never heard the expression "cowgirl" used this way, though it makes sense. And apprently cowgirls are inspiration to many. My grandmother, too, was a cowgirl and had a big part as Gram Harriet in my novel This Is The Place.

    Carolyn Howard-Johnson
    Tweeting writers' tips @frugalbookpromo

  6. Honest to Pete, this is what I needed today.

  7. Loved this, Heidi! Always good to keep this reminder under our writing hats.


  8. I love that expression, Heidi. It does take courage to write about your life.

  9. Great advice, Heidi. I think we all need an inner confidence to get us through the naysayers and rejections.

    And, taking a writing class on or offline is a great place to start a writing career.

  10. Great blog!
    Stop by and visit mine or invite me as a blogger on yours!

    My passion is journaling -- I do it, teach it and advocate it!


  11. B Hema Vasavada

    Good advice, Heidi. I get discouraged with rejections or critcal comments, but you have helped and inspired me to write and submit.


  12. Thanks Heidi! Even when you've gotten going you can sometimes lose heart - then I'll whistle up my wind horse and cowgirl up! As a gal who was born in Medicine Hat, Alberta - this resonates.

  13. Heidi, great advice. And now I'll think of it every time I see a "Cowgirl Up" bumper sticker ; - )

  14. Oh how right you are. I tell writers who complain to me that they don't write like King, or Steele, or Roberts, or anyone else...we are not clones with our own words to share.

    When a writer begins to doubt himself then they are in for a big fall.

    The best remedy is to associate with other writers for encouragement and helpful mentoring.

    Nice post.

  15. Thank you all for stopping by and commenting! I'm glad my little "pep talk" was of help to some of you.

  16. All writers need to hear what you said from time to time.

  17. Love this! Great advice. And I didn't know about "Cowgirl-up." I always used woman-up, :)

  18. Great post, Heidi, and a help for those days when I'm suddenly certain that I can't write. I've always been a writer and storyteller, but sometimes I just fall on my backside and feel like nothing. This is an inspiration for me, and anyone who has wondered if they can. Try? There is no try. Do, or do not. Cowgirl up indeedd, and do!


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.