Creative Fears: Why are you scared to create?

“Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads”

Erika Jong

You were in the shower, or maybe doing the dishes; perhaps daydreaming at the office or taking a walk back home from the café and without permission, an idea came up out of nowhere. “Oh my God! Yes! This is it! I have to do this!”

As a result, you run upstairs to your apartment, throw everything on the floor and look for a pen to write down and doodle everything you can about the idea you just had: you squeeze the hell out of it and just when you have everything you need to translate it from your mind to the material world… you start doubting. Is it good enough? No, this is not me, this is something absolutely unrelated to who I am or what I do. No, I can’t do this. I’m not creative, I’m not qualified.

That is the moment you know fear kicked in.

The role that fear plays in our creative lives

We call fear an unpleasant emotion or thought that appears to prevent us from doing something dangerous, embarrassing or painful. However, is it always positive that fear stops us from something it thinks it’s dangerous for us? Don’t misunderstand me, I’m pretty sure Mr. & Mrs. Fear have good intentions, but they don’t really know in which situations they should act and in which they should just hold themselves back. The Fears are not particularly the smartest family in the room.

The question comes when fears show up to our Creative Party: how are we supposed to receive them? In her book “Big Magic”, Elizabeth Gilbert makes a bold statement when saying that fear and creativity are basically conjoined twins- as evidenced by the fact that creativity cannot take a single step forward without fear marching alongside it.

That is to say, if fear is intrinsically connected to our creativity, why does it always seem like it is constantly sabotaging it?! 

For instance, in the example I gave you in the first paragraphs, fear is the antagonist of the story: it suffocates us with doubt until we decide to stop, yet does fear always paralyze us? I’ll get to it in the next paragraphs.

Identifying our Fears

“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality”

Seneca

Around 2014, I read a book called “The 4-hour-workweek” where the author (Tim Ferriss) proposed a practical exercise to identify our fears by taking them out of our box and putting them under a microscope. The exercise consists of getting to know your fears, prevent the situation you fear from happening, have an actionable and tangible method in case that feared situation happened and what will be the benefits of an attempt or the cost of inaction.

Let me break it down for you using this book club example:

Once you’re done with the exercise, we follow up to my favorite part: the two questions.

The whole exercise gives you a clear idea of which are your fears and by looking for solutions before anything happens, you’ll get a deeper sense of control, kind of like jumping to the unknown knowing you already have a safety net. Might sound counterintuitive when it comes to creating, but the whole idea here is getting to know yourself, know what’s stopping you and call it by its name so we can move to the next step.

Here are some complementary sources to check out if you need more info about the exercise: Fear Setting Ted Talk, this worksheet on Coda, “The 4-hour-work-week” book

You’re not alone: discussing your fears

When the idea of writing about fears popped up in my head, I thought that I needed something more than just my ideas and my research papers, therefore I asked my Instagram community to tell me some of their fears in order to have a wider perspective and cover some topics in a more specific way.

My question was: What’s stopping you from starting your creative projects?” and I offered 4 different common reasons (or what I thought were common) to choose, plus let open my DMs for any other options anyone would like to share.

To these reasons, I can add some other popular that were mentioned: 

I am a perfectionist, if it doesn’t come out good at the first attempt (and I know it won’t) why would I waste time trying?

I feel it’s never the right moment to start. I’m always searching for the things I lack as an excuse to not do it.

I’m scared of making mistakes.

I feel like if I start and then don’t keep up, I’ll be a failure, so I don’t risk trying.

First of all, let me give you a round of applause if you’ve made it this far. You know your fears, you can detect what’s stopping you from taking the next step and I would love to give you a solution to that, yet I don’t have it. The only thing I can tell you right now is the truth you’ve been denying.

you will regret not doing it.

No matter what you think, you are constantly sabotaging yourself, creating excuses and saying “but” on each and every sentence. If you are here, reading me, I am assuming you are a fully functioning human being and let me remind you of your privileges: you have a healthy body, a healthy mind, you are intelligent, sensitive and you are creative. You already have more than many others and you still give yourself the luxury of hiding behind fears.

How to take action

I might not have solutions but what I do have are powerful practices and practical exercises you can choose to do in order to take care of your fears and don’t let them spoil the fun.

Recognize you are a creative person. As I’ve mentioned before, you don’t have to paint a picture or play an instrument to be creative: the canvas to develop our creativity are our everyday life situations and the way we solve problems. We are all creative, start by giving yourself credit.

There’s no such thing as “good ideas”. To be honest, everything has been already done or remixed, so take the pressure off your shoulders. There are no good or bad ideas, there are just ideas that have been made or not. The best thing is that nothing actually has been done by you, with the twist you can add. Don’t judge your ideas or doubt yourself, not even once.

Done is better than perfect. Perfect moments and perfect materials are not something that exists until you create them for yourself. We’ve talked about rituals, about making time to start something, so let’s stop procrastinating. Start with what you know, with what you have, with the time you already have the rest will follow. Suck at something and be a beginner, from there the only way is up. Also, perfection is boring*. If you want to do perfect things, then I’d recommend not to follow a creative path (or any path at all); everyone who’s here just wants to have fun and tell stories! 

*True story: I’ve been a perfectionist all my life, I’d even say it proudly. The bad part was when I really wanted to start something, I’d just make up excuses not to do it. Two years ago, my therapist diagnosed me as a  “perfectionist” and I started a cognitive-behavioral therapy treatment. If you feel your perfectionism is bigger than your drive to pursue your projects, I’d recommend seeing a specialist.

Fears and Creative Living

“Fear is boring” says Elizabeth Gilbert “because it’s always the same thing every day”. “Fear is an integral part of the creative process” writes Lisa Congdon in her “Find your creative voice” book.  

We should stop trying to eradicate fear from our lives and accept that it will always be part of us, of our experiences, of our creative endeavors. Let’s come to terms with our fears and use them as an impulse to work harder: fear is not always a negative feeling if we embrace it as a tool.

Final Thoughts

Creativity is about going to unknown places, unlearning things you’ve learned. In a creative mind, there are no good or bad ideas, there’s no judgment that’s valid. Creative people don’t aim for perfection, perfection is boring and who doesn’t make mistakes is because they have decided to stand still and watch life go by in front of themselves. In fact, there are no mistakes in our creative life, there are only experiments. Nobody’s born knowing and skills are things that anyone can master with patience and practice. There are no perfect moments or the best tools to acquire in order to start.

We are all creatives and once we stop bringing us down and making up excuses, we’ll finally embrace our creative power and be able to live a bigger, happier and way more fun life.


girl in nature, intervened images

Wan Raitelli loves documenting her life and sharing what she learns from her creative journey, be it words, pictures, drawings or videos.

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