I’m willing to bet that most creative people—artists, writers, musicians, actors—anyone exploring a creative pursuit—have experienced fear multiple times in their lives. So I wrote this post as an outlet for Fear and as a reminder of what I can do when it bites. I hope it speaks to you as well.
Remember the ‘70’s show, “Bewitched?” Aunt Clara was my favorite character, the queen of the magical underdogs. I cheered for her and laughed like crazy through all her mishaps. Even though she always ended up with a mess, she never gave up. Magic was in her blood. Writing is “in my blood,” too. But occasionally I stall out and my brand of magic disappears.
Aunt Clara and Me
On my “Aunt Clara” days, I have to fight to feel good about writing. “But, but, but, that’s not what I mean,” I sputter to my computer. The confident, accomplished Samantha I am not. Suddenly my writing seems ridiculous, unimportant, and even trivial. Eventually I stop typing and stare at the screen hating every word. Then I move on to hating me and wanting to give up altogether.
At this point Fear has slithered into my head—paralyzing me. My faith has fizzled into nothingness. There’s no other reason to feel so flawed. And here’s the worst part: I listen to everything Fear whispers.
I love the writing days when the words are flowing and images are firing like arrows. Characters are chattering away, and I’m furiously typing to capture it all. On this wave I feel alive, aligned with my art, and in love with life. I’m contributing to my own inner cause and mindful of contributing to future readers. I feel purposeful and worthy.
And there’s my problem.
Fear and self-worth can’t occupy the same space. They just can’t. At some point during my writing, Fear muscles its way in and knocks back my certainty. It whispers in my ear telling me all kinds of lies: “Why write that? Who will understand it? No one is interested.” I slow down, the characters back away, and images fade. The party has disbanded and now it’s just me and this uninvited guest. My bases of purpose and worth have crumbled like loose dirt.
Was I always this way with my writing? With myself?
Back in 2004 when I started writing, I felt great excitement about being creative. I’d always loved writing as a child and teen, and now I was giving myself permission to continue that journey as an adult. Of course, anxiety and uncertainty accompanied the thrill. But I viewed that as normal. “At some point you’ve got to get into the action of a thing,” I told myself. “Just jump in and write.” So I tried. That’s when I realized how emotional the craft can be—how I can make it be. That’s when I really felt Fear because now I was serious about my writing. Would anyone else be?
So even though I wrote, I also lingered at the safer fringes of researching, checking email, changing the laundry. Anything to not fully empower myself—then I’d have to actually acknowledge myself as a writer! Fear hovered because I wouldn’t take the leap of really investing in my writing and maybe even doing it badly (gasp). I allowed Fear to keep me hostage.
I’m not alone in dealing with Fear. I know this—I’ve talked to other writers about it. It’s part of the territory. But I need confirmation every once in a while. I get wrapped up in emotions and start comparing myself to nameless other writers. It’s like a game of “compare and despair.” Do I know the work that went into someone else’s book? The trials, frustrations, or joys? No, I don’t. The same way “they” don’t know my path. So why am I eager to think that another’s writing journey was a smooth sail across the ocean?
Why am I letting Fear in at the precise moment I so desperately want to believe in myself?
Crazy as it sounds, I’ve actually talked to my Fear—yes, talked, not dismissed it.
Fear: “Hey, it’s me. Sensed you were low.”
Fear: “Oh, whatcha got there? Hmm… it’s cliché.”
Me: “Maybe—maybe not. Doesn’t matter. It’s my story, not yours.”
Fear: “Really? I think you’ve got a ways to go. In fact, I’d stop right now.”
Me: “Know what? I’m not.” (“You Don’t Own Me” flits through my head).
Fear: (faltering) “No. Stop. I hate that song. There’s no point. Even Aunt Clara can pull off one measly spell.”
Me: (sighing) “Writing is part of who I am—no matter the outcome. My time is now. Thank you (huh?) for making me feel something—for motivating me.”
Fear: “What? C’mon, get frustrated. Quit!”
Me: “No, I’m working. Good bye.”
Fear: “You call this working? I call it—”
Me: “See ya.
Talking to Fear? Thanking Fear? What’s that about?
Here’s how I see it: if Fear is part of me, I acknowledge it. I don’t ignore it or pretend it’s not there. Talking to it makes it less large, less consuming. My sister taught me that. And here’s a big lesson: I don’t need to stay stuck. I’m in charge of my responses. Me. And you’re in charge, too, fellow creative.
I accept that for me Fear will always be present to some degree, but it’s my choice in how I want to handle it. Along with my conversation I may also:
- Go make tea/ inhale dark chocolate
- Journal about it
- Call a friend
- Watch my favorite comedienne on YouTube
- Race to retail therapy
- Go for a walk
- Cry to my dog
- Clean the toilets
It really comes down to changing my head space so I can go back to being productive. It means knowing that Fear will pass, but I’ll still be me. It means asking for help in being led to create what I’m supposed to today. Write, stumble, stall—whatever—I won’t stay down as long each time. I’ll recognize what’s happening and learn from it. I never wasn’t a writer—I just got caught up in the parts of my head that still disbelieved.
Aunt Clara will always be my favorite underdog, but one day, I will be Samantha.
What do you do when Fear crawls up the back of your neck? How do you get through that feeling? I’d love to know what you’ve learned.
**P.S. I’m re-reading The Artist’s Way, A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity (2002, Tenth Anniversary Edition) by Julia Cameron. This book is akin to pure gold. This book is a course about recovering or discovering the creative self within you. It’s opened my eyes to behaviors I’ve habituated for years. This time around, I’m following the course. I fully believe we all have an innate sense of creativity. I’m willing to let it blossom the way it’s meant to. I hope you are, too, if you’ve not yet begun.
Email me to let me know if you’re reading it or have read it. I’d love to share any thoughts about it!