The Commodity of Courage — A Guest Post by Art Holcomb

 The chief commodity a writer has to sell is his courage. And if he has none, he is more than a coward. He is a sellout and a fink and a heretic, because writing is a holy chore.” ~ Harlan Ellison

I believe a writer must have the courage to:

START IN EARNEST: Not in fits and starts, but as if your life and world depended upon you taking this path. This could be the hardest thing you have ever done, because the need comes from some unspoken, ancient, and deep. 

Harder still, because you must cast aside every day any voice in your life that says that this is not your destiny. No one will really understand you – that is, except the audience who await your arrival.

It’s just one step into the darkness. 

So . . . take a breath, center yourself . . . and begin.

DO INCREDIBLE EXPLORATION: Talent is important and wonderful and amazing and – in the end – is not enough to make you a success.  But exploration matters, because writing is more about being REAL than being right.  Being authentic in what you say gives power to your words and makes it easier to finish each piece. 

80% of all writing happens before you type CHAPTER ONE or FADE IN. 

At least half of THAT writing is done out of the chair.

Inspiration and discovery combine when you commit to doing this deeply and well.

SAY WHAT OTHERS WILL NOT:  I know you have seen things in the corners of Creation.

You have felt and done things that have changed your life. And you stand now – in this place and at this time – to testify – to tell YOUR TRUTHS to others through the greatest vehicle there ever was for truth: Story.

These things are often dark and byzantine and intense and uncomfortable and some of them frighten you.  But it is because of this that you MUST say them because they are the very things that make vital, personal, and spiritual the connection between you and your readers.

You have to go deep every time.  That means taking the risk of making your readers uncomfortable because you’re making them think and feel. So write the passages that will cling to your readers, the ones that will return to them sudden and unbidden in years to come. 

It’s what writers like Ellison have done for me.  You can do it for the next generation.

MAKE MISTAKES: Mistakes are the only way to know that you’re pushing yourself beyond whatever your limits are right now.  Later, you won’t make these same mistakes anymore… you will make new ones.

And that’s how you grow. 

But if you are not regularly making mistakes, if the writing is coming out “perfectly” in first draft all the time, it’s not because you’ve finally become the consummate professional . . .

It’s because you’re not trying hard enough and you’ve set the bar too low.

Reach farther. Write harder, faster, deeper. 

And when in doubt – always take the risk.

KEEP YOUR TALENT IN CONTEXT: I had my first public success in writing when I was 13. As a result I became prideful – and even a bit stuck up – because I thought I could do something that others could not, and do it well.

Years later, a day came when I called upon that talent to get me through and it failed me.   I came up empty – literally – and thought I was done for sure.

I felt like that, lost in an ever-increasing dry spell, for 11 years.

After trying everything I could to create again, I started doing research and setting deadlines and disciplining myself to produce good work on a regular schedule. Eventually, my productivity and quality came back and I got back in touch with my abilities once I realized that talent works best in harness and under the thumb of a good work ethic.

I never took it for granted again.

BE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR IMPACT: This is not meant for you to be careful about what you say for fear of offending someone.  Your words are yours alone, and people will react to them as their own lives, desires and circumstances dictate. “Offensive” is a label, not a critique.

But regardless of what you say, you must consider carefully the deeper meaning of your particular truths, and then have the courage to stand by what you say. 

You are either master of your spoken words or slave to those best left unspoken.” – A. Lincoln.

SACRIFICE: Writing is more about choices than most people realize.  It’s not just the choice of what to say and when, but the thousands of choices you will have to make to give your writing a fighting chance. 

The image of the gentleman (or woman) writer at ease, working two or three hours a day and then lounging by their pool or living the life of ease has always been a myth.

There are things every serious writer, musician, and athlete must give up every day to afford them the time to learn and work their Art.  Writing, especially, is a lonely journey, even in the midst of a crowded coffee house, and to do this day in and day out is the active choice we make – moment by moment – as we each fight for our own relevance. 

Recognize and celebrate that sacrifice in yourself.  Respect and celebrate it in others.

SET AND HIT DEADLINES:  This is the great secret to a successful career as a writer. 

But it is at the same time both the most dreaded aspect of a writer’s life and the absolutely best tool you have in becoming a successful writer.  Because any open-ended writing project – with no concrete due date – is a project that will never be finished. 

I learned that while writing my first monthly comic book series in 1993. 

