I sat in tears at my computer. Why was I doing this? Was it really necessary? Why had I even started it? Maybe I should abandon the idea.
I was so daunted.
The task in hand was building the home page for my new website. I am technically minded so it wasn’t beyond my skills and I had an idea of what I wanted it to look like.
But in that moment I was overwhelmed. I didn’t want to continue. The whole project frightened me. Would I be able to create something that looked decent, that pulled in the punters? Was I wasting my time?
As artists, whether we are writers, painters, musicians, actors or anything else there are times when we go through this. It is essential to find a way through the fear or you risk never creating again. And that is a very painful place to be.
Let’s look at some tips that will allow you to keep moving ahead even though you are daunted by your creative project.
Know that fear and resistance is normal
When you find yourself being waylaid by fear you can think it is just afflicting you. You look around at other writers or creatives and they seem to be getting on with it. This traps you even more into “I’m useless, I can’t do it, what will people say, the pressure is too much etc etc etc”
Resistance to something that your soul wants is normal. Everybody experiences it. If they didn’t people would be slimmer, fitter and carrying out all their good intentions.
But at the crucial moment they fall prey to the negative voices in their head and the good stuff doesn’t happen.
You are not alone. I think everyone can related to what Steven Pressfield says in The War of Art:
“Have you ever brought home a treadmill and let it gather dust in the attic? Ever quit a diet, a course of yoga, a meditation practice? Have you ever bailed out on a call to embark upon a spiritual practice, dedicate yourself to a humanitarian calling, commit your life to the service of others? Have you ever wanted to be a mother, a doctor, an advocate for the weak and helpless; to run for office, crusade for the planet, campaign for world peace, or to preserve the environment? Late at night have you experienced a vision of the person you might become, the work you could accomplish, the realized being you were meant to be? Are you a writer who doesn’t write, a painter who doesn’t paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what Resistance is.”
The great thing about resistance (yes there is a positive side) is that you can use it as a compass. If you are getting resistance then it must be an important project, something that your soul really desires. After all, there is no resistance to getting fat on your sofa or spending too many hours in the office. That seems to happen easily.
Knowing that what you are experiencing is normal and not some divine curse allows you to start creating anyway. All the people whose work you admire have found their own way through resistance. They all get waylaid by it from time to time and it manifests in a special way that attacks their Achilles heel just like yours does.
Keep it small
My top tip for being daunted is to keep it small. You have to coax yourself one tiny step at a time. You may or not know what the other steps are. If you do then they are probably frightening you too.
Just move through the steps one at a time.
Recently I found this quote on writing by E. L. Doctorow which is very apt:
“It’s like driving at night with the headlights on. You can only see a little ways ahead of you, but you can make the whole journey that way.”
When I was sitting in despair, crying over my new website, I knew I had to do it one step at a time.
I took a deep breath and willed myself forwards. I had already found a layout template for putting a snazzy email subscription sign-up on the home page. My first step was to download it. I did that. Then I created a new page in the website that I could experiment with.
Still crying and still thinking I was crazy, I imported the layout into page. As soon as I did that I could see the way ahead. I immediately understood how the layout had been constructed and suddenly I was able to progress.
It would have been so easy to give up but it turned out I was only three baby steps away from a breakthrough.
Take the pressure off. See it as an experiment
Right now as I sit down to write this blog I can feel my anxiety rising.
“It has to be good.”
“It’s for my next blog. I need it in time for that.”
“I hope I can think of something to say.”
There was a moment when I thought I don’t feel like writing this. Maybe I’ll do it tomorrow.
And then I have to employ this tip. I tell myself– just write 500 words and see what you have.
When you are daunted by a creative project you have to take the pressure off. Don’t view your work as a polished finished product. Instead, see it as an experiment. Create for half an hour or an hour or two hours and see what you have.
Just play. This lightens the load and frees you to create more freely.
Don’t worry about the reaction of others
We can be daunted by our creativity because we worry how other people will receive it. However, it is pointless to worry about this because once you release the work it is out of your hands.
The only thing you have control of is what goes into your work. Once it is done you have no control over other people’s reactions. Some people will like what you do, others won’t. Some people will ‘get it’, others won’t. Most people probably won’t even notice what you are doing.
It is hard when you are constantly fighting your fear and pushing yourself to create. It can take a physical and emotional toll on you.
Make sure you are taking care of yourself. Eat right, sleep enough and allow yourself some relaxation time. You may also want to treat yourself for making progress with your work.
If you are run down and exhausted then your creative work is going to seem like even more of a mountain to climb.
You also need to regularly feed your creative well, not just take from it. This means doing activities, small or large, which nurture your spirit, inspire you and are indulgent and fun.
Bribe your inner artist
One way to get your fragile, frightened inner artist working is to bribe it. For example, you might be able to coax it into writing for 30 minutes if it can then have a cappuccino break. Other bribes might be paint for one hour and then go and read a magazine in the sunshine for a few minutes or get the draft of your manuscript written by a certain date and then treat yourself to a new handbag.
It doesn’t matter what you have to do to bribe your inner artist, just find something that it can’t resist. Then get busy and get on with the work.
Being daunted and stuck with your creative work can make you feel wretched. Making progress always feels better.
It doesn’t matter what games you have to play with yourself to create. It doesn’t matter whether your progress is slow or quick.
What matters is that you get to do your creative work, one step at a time.
Now I’d love to hear from you
What was your worst scary moment in your creative work and how did you get through it? Do you have any top tips for keeping going when you’re scared as hell? Please be brave and leave a comment. You never know, what you say might be just the exact right thing that someone else needs to read.
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Every month I also share the ups and downs of my own creative journey – but only email subscribers get that insider view.