Pushing past your self-ascribed limitations
Does it feel uncomfortable to think of yourself as an artist? Writing is a form of art, of course, yet it can make a writer squirmy to think of his/her work as art.
Part of that may be because we think in art, there are no wrong answers, while in writing, there's great possibility for failure. In Grace Bonney's book In the Company of Women, she asks makers, artists and entrepreneurs what success means to them. A huge part of success -- we learn, we're assured -- is in taking the creative journey at all.
In this video, Oprah Winfrey talks about success and failure:
Four gorgeous takeaways:
- "Your being here is such a miraculous thing, and your real job is to honor that, is to honor that, and the sooner you figure that out, oh, wow, wow. I'm one of the lucky ones. I got to be here. So how do you continue to prepare yourself to live out the highest, fullest, truest expression of yourself as a human being?"
- "There's no such thing as failure, really, because failure is just that thing trying to move you in another direction, so you get as much from your losses as you do from your victories."
- "When you're not at ease with yourself, that is the cue that you need to be moving in another direction. ... When you're feeling off course, that's the key, when you turn around."
- "The way through the challenge is to get still and ask yourself what is the next right move. And then from that space, the next right move, and the next right move, and not to be overwhelmed by it."
I spoke with four fellow writers about how they cope with fear and confidence in their creativity. I hope, like me, their words help you feel less alone.
When do you feel least fearful and most confident in your writing practice?
Honestly? Probably when I'm blogging. It's what I have the most practice at. Books scare me.
I read a great piece recently about how creativity is magical, not magic. What does your effort to create the magic look like?
The magical in creativity is merely an attitude. What does this mean? We must be seeped in learned processes of craft as well as open mindedness, originality and self-awareness while creating. The magic is the end result of having the correct attitude toward utilizing imagination during tiring first drafts and gnawing revisions that inevitably fools readers, even ourselves as we ponder, "Did I really write that? How was I so creative, so magical?"
But that's creativity, isn't it? Regardless of attitude and process, there's still this mystery, this greater discussion that goes beyond essays on how brain matter spins aesthetic thought. We'll never figure that part out.
In creativity, we create something out of nothing. Do you ever feel concerned about new ideas arriving/departing?
Oh, absolutely. Elizabeth Gilbert actually talks a lot about this in her book Big Magic, which I adore. She uses the example of a poet who said she could almost see a poem staring at her from across the field and she'd sometimes have to "grab it by its tail" and put it onto the page before it ran away. I've felt like this countless times in the creative process, whether it's when I write my own poetry or creating any kind of content for my business. I always keep a notepad and pencil nearby so I can write down random thoughts and ideas. I've even had to pull over on nearby exits on different occasions to write ideas in the Notes app on my phone. There are many ideas I'm not sure what I can do with at the time that I revisit months later and finally have the inspiration bring them to life. It's pretty amazing.
I think one of my biggest concerns as a creative and blogger is not just wondering whether I'll run out of ideas -- but whether I'll run out of good ideas. There's also the concern that all ideas have been done and there aren't any new ones. This, I don't believe: I believe that every idea is a unique idea when it's being told by a new person. Many freelancers could talk about how to transition from a 9-5 to full-time, but each story will be different. It's the same idea but being told by a different perspective. That should give you confidence in every idea you have.
How has your Twitter chat community #createlounge affected your creativity?
My creativity has been so positively affected by my community. It's incredible to see other members of the creative community fill each other up with encouragement, support and accountability, which they also extend to me as I do to them. We have a very "we're all in this together" vibe, and we all want each other to succeed in our creative efforts. Everyone is doing something unique, and that's something to celebrate. I love having a collective of people who "get me," want to know what I'm creating and connect with my story. It helps me feel more confident any time I press the publish button.
How do you get through fear about a project?
Whenever fear tries to inch its way into my creative process, I try to remember to tell it this: "I hear you, but I'm going to keep doing this anyway." Creativity doesn't exist without fear, but it doesn't have to take the driver's seat.
