Fear and Creativity

[Written for 53 Million Artists Blog in December 2014]

creativity head

“Creativity is something you practice, not just a talent you’re are born with.”  –Harvard Business Review

Fear is the great enemy of creativity. We’re afraid to make mistakes. We’re afraid of not being good. We’re afraid of being laughed at and humiliated. There are numerous reasons why we procrastinate or don’t engage in creative practice that stem from fear.

To combat creative paralysis, it helps to think in terms of creativity as a process and as a practice. As Twyla Tharp has written in her book The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use It for Life, creativity is the product of routine and continuous effort. Ideas surrounding the lone genius whose creativity comes naturally to them, or the notion of a Eureka moment, are myths that feed fears and stifle our creativity.

But being creative on a regular basis, whether we regard ourselves as ‘creative’ types or not, brings so much to our lives. On a personal level, creativity can gives us fulfilment and purpose instead of frustration or a lingering emptiness. Creativity has practical benefits too, such as improving our problem-solving skills and making us more adaptable and flexible in our thinking.

Many of the most famous inventors, entrepreneurs, scientists and artists have admitted to ‘failing’ disastrously but continued regardless with their ideas or vision. The great filmmaker Woody Allen said, “If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.”

Similarly, in Trust the Process: An Artist’s Guide to Letting GoShaun McNiff writes,

“When asked for advice on painting, Claude Monet told people not to fear mistakes. The discipline of art requires constant experimentation, wherein errors are harbingers of original ideas because they introduce new directions for experimentation. The mistake is outside the intended course of action, and it may present something that we never saw before, something unexpected and contradictory, something that may be put to use.”

An alternative to the fear of failing discourse is to replace it with ‘experimenting’. Try and enjoy the uncertainty of not knowing how something will turn out – our own creative expression is one of the few places left in capitalist western society where our efforts don’t rely on output, profit or success.

Embracing uncertainty can actually be liberating rather than fear-inducing. In 53 Million Artists’ interview with musician Fred Deakin, he said that it is precisely the “sense of possibility” that keeps him going as an artist. He went on to articulate, “The nice thing about art is that it always surprises you. Although you can bring systematic thinking to it and you can bring structure to it, at the heart of it is a leap into the unknown.”

The creative process is a chance to open a space of play and indulge your curiosity. As Fred Deakin astutely conveyed, “It’s a nice place to flex your leap-into-the void muscle and enjoy that dialogue with the unknown”.

However, this requires regular practice and consistent effort as our inner critic and rational side dislikes not being in control.

To help overcome our fear and enjoy creativity on a frequent basis, we can follow the advice of Susan Ann Darly who wrote in the Huffington Post:

From this day forward:

  • Hear and acknowledge the applause of a job well done.
  • Feel good about the effort put forth – not the end result.
  • Feel the joy and gratitude in the ability to use your creativity.
  • Have the courage to show up for it every day of your life

…and the humility to fall to your knees in its presence.

Overcome your fear today and reclaim your creative confidence. Take action to simply play and enjoy the process without thinking of the outcome. After all, what have you got to lose? As Vincent van Gogh said, “What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?”