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 about feeling Fear and as a reminder of what I can do when it bites. I hope it speaks to you.
Remember the ‘70’s show, “Bewitched?” I loved Aunt Clara, the queen of the magical underdogs. I always cheered for her because she never gave up. Magic was in her blood. That’s kind of how I feel about writing, but sometimes I’ve got no magic.
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. I am not the confident, accomplished Samantha. Instantly my writing seems ridiculous, unimportant, even trivial. 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. I’m done. 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 here!” I shout inside. “Can you hear me future readers?” I feel 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 says: “Why write that? Who will understand? No one’s interested.” I slow down, the characters back away, and images fade. The party has disbanded and it’s just me and this uninvited guest.
Was I always this way with my writing? With myself?
Back in 2004 when I started writing, I pictured a whole new journey about being creative. I’d always loved writing as a child and teen, and now the time was right to pursue it– for real. “At some point you’ve got to jump in and write,” I told myself. 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 didn’t go too deep. I lingered at the safer fringes of researching, starting and stopping stories, making lists, checking email, changing the laundry. Anything to not fully empower myself—then I’d have to actually acknowledge myself as a writer…maybe even do it (gasp) badly. I allowed Fear to keep me hostage.
I’m not alone in this. I’ve talked to other writers about it’s part of the territory. But I need confirmation now and then or else I 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? Nope. 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 lake?
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–sometimes out loud. Here’s one time:
Fear: “Hey, it’s me.”
Fear: “Whatcha got there? Um…cliché.”
Me: “Maybe. Doesn’t matter. It’s my story.”
Fear: “Really? It’s crap. Stop.”
Me: “Know what? I’m not.” (“You Don’t Own Me” flits through my head).
Fear: “But there’s no point.”
Me: “I’m still going to write. Thanks (huh?) for motivating me.”
Fear: “What? C’mon, quit!”
Me: “No, I’m working. Bye.”
Fear: “You call this working? I call—”
Me: “See ya.
Talking to Fear? Thanking Fear? What?
Here’s how I see it: Fear is part of me. I don’t ignore it or pretend it’s not there. Talking to it makes it less large, less consuming. 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.
For me Fear will always be present to some degree, but I choose how I want to handle it. After I say,”Hi/Bye” to it, I may also:
- Go make tea
- Inhale dark chocolate
- Journal about it
- Call a friend
- Swear and stamp my feet
- Go for a walk
- Cry to my dog
- Clean the toilets
It really comes down to changing my head space. It means knowing that Fear will pass, but I’ll still be me. It means letting go. 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 head space that still disbelieved.
Aunt Clara will always be my favorite underdog, but I, too, can be Samantha.
What do you do when Fear crawls right into your lap? 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.