The prospect was very attractive: a completed comic book with words and story by me and art inspired by my ideas, in my hands published EVERY MONTH! 

Of course, if that were to actually happen, if artists were to have pages to draw, inkers and colorist to have pages to fill, a printer to have pages to print and my publisher to have a profit with which to continue paying me, I had to complete a new 22 page script with new story and new ideas each month!

On time. 
Every time.
Every month.

Since I very much enjoyed writing and eating, I learned to do it.

Since other people were depending on me, I had to make sure those stories were done and done well.  There was always another deadline and always another challenge and soon I realized that this was the only way to create a body of work.

I now apply this to all my projects, setting a deadline for each phase.  It’s how I must work to be successful.  It’s how Larry must work to be able to manage all of his many projects and achieve his many successes.  Best learn to embrace it now.

I like the way Chuck Wendig (the incredible prolific novelist-screenwriter-game designer) says it:

Write as much as you can…
Write as fast as you can…
Finish your work…
Hit your deadlines…
Try not to suck.

FINISH: And Chuck is right about this too.  So simple a concept, it lies at the heart of most writing failures. The secret saga of every unpublished writer is their embarrassment of unfinished work.  There should be a law that says that you are not allowed to call yourself a WRITER until you actually finish something.  Until then, you are an apprentice. 

This is not to penalize those learning their craft, but there should be a benchmark by which to measure yourself.  Because you will never get an audience until you publish and you cannot publish until you finish.

SUBMIT: In a world of e-publishing and blogging, the concept of submitting your work to another for acceptance can seem a bit alien. This is because both these institutions have devolved into their own forms of vanity publishing. 

But such format denies the most basic tenet of a writer’s development: the crucible of critique.

It is vital to the artist’s life that he knows directly how another well-informed person perceives their work. 

It is both feedback and benchmark. 

It is a way to tell how well you are reaching your audience.

It is vital to growth as a writer.

Without it, you can inadvertently join that unfortunate subclass of the writer:  the dilettante.  The person who lives their life as much as a work-in-progress as the pieces they cannot finish.  People can delude themselves so easily such writers can toil away at a piece for years without every submitting it to scrutiny, living in the mindset of a writer without accomplishing anything.

At best, it is the literary version of Sisyphus and the rock.

At worst, it is a Siren’s song, trapping you in your own desire.

Are you that person? Are you still writing something that you know is done but cannot seem to move past? Just decide to send it off and start something new. Take a chance.

Remember: courage isn’t really just a virtue.

Courage is a decision.


This post marks my 12th appearance and my one-year anniversary with Storyfix.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for the kindness you have shown me, Larry.  It has been my honor to share this time with you and your readers and I appreciate this wonderful opportunity to give voice to my often peculiar thoughts. I have found as I travel and lecture and meet other writers how Storyfix is well known as the home for writers passionate about their stories and their development as professionals.  I believe our ability to meet here and discuss both the fundamentals and the finer points of writing has made a profound difference in the lives of so many.

I know it has in mine.  I am very grateful.



Art Holcomb is a produced screenwriter and a published comic book author of such comics as Marvel’s X-MEN.  He consults and teaches screenwriting and comic book writing for the UC Riverside Extension Writer’s Program and elsewhere. 

His most recent story is ALWAYS WINTER BUT NEVER CHRISTMAS and is currently working on a book for writers entitled Perfecting Your Premise.

He lives in Southern California


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17 Responses to The Commodity of Courage — A Guest Post by Art Holcomb

  1. Art

    Thank you for your post – it’s one of the best posts on writing I’ve read in a while (and I’ve read a lot).

    The point that resonates most deeply with me is the one about deadlines – and I learned this the hard way. Stephen Pressfield talks about resistance blocking us (in the War of Art). That resistance is a function of the ego…if you can set up a deadline that if you fail to meet it will cause you sufficient pain, then not only will you not suffer resistance, but that part of the ego that causes resistance will actively conspire with the other parts of your brain to get the seat of your pants into the seat of your chair and get you writing.

    And get you to meet that deadline.

    Building in the ‘pain factor’ is the creative part though. But it works like gangbusters.

    Can’t wait for your book! When is publication date? And are you indie publishing or trad publishing?

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  3. Donna Lodge


    Terrific post. Elegant and insightful.

  4. I have to agree with J.J., this is by far THE best post I’ve read on writing in a long while. I don’t even recall subscribing to this newsletter, but right now, I’m so glad I did. I certainly can’t deny the wonderful truths I’ve found in Art’s words today.

    I am – WAS – trapped and unable to move forward. I wrote it, a local editor tore it apart and told me where it was good – and where it wasn’t – she gave me wonderful suggestions, and together we worked at it until she finally said: GO FOR IT. Suddenly, i find myself petrified it’s not good enough, that we missed something, that others will find it horrible or perhaps boring. Until i read your piece, I didn’t have the courage to do anything with it and just let it sit there.

    My novel is a very emotional story (kidnapping of a deaf child and her mother’s struggle to find her). It’s a Christian Suspense I wrote 2 years ago for NaNoWriMo. At first, it was just for the “challenge” of writing 50K words in 30 days. As the story grew on me and I fell in love with my characters, I decided to do something with it. At what point did I EVER decide it wasn’t good enough?

    Guess what I’m doing today. I’m submitting it. Everything else is done – except for my query letter!!!

    Thank you for such great words of wisdom. 🙂


  5. Norm Huard

    Larry’s “blog is about getting real with your writing dream. About writing the kinds of stories that attract a readership through an understanding of craft and harnessing the power of the underlying principles that make it so.”

    Today, Art’s inspirational post is about the underlying principles of what it takes to be a successful writer; and, like the principles of Larry’s story structure, they cannot be ignored.

    Writers need to plan their careers and structure their lives to be able to make their stories truly happen.

    Art has concisely and elegantly described the mantle of courage writers must wear. It is a mantle heavy with the responsibilities and duties of a writer, spoken by one who knows their value. He challenges us to try it on knowing full well that we have no choice.

    I for one will print Art’s post and post it where I can read it every day. It will be my mirror, telling me if I am wearing the writer’s mantle of courage or not, or what parts of it need mending.

    Larry, with Art’s post today, you have once again proven to us, in your words: “If you want to publish your work, if you want a career as a writer, then you’ve come to the right place.”

    How lucky we are to be in this place where your door is always open.

    Thank you Art for your career inspiring words. Thank you Larry for bringing Art to us.


  6. What Norm said twice over… Art and Larry, together you wrap it all up and give it away!
    Art – thanks so much for putting into words the things I intuitively feel and think but cannot piece together coherently to work with.
    I keep coming back to Larry because it feels good to be understood at whatever place I am with my writing and brought into a place I can move forward again – whether it be from ‘the fear factor’ (a big one), or a lack of confidence (in direction mapping or strategy).
    Larry – a big hug for sharing so much and egging me forward inch by excruciating inch! You can be certain you’ll be mentioned on my acknowledgements page… should I get that far, lol. (Keep it up so you can be there!)

  7. Lately, I’ve been too hard on myself because I’m not reaching my writing goals. For today, I’ll take a deep breath and be grateful that, at least, I read some EXCELLENT words of wisdom. Thank you Art. Thank you Larry Brooks. Because of you…I WILL do better tomorrow.
    Rhonda Hayes

  8. Lisa

    Some really encouraging words here, even if there are also some that made me wince a little. Thank you. I need both the encouragement and the prods.

  9. Art, I do believe if you took pencil and paper and set out to copy names from the phone book the result would be powerful. You, Sir are writing. You are a force of nature.

  10. Wow, thank you for this encouragement. I appreciate every word.

  11. Olga Oliver

    Thank you Larry and Art and Harlan Ellison – ‘writing is a holy chore.’ Such a thought had not traveled through my cells – writing, a holy chore? Of course, of course. Many times, I have asked, even begged: why doesn’t this prodding, this urging, this deep seated pleading to write go away. It can’t. It is a holy chore. Writing, a holy chore, is seeking my courage. My courage to risk, willing to win or fail, in order to become more aware of my real true self.

  12. Art Holcomb

    @J.J. Foxe: Thanks for your kind words. The book is still in progress. Expect to be completed in Fall 2013. I’ll keep you posted here.

    @Everyone: I greatly appreciate your comments. It is always my great pleasure to appear here in STORYFIX !

  13. Great article. Inspiring. Writing is hard work and sometimes I have to wonder why I do it. But then, when I finish a book I think ah!

  14. Wonderful guest post. So much to grab onto here. A writer would do well to adhere to just some of it.

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