You want to get on with your your writing, your art project or your music. You see everyone else doing it. They don’t seem to suffer like you. They produce. There must be something wrong with you because you can’t.
And this makes you feel even worse.
You have good intentions.
You’ll start painting again after you’ve finished the busy period at work.
You’ll take you laptop away with you at the weekend and this time you’ll get on with your writing.
You’ve been thinking about that children’s book about cats for a few years so you really ought to get on with the story and the illustrations. You can see them in your head. You just need to transfer them to paper.
What stops you?
Lack of time, you say. Or lack of skill, lack of focus, lack of energy or lack of money. Or some other valid excuse.
These might be valid excuses, but please see them for what they are: excuses.
What’s really going on?
One word: FEAR.
It’s OK – don’t feel bad about it. Fear is at the root of most negative emotions and everyone goes through it.
What are you afraid of?
That it won’t be good enough. That people will laugh at your efforts. That you’ll have to face an issue from your family that you buried years ago. That you will feel exposed for putting your inner most thoughts into your art. That you will start something that you fear you might not be able to stop and you’re not convinced that this is a good thing. That it might actually work out and you’ll be good at it. That people will know the real you.
At this point you have two choices:
You can keep resisting taking action on your art and stay in that loop of fear and self-loathing.
Or you can do it anyway.
How can you get around fear and do it anyway?
Just being aware the fear is at the root of any of your excuses not to create is winning half of the battle.
The problem with fear is that it hides itself as sensible reasons why you can’t or shouldn’t create. The positive side is that your small ego is trying to protect you. It has your interests at heart because it knows you would be crushed by a bad review of your writing, or if nobody understood your art, or if your handmade jewellery didn’t sell too well. So it pulls down the shutters on even trying to keep you nice and safe.
But here’s the thing. Safe is boring and sometimes safe can feel a little too restricting because you know that there is more to your life than you are currently expressing. Safe is being wrapped up in a duvet and never going outside. Sometimes that might be appealing but eventually you’ll get really sick from malnutrition, lack of exercise and a vitamin D deficiency. This is what is happening to your soul when you don’t express your truth.
So forget safe. Sometimes you have to let yourself live and take the odd risk here and there. Fear will always be present in a creative life because creativity is a risky business. You never know how your work will turn out or how it will be received.
In her book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert has a wonderful description of fear. She acknowledges that fear is part of the creative family and that it will never go away. She gives the analogy of a car trip and a conversation with fear:
There’s plenty of room in this vehicle for all of us, so make yourself at home, but understand this: Creativity and I are the only ones who will be making any decisions along the way. I recognise and respect that you are part of this family, and so I will never exclude you from our activities, but still – your suggestion will never be followed. You’re allowed to have a seat, and you’re allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote. You’re not allowed to touch the road maps; you’re not allowed to suggest detours; you’re not allowed to fiddle with the temperature. Dude, you’re not even allowed to touch the radio. But above all else, my dear old familiar friend, you are absolutely forbidden to drive.
2) Take small steps
The easiest way to beat fear and procrastination and get creating is to set the bar low and just take it in baby steps.
In her book, The Artist’s Way¸ Julia Cameron talks about small amounts of daily creative work as ‘laying track’. If you lay small amounts of track on a regular basis you will soon have something that is more substantial.
If you are an artist and you want to start painting again then your small steps might be something like going to buy a sketch book and some brushes or pencils. Then choose a really easy goal. Tell yourself you only have to sketch something for 15 minutes and then you can stop. Once you get going you will probably want to do more but it is totally OK to stop after your allotted time. Aim to do the same again tomorrow.
If it isn’t possible to do a creative activity every day then pick a target of how many times a week you would like to work on your project. For example, “I will do a thirty minute session three times a week” or “I will work one evening a week and half a day on Sundays.”
The smaller your goal, the more likely you are to do it. When you achieve these small goals you will feel good about yourself and you will become excited about your work. If you get over ambitious with the daily or weekly goal then you won’t be able to sustain it, you will falter and then you will feel miserable.
Don’t worry about the quality of what you do. If you can get consistent on quantity, the quality will follow.
3) Fear is a compass for your soul
Fear, and your own special manifestation of it, tends to crop up when you are doing something which is really close to your heart. I always say that there are no obstacles to getting fat on your sofa or spending too much time in the office. But if you want to get healthy or carve out time for a special project, this is when you will encounter obstacles and temptation.
If you have any doubts about whether it is worth you embarking on your creative project, let the arrival of fear say a big loud YES to you.
Your project is worth it.
Only you can create your art in your unique way.
You are in the perfect place, right now, just as you are, to create the right art for you. All you have to do is start.
If you can make a start on your project then imagine the huge satisfaction you will feel. Nothing feels better than being true to yourself. Once you dip your toe in the water and do even the tiniest amount of work then you will see that your world hasn’t fallen apart and you can keep tiptoe-ing onward with your creative endeavour.
I have always advocated a gentle approach in creativity. You don’t have to go from zero to full speed ahead in one swoop. You don’t have to give up your day job. You don’t even have to publish, or show your work.
You just have to do it, in little bite sized pieces at a pace which is manageable for you. Who knows where that might lead?
Originally published at medium.com
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