Facing Creative Fear
I’m a creative person.
Why does typing that sentence make me feel as though I’m standing in front of you, totally naked? They’re just four simple words, that I’m perfectly entitled to say, and yet I feel as though you’re all about to message me 100 reasons why I’m not and why what I do doesn’t “count”.
Well sod it. I am. I realise this now, but it took me a long time and this is presumably why it still feels uncomfortable to talk about and makes me want to squirm in my chair and change the subject. And if it’s this hard to write a blog post about it, then it stands to reason that putting my creativity out into the world to be read, seen and heard will be terrifying.
Yup, got it in one.
The problem I have
In some ways, it was a lot easier before I let myself create. It was getting harder and harder to ignore the impulse to write, but I could still squash it down most of the time. Yes. That was a bit miserable but it was never terrifying. It never made me feel sick and sweaty on the back of my neck. Sure, I feel a release every time I sit down to write, for all of five minutes before fear comes calling to shut the whole thing down again.
And I can’t help but wonder. Is it worth it?
Of course there are millions of creative people out there. Many create, put their work out there and people buy it. Books are on shelves, art hangs on walls, podcasts are listened to and music is danced to. I see that it can be done, and I also see how well others are doing it. Where could my creativity possibly go? To the bottom of the pile? Probably.
Some days it would be a dream to have a book published and on others, it would be a nightmare. What if no one read it? What if everyone read it? I don’t know what would be worse.
I’d be naked for all the world to see.
I’d rather be naked for all the world to see.
The turning point was listening to the audiobook of Big Magic. I listened when I was suffering with intense joint pain (thanks CFS) and my solution was to lie on a lilo in my pool, with my hands and feet in the cool water to ease the pain. I very clearly remember listening to the book in one go as I floated, and as soon as it ended, I paddled my way to the edge of the water and started it again.
In one afternoon, Elizabeth Gilbert had entirely changed my perspective on creativity. It didn’t matter if I was any good or not, whether I ever shared my work, or if all the world protested it. I had the right to create and that’s what I would do.
I played around with creativity. I wrote, I sketched and I practised calligraphy. I didn’t judge what I made and I knew that I was lighter for it. I set small goals around writing, and said that if I could just write 70,000 words or so, I could say I’d written a novel and it wouldn’t matter if it lived in my desk drawer; I’d done it. It’d be enough.
It isn’t enough.
That draft lives in my drawer, along with drafts of articles I want to pitch to magazines and the bare bones of a non fiction book. What I thought would be freeing, now feels oppressive.
I know I’m not the only one stuck here though. Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons podcast is full of stories from people who claim they don’t have the time/energy/support/confidence to do more and I find myself nodding along to every single one.
I don’t think it matters which area of creative endeavour you feel most pulled towards. A stand up comedian whose too scared to stand up is no different to a writer who can’t bear anyone to see their work. We’re all just scared of having our work (and therefore ourselves) judged.
So, what’s the answer? Stop?
I can’t. I’m in too deep, because, as I said, I’m a creative person! I really am!
The Courage Habit
My “solution” to this situation is to face the fear. To acknowledge it, learn about it, and take the action (there’s that word again) to overcome it.
Ignoring it doesn’t work for me, neither do “Feel the fear and do it anyway” type quotes. (Erm, how exactly do I that?")
Luckily I have found The Courage Habit by Kate Swoboda. which is full of really insightful information and exercises. (This isn’t an ad by the way, I just happen to adore the books I’ve mentioned in this post.)
I’ve been working my way through them, and noticing more about what I do when I feel the fear rise up. Usually it’ll result in me being really pessimistic about what’ll likely happen, or sabotaging myself in some way. What is writing a first draft of a novel and then not looking at it again, if not sabotage, after all? Now that I can more clearly see what I do when faced with the fear, it’s becoming easier to sit with it, and make a different decision. To interrupt the habits I’ve built around my creative fear and choose continuing with the difficult blog post or the paragraph I can’t get quite right.
In 2019 I’d like to go back to those unfinished projects and polish them so that I can let others see them. I don’t know if it’ll ever be easy to do, but I have begun to realise that it doesn’t matter if it is. It just matters that I’m doing the thing if it matters to me.
When I compare myself to all the creators who have their work in the world, I’m making up a story about how easy it was for them and how confident they are about it, without having any kind of an idea whether that’s true. Sticking more closely to my own ideas, and how I want to feel is far more important.
This isn’t a post to say I have this cracked and here’s the secret. I really wish it was, but I suspect that this is much more complicated than that and that I still have a lot left to learn about creativity, bravery, vulnerability and confidence, which is will help me come to a point where sharing my work is less scary.
Do you consider yourself a creative person? How do you find the confidence to share your work with the world? I’m all ears!