I dislike the stereotype of the "suffering artist," for my best work springs from joy, not misery, and from working conditions that are calm, not chaotic. Nonetheless, I'd like to look at the dark side of creativity this week, as it's something so many of us have struggled through: the fear and anxiety that can manifest as endless procrastination, or the inability to complete a project, or even, at its worst, complete creative paralysis. For me, this was more of a problem when one when I was younger, less confident, and less established in my work routines, but even today fear can suddenly appear and 'whup me longside the head' (as my Southern relatives used to say), particularly when I'm entering new creative territory...which, of course, we must regularly do as we stretch, grow, and explore our craft.
"When I walk into [the studio] I am alone, but I am alone with my body, ambition, ideas, passions, needs, memories, goals, prejudices, distractions, fears.
"These ten items are at the heart of who I am. Whatever I am going to create will be a reflection of how these have shaped my life, and how I've learned to channel my experiences into them.
"The last two -- distractions and fears -- are the dangerous ones. They're the habitual demons that invade the launch of any project. No one starts a creative endeavor without a certain amount of fear; the key is to learn how to keep free-floating fears from paralyzing you before you've begun. When I feel that sense of dread, I try to make it as specific as possible. Let me tell you my five big fears:
1. People will laugh at me.
2. Someone has done it before.
3. I have nothing to say.
4. I will upset someone I love.
5. Once executed, the idea will never be as good as it is in my mind.
"There are mighty demons, but they're hardly unique to me. You probably share some. If I let them, they'll shut down my impulses ('No, you can't do that') and perhaps turn off the spigots of creativity altogether. So I combat my fears with a staring-down ritual, like a boxer looking his opponent right in the eye before a bout.
1. People will laugh at me? Not the people I respect; they haven't yet, and they're not going to start now....
2. Someone has done it before? Honey, it's all been done before. Nothing's original. Not Homer or Shakespeare and certainly not you. Get over yourself.3. I have nothing to say? An irrelevant fear. We all have something to say.
4. I will upset someone I love? A serious worry that is not easily exorcised or stared down because you never know how loved ones will respond to your creation. The best you can do is remind yourself that you're a good person with good intentions. You're trying to create unity, not discord.
5. Once executed, the idea will never be as good as it is in my mind? Toughen up. Leon Battista Alberti, the 15th century architectural theorist, said, 'Errors accumulate in the sketch and compound in the model.' But better an imperfect dome in Florence than cathedrals in the clouds."
"Sometimes I think the difference between what we want and what we're afraid of is about the width of an eyelash.” - Jay McInerney
Post script: This was written and posted before I learned about the bombings in Boston, which of course raises fears of a very different kind. My thoughts are with friends and readers in Boston today (a city where I used to live, and a city that I love) -- I hope you and are your loved ones are safe.