My confidence comes from self-awareness. I need to know how I feel while I'm creating to know how to battle the fears that resurface during the process. I also know that my message is more important than my doubts. Having a strong support system that can reflect this back to you when you need affirmation can really help, too.
Having fears as a creative is such a huge thing to deal with. I deal with combatting my fears on a daily basis. When I was creating my free Blogging Breakthrough eBook, I had a lot of fears. These ranged from, am I going to get it done on time? What if I can't upload the file? What if people don't like it? What will happen if no one downloads it? Is all of this worth it?
Looking at those questions, you can see that my fears were based on a lot of "what-ifs." The truth? You can't base fears on this. You can't live your life through what-ifs. For fear to affect you, it's got to be real.
I get through my fear by thinking rationally. I ask myself, "What's the worst that could happen?" Usually, for creatives, a fear turns out to be mistakes we make -- but the beauty of that is that we can learn from it and try again.
I don't have fear when starting projects. If I did, then I wouldn't have even written half of Ranting Out Loud in the timeframe provided.
You and I both worked in television news. You don't feel fear when a plane crashes. You feel horror for the world, because you exist in it, and you know these terrible things happen. You come to expect them. But then you know you have a story to write. You scramble to get it done. You show compassion as you seek details. You try to be human. If you're a decent journalist, one of those without the monstrous egos, then you genuinely care as you explore the causative elements of story. There's an element of fearlessness on your part. Those around you depend on your fearlessness. They respect you for it. And in a way, your own work will respect you by taking greater shape than if you had written like a fearful mouse.
Fear for me comes in still trying to translate the success I have writing for clients to writing successfully for me. Doors have been opening lately, so I'm hoping to alleviate those fears. What I do battle is anxiety. It gets bad. I take breaks. I watch TV shows or read or take walks. But I always dive back in. Anxiety is a longer story.
What do you do to find confidence and self-assurance?
If you want to make it as an artist, you have to be self-driven to the point of obsessiveness. A well-known publisher once told me, "Obsessive people make the best writers." Was he right? What does this mean? Self-driven, obsessiveness -- sounds dangerous! How do you keep that kind of fire going? Isn't it already burning in you? Why aren't you letting it consume you? What are you afraid of? Oh, being a writer. Well, quit being afraid of that.
I find confidence and self-assurance through belief in my own ability and through the words of others. It might not even be feedback specifically about a project. It could be a reply to my newsletter, a tweet or a comment on one of my posts. The other day, someone tweeted me saying I'm really inspiring them to move forward with their blog. That pushes me so much to create even bigger and better things, and even if I'm only reaching one person, that person is enough.
If you ever receive criticism or backlash over your creativity, how are you affected?
In all honesty, I'm affected really badly. I've always been the type of person to take things to heart. Even if someone likes me as a person but asks me to change or edit my work in some way, I take it as a direct hit at me. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it's just part of who I am.
The only way I get through this is by reassurance. If I spend too much time overthinking it, I'll get into my own head and start questioning my worth. Big mistake. If you receive negativity about your work, it's usually to do with the other person's problems, not your own. Talk to your family, talk to your friends, talk to your community online. Read those words of encouragement. That's what will pull you through even the darkest times.
Sometimes the world around us wants to censor our viewpoints. Should that stop us? Not if we're committed to our art. My creativity has been attacked in every way imaginable. It happens. You have to have thick skin when you're an artist, especially when illuminating the ills of the world or writing about your personal life. Thomas Wolfe's The Autobiography of an American Novelist is a great study for anyone who wants to see how creating autobiographical stories can cause backlash.
Just like any creative, I've received a massive amount of criticism, whether it be in regards to my business or even my no-pressure passion projects. Unfortunately, not all of the criticism is constructive, either. I've always been a highly sensitive, fairly emotional, gentle-spirited woman, so it's a constant battle to stay true to my vision while sorting out the opinions that matter to me and those that don't. It takes daily practice and a whole lot of self-given grace.