This post has been brewing for a while now, and I’ve found around two thousand reasons not to write it. I have just realised why, which I’ll get to in a minute, but first, I want to tell you about my friend, and a conversation we recently had. My friend is a talented artist. Anyone who lays eyes on her work recognises her talent immediately. Yet she doubts it, and herself.
In the course of our recent conversation, I was busy trying to encourage her, and tell her she truly was worthy of recognition as an artist, and she bravely shared that she has started work on a new piece for a competition. Then she faltered, awkwardly finding it hard to articulate what she was feeling, with an “Oh, I don’t know. It’s hard to explain.”
She didn’t actually need to explain. I know.
“You’re worried that this time, it won’t work. That this time, everyone will find out you’ve been fooling them all along. That you really are no good and all that work you’ve already done was some kind of fluke and you probably can’t do it again.”
The look on her face was, I think, a combination of relief and horror. “Yes! that’s it exactly! But, how did you know?”
I knew, because it’s the exact same story I tell myself every time I begin to wade into the waters of creative endeavour. Every. Single. Time. I also – as a result of extensive investigation – have come to understand that’s it a common story many (if not most) creatives tell themselves – so thankfully, I felt a little braver sharing that than I once may have.
The act of creating something is quite a mystery, and often when I’m done, it seems a tiny miracle this thing has come through my hands to the world. From which point it is very easy to fear that when I begin my next creative attempt, the tiny miracle may not show up; and I’ll be shown up for the fraud that I surely must be.
Fear and I have been having some deep and meaningful conversations lately. Deciding it’s time to write the book I’ve been wanting to write for – oh, I don’t know, my whole adult life – got Fear’s juices good and gushing. Thanks to the writings of Elizabeth Gilbert (whose new book Big Magic – Creative Living Beyond Fear is about to arrive in my mailbox – I can’t wait to inhale it), I was inspired one day to try having a chat with Fear.
What I’ve learned is this: Fear wants to keep us safe, which isn’t always a terrible thing. But it can’t distinguish between an oncoming train and the light at the end of the tunnel, so it jumps up and down and tells us to stop right there, and get off the tracks because we are in danger of meeting our mortal demise. Predictably, the closer the oncoming train – or end of the tunnel – gets, the louder and more demanding of our attention Fear becomes. And that’s the key – it wants our attention. So, these days I have a chat with it.
“Thank you for working so hard to keep me safe. I appreciate how well you’ve done that so far – I’m still here, thanks to you. You’re right; I might make a fool of myself if I send this manuscript to a publisher, I might even get some negative feedback on what I write; but you know what? I’m OK with that, because I want to live a life of adventure and courage and boldness and authenticity, and I will survive if someone out there doesn’t like what I write. I promise that I’ll create the best thing I possibly can, and I’ll give it everything I have. I promise to acknowledge you when you tell me you see danger. I need you to come along with me, but you can’t drive the damned bus!”
It’s astonishing the extent to which Fear quiets down after that. Much like a small child – all it wants is your undivided attention for a moment, and then it’s happy to go off and pull the wings off flies for a while, during which time – if you’re smart – you can get a chunk of your creation progressing nicely. Someone once wrote a book called “Feel The Fear – And Do It Anyway.” I never read it, but the title winds its way around in my mind frequently. Because that’s what creating is all about. I know I’m going to have to meet Fear head on every time, but I also know I’m going to do it anyway. Sometimes, like this post, it might take me a while to recognise Fear is what’s stopping me; but here is this post, different from the posts I usually write here, written now. If you’re reading it, that means I felt the fear and hit publish anyway.