Creatively Facing Fear

Creatively Facing Fear

Make fear your ally for the creative process


The process of creating something from nothing can be terrifying. Especially when thinking you have to do it all by yourself.

Knowing how to be open and permeated by the world you are living in helps, because then everything around you becomes material for your creation. The world around starts to look like a friendly collaborator—with the design to inspire and inform you. All of a sudden the woman talking too loudly in the coffee shop is dropping lines that work their way into the character you are writing about, the jerk who stepped in front of you in the elevator has a saying on his t-shirt that becomes the title to your next chapter, and that smell you notice while walking past the bakery has cardamom in it, the missing ingredient you have been searching for.

But there is a process between throwing up your antennae to the heavens for inspiration, grounding to the earth for the energy, and opening your system to be permeated by the universe so that the act of creation becomes a wild collaborative act with everything around you.

Because fear can get in the way. Fear is, without doubt, an enemy of the creative process —until you know how to channel it. What's worse, if you don’t know how to listen to fear, and hear it as something separate from yourself, you might actually believe that what it is saying is true.

When fear comes to me, it often says things like, “There is someone out there who could do this better. You won’t finish, why should you waste so much time on it? You don’t know enough to write about this.”

The only way to work with fear, it to face it straight on. Here is one of my favorite meditations and exercises when working with students:

  1. Imagine that you are in an empty white room. You notice that there is door. You approach that door, knowing that when you open it, you are going to see fear standing on the other side.
  2. When you are ready, open the door. What do you see? What shape does it take? Does it look like someone you know? Has it shown up as an animal? A symbol? How tall is it? (mine often looks like a great big mop monster).
  3. Ask it to tell you what it has to say to you. Start to recognize the script that has been going on in your head that you might not have known was fear talking. What does its voice sound like? It is high? Low? Squeaky? Convincing? Does it sound ridiculous now that are you actually giving it your full attention? Or more convincing than ever?
  4. Notice that in its right hand it has something for you. It is a gift. When it opens its palm, you can see what the gift is. What is it? It may be a symbol that you don’t immediately understand. That’s ok. Say thank you to your fear for showing itself to you today and close the door.
  5. Now return to your journal and start writing about what you saw. Make note of the script that Fear likes to repeat. And take a look at the gift and what it means to you. If the symbol is mysterious, you can do a free write beginning with, “I am Fear,” I am here to say….” Or “I am the gift of fear, my message is…” and see what wants to come through.
  6. Draw a picture of your fear. Give it a place in your life so you know where it lives. If you sit down to write and it rears it’s ugly head, rather than become paralyzed by it say, “Ok Fear, you got 60 seconds, go.” On the page that you have drawn fear, now let yourself write for 60 seconds everything it wants to say that day. But only for 60 seconds, because you have more important things to do, like create that amazing creation that is begging for your attention.

One of the most powerful things you can do is take the time to face and listen to your fear. It might be just trying to scare you away from the page, or it might be begging you to face the fact that you just wrote 300 pages in the wrong direction of your book. But when you get in the habit of making the distinction between fear being a voice in your head, rather than the truth, then you can start to use it as an ally and a tool.

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