If you’ve been making art for any time at all, you’ve known fear. You’re cruising along, producing solid work, feeling pretty good about yourself and your life as an artist, and whammo – fear jumps out of a dark alley and knocks that satisfied smile right off your face.
What to do? Curling up in a ball in the corner is rarely attractive, and liquid courage never works for long – just ask Hemingway or Fitzgerald. (Oh, wait. We can’t.) And to complicate matters there isn’t just one big fear you can anticipate and sidestep. Fear takes many different forms, and might be so subtle you don’t even recognize it for what it is: a big, sneaky traitor.
I’ve struggled with fear over the years, and believe it’s just part of the creative process. Making something from nothing is tough business, and doesn’t inspire great confidence unless it’s going well. Which it often isn’t, and that’s also part of the process. Lame work precedes the good stuff; it’s just the way it goes. But that roller coaster is a breeding ground for doubt.
So I’ll start. My biggest fear these days is not being able to find an audience for my books. Or that there isn’t a big enough audience to support my writing. I’m not writing about knitted hamster booties, but still, I worry that writing about U.S. road trips doesn’t have a huge market, and that I’ll only find a handful of readers.
That’s ridiculous, right? Surely I can find more than a handful. I should go for two handfuls! Ten readers! Take that, irrational fear!
That’s the point: these fears are usually irrational. The truth is, if the writing’s good – which it will be, since I’m going to work my butt off to make it so – I’ll find more than a handful of readers, and you will, too. Here a few more fears and how to handle them if they show up.
Fear of failure. Who hasn’t been afraid of never improving beyond that first mediocre sketch, or toiling for years with only a drawer full of unpublished novels to show for it? The fear of spending all that time and energy on something that never results in success will stop you cold.
The fix: Remember, persistence is as important, if not more so, than talent. Really. The longer you work, practicing and studying and making one attempt after another, the better you are. And the better you are, the chances of success start multiplying exponentially. Persistence.
Fear of success. I’ve heard of this but have never seen proof, sort of like the jackalope. Someone’s afraid of the adoration of fans, the respect of peers, and enough money to go on fabulous vacations and fund a retirement account? Gee, that sounds terrible, you should definitely be afraid of that. (Seriously, if someone has experienced this I’d love to hear more.)
The fix: How about this: you get so successful that you’ve booked that fabulous vacation, and you take me with you. I’ll gladly convince you over a Mai Tai just how unfounded your fears really are. You’re welcome.
Fear of being found out. As talentless, a poser, boring, whatever. I’ve read more interviews with famous creatives than I can count who’ve confessed this fear, so it’s fair to say it’s common.
The fix: The more good work you produce, the less likely it is you are (or will be thought of as) a poser. Make good art.
Fear of exposing yourself. I don’t mean the creepy way with trench coats, I mean through your work: exposing your true feelings and desires, the creative ideas that scratch at your window at night.
The fix: Know that exposing your true, vulnerable self through your work will make you more successful than you can imagine. No one is interested in an artist playing it safe. Be yourself, be honest, be bold. Your fans will love you for it.
Fear of never being as great as those you admire. Well, let’s face it – you (and I) may never be. But it doesn’t mean you can’t be great in your own right, and it doesn’t mean you don’t have something important and valuable to share with the world.
The fix: Ditch the black and white “I’ll never be as good as (Great Artist) so I should stop right now” silliness. There will always be plenty of room for great art, regardless of if it’s hanging in the Louvre or someone’s living room. I say this a lot, but it bears repeating: Give us your best work. We all win when you do.
What do you fear most? Let me know – I won’t tell.
This column first appeared in The Taos News. Photo credit: Photos.com.
If you like this post, feel free to share it with the buttons on the left!