Writer Elizabeth Gilbert (“Eat, Pray, Love”) relates the story of a friend of hers, “an Italian filmmaker of great artistic sensibility” who, following years of struggling to get his films made, sent “an anguished letter to his hero, the brilliant (and perhaps half-insane) German filmmaker Werner Herzog.

“My friend complained about how difficult it is these days to be an independent filmmaker, how hard it is to find government arts grants, how the audiences have all been ruined by Hollywood and how the world has lost its taste…etc, etc.”

[Photo apparently of Herzog working on his documentary Grizzly Man (2005), which he wrote and directed.]

Can you relate? I certainly can, at least to some degree. And those kinds of complaints can fit many other forms of creative expression besides filmmaking, and can contribute to (or be based on) limiting thinking and beliefs that hold us back.

Gilbert notes that Herzog replied to her friend, saying something along the lines of, “Quit your complaining. It’s not the world’s fault that you wanted to be an artist. It’s not the world’s job to enjoy the films you make, and it’s certainly not the world’s obligation to pay for your dreams. Nobody wants to hear it. Steal a camera if you have to, but stop whining and get back to work.”

She says there is deep value for her own creative work in his brusque advice.

“I repeat those words back to myself whenever I start to feel resentful, entitled, competitive or unappreciated with regard to my writing.

“Always, at the end of the day, the important thing is only and always that: Get back to work. This is a path for the courageous and the faithful. You must find another reason to work, other than the desire for success or recognition. It must come from another place.”

Her thoughtful perspectives are on her site www.elizabethgilbert.com in her post “Some Thoughts on Writing” – and are quoted in my post Elizabeth Gilbert on fear and creativity and mental health, which includes a video excerpt from her TED conference presentation.

As Gilbert notes, courage is part of creative work.

And that doesn’t mean “overcoming” fear so much as going ahead despite it.

Robert Maurer, a psychologist at the UCLA medical school, has for many years researched how creative people succeed and points out that fear does not get “resolved” or go away even when we publish our novel or get a gallery show or whatever.

One approach to working with fear is to take small steps to realizing a project, as he details in his book One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way – which also talks about W. Edwards Deming, who brought Kaizen to Japanese industry, Peter Drucker, coach John Wooden, and others.

“Draw your own map”

Entrepreneur, author and speaker Seth Godin says, “Every day I meet people who have so much to give but have been bullied enough or frightened enough to hold it back. It’s time to stop complying with the system and draw your own map. You have brilliance in you, your contribution is essential, and the art you create is precious. Only you can do it, and you must.”

From his book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?