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Ooh, we have a juicy episode today (did I just say juicy? Hmm. Sorry.). In it, we’re tackling creativity & fear!

Listen here:

Inspired and influenced by Liz Gilbert’s Big Magic, and the related workshop of hers in London we went to together back in 2018, we thought it was high time we talked about the fear that comes with creativity and how to deal with it.

So why do we fear fear so much?

Let’s start with what it is. What is fear?

It’s being on the spot, in the moment, and not knowing what to do. It’s anticipation, but not in a good way. The fear of doing something can be worse than the actual doing.

Building it up in your head and worrying about it, plus the physical feelings that go with fear – hyperventilating and heart racing and sweaty palms.

Is it a stress thing? That when we build something up in our heads, the unknown, the one-shot, one chance pressure, gets to us? Expectations – but ours, or our clients, or the world’s in general?

Why do we have this tendency to plan for the worst? Is that fear talking and taking the driving seat? Assuming you’ll have to refund a client before they’ve even signed the contract – that is fear at its most sneaky. And it can feel uncontrollable.

Experience can knock out fear a little bit because you have evidence to use against it, but it can still creep up on us unexpectedly.

Getting used to working with it, to it being a part of you, and to knowing it will always be there but you don’t have to let it take over is a good concept (although one that takes some doing!). Fear can sharpen your senses and skills, and we have a theory that you only actually feel sick with fear about doing something when you really care about it (or if you’re being forced to do it, but that’s a different conversation and we’re talking creativity, not being coerced into a bungee jump!).

Fear can be of many things but is often of judgement by others. Because even when we think we don’t care (or genuinely don’t care) what other people think, deep down we all do care a little bit about what people think about our creativity because it’s taking a little piece of our soul out into the world with it.

Carla’s Gran calls it “borrowing trouble” – worrying about something that hasn’t yet happened and is actually quite unlikely. It’s related to anxiety but can feel quite different when it’s high pressure, high stakes things, like weddings – Sarah says this is one reason she stopped shooting weddings. (Carla says it’s one reason why she never shot weddings at all!)

What if your very best isn’t good enough? (spoiler – it absolutely is, this is just fear talking). Although this fear, of your work not living up to what’s in your head, can be really problematic – it can stop us in our tracks and stop us from creating at all, just in case.

We had a look to see what others thought and found a great quote from Katja Hunterthat creative fear is just as paralysing as normal fear, but with the added bonus of it being personal.

And it’s so important that you continue to create because only you can create in your way. If you gave us, for example, the same scene and the same kit, we’d still come up with two distinct and different images, or ways of describing it.

Fear of failure

This feels like a big one – people fear failing, fear being a failure, don’t want to fail. Carla thinks this isn’t one of her issues, she’s good at being bad at stuff, loves to try things and is happy to close things down and move on if she doesn’t want to practice enough to get really good at something. But this is balanced by crippling perfectionism, so there’s that!

With a creative business, is fear much more centred around what our clients think? In creativity generally, is it more about what people will think of us personally?

There’s that weird fine line between having enough fear to sharpen your senses and let you do your very best work, and fear that is so overwhelming you can’t get past the worrying and you don’t work at your best. Where’s the dividing line? How do you make sure one doesn’t turn into the other?

Tackling creative fear

Acknowledging it feels like an important first step. Knowing it’s there, not trying to hide from it, but not letting it stop you.

Parking it is also an option – acknowledge it and then put it in a different part of your brain until you’ve got time to take it out and look at it and deal with it. (This is probably more scientifically known as compartmentalising).

Rather than ignoring or killing the fear, this is more like putting it in a box with holes, so it’s got room to breathe and is comfortable, but is out of my sight and out of mind while I work.

For some of us, out of sight makes the fear worse, because we don’t know what it’s doing!

Is it possible to live without fear? Does it actually sometimes do us some favours, and stop us from making daft decisions?

It’s really important to recognise that fear is trying to keep you safe in its little reptile brain way. It’s trying so hard to keep you within the bounds of safe & comfortable. But that isn’t where the joy and stretch and excitement of life happens.

Strategies for creative fear

They are of course linked – anxiety is fear of something that hasn’t yet happened (and in many cases, is highly unlikely to ever happen).

Creative confidence can help to quiet fear, but does it help with anxiety? If you’ve done the thing before, it can help you to tackle the feeling a bit better.

If you’re feeling fear, it’s helpful to find out a bit more about why, and what you’re feeling exactly. The more information you have, the better you’re going to be at dealing with it!

Writing! Writing and writing, until you’re not really writing consciously anymore, but you can read back your own words and see wisdom in there, from your subconscious which often does have the answers.

Although you do have answers, you need a tool to excavate them – writing can definitely be the way to get that out and find a sense of calm and solution.

Is some of it beyond our control? When we think of fight/flight/freeze responses, and the possibility of being eaten by something back in the day – perhaps our brains truly haven’t quite adjusted yet and some of the fear feelings really are out of our control.

Practising being scared – jobs like military, paramedics, lifeguards train in certain ways to enable them to react in a suitable way when there’s a crisis. Applying the same logic to fear, if you practise your responses, increase your exposure to fear, you’re more likely to then react in that way when true fear kicks in about something.

And it gives you knowledge of how you do behave in certain situations, which helps you to plan and also helps you recognise different types of fear when they arise. Or make a proactive decision about what you will do next time the fear strikes.

Turning fear into excitement

Having talked about how fear feels, and how all the different kinds of fear are still a fairly universal experience, no matter where the fear comes from, we stumbled upon a theory that you can turn fear into excitement.

The physical symptoms of both fear and excitement are similar, although your facial expressions will tend to differ. This theory says that if you’re feeling one, you can turn it into the other by thinking about it and changing your perspective.

A way of dealing with fear is to have enough self-awareness to know when you’re feeling fear, rather than thinking you’re not good enough. And having a conversation with it, rather than letting it dictate your next steps.

Morning pages have been an epic tool for calming, noticing and dealing with fear for Carla – as a daily habit for corralling thoughts, they are excellent, but they probably do need to be done in the morning to help with that. But it means you have somewhere every day to deal with any fear that comes up and any other awkward emotions that are lurking and put the old stuff to bed.

Liz Gilbert has some wonderful exercises addressing fear and divinity as part of you – writing letters to and from them, which we both found really powerful.

And finally, she also hits the nail on the head with this perfect quote:

“Dearest Fear:

Creativity and I are about to go on a road trip together. I understand you’ll be joining us, because you always do. I acknowledge that you believe you have an important job to do in my life, and that you take your job seriously. Apparently your job is to induce complete panic whenever I’m about to do anything interesting-and, may I say, you are superb at your job. So by all means, keep doing your job if you feel you must. But I will also be doing my job on this road trip, which is to work hard and stay focused. And Creativity will be doing its job, which is to remain stimulating and inspiring.

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 suggestions 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.”

Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert