Like all writers/artists (even the ones who don’t admit it) we wrestle with fear and doubt on some level through a good portion of our career. I don’t believe that fear or doubt is unique to artists, but I do believe it does a number on us that prevents us from doing some of our best work and can lead us down some self destructive paths.
The first level of fear (and probably the most legitimate): why have we chosen this often-lonely professional that you will probably starve from if you quit your day job? But then you can’t do what you need to do (to test out your writer's legs) from the exhausting and deafening self-defeating inner dialogue:
I can’t do this. I shouldn’t do this. What’s wrong with being a dentist (plug in your profession)? I don’t have to write/draw/dance/paint.
Then comes the fear of success. This is a complicated stew. When you have finally finished that poetry book, manuscript, painting, screenplay, you worry how the world will receive you and it. How dare you believe you are talented enough to spend hours perfecting your craft and that you have something to offer that no one has ever seen before? I think we get so caught up in what other people think about our work that we sometimes overlook the fact that we are our own worst critics and as Patti LaBelle likes to say, “blocking our blessings.” Or worst yet, that we have surrounded ourselves with people who we’ve unconsciously given permission to tear us down and are legitimately trying to sabotage us, and it is not the fear or doubt that is sitting on our chest.
And how can we forget about the quest for perfection. Trying to capture lightening in a bottle. Your first project took the world by storm, but how in the hell are you going to replicate that? You are a fraud, a one-trick-pony, or worse, a one-hit wonder.
What if all or none of that is true? Would it stop that burning desire in you to create? I think if you don’t attend to the fear, put it in its place, that ember will lose some of its heat. Ultimately, it is up to the artists to pull themselves out of this downward spiral. Reassess why you do what you do. If it is purely for the public accolades then there is something to be afraid of.
A few years ago someone introduced me to the quote “Do it like no one is watching.” The reality is that most of the time that we are creating and perfecting no one is watching. We are our only critics. We know when we have gotten it right. When we’ve put everything we have into it and done our best work. If we can live with that then what else is there to fret?
I’m not trying to be a Pollyanna here, I understand if you have decided to make this a vocation at some point you have to make a living. At some point the outside world will have to make a judgment whether they like your work enough to buy it, commission you, or write a glowing review. But why beat them to the punch, by beating yourself up before your work has even gotten the chance to see the light of day.
Remember when you first fell in love with your craft? When you couldn’t wait to get to it? Start your day with that passion, with that joy. I believe that light will help guide your work. Satisfy yourself first and the rest will come.
Today I’ve included a video of a wonderful talk given by the best-selling author of Eat. Love. Pray, Elizabeth Gilbert that speaks to the issue of artist fear and doubt (and a few other juicy tidbits).