In my forthcoming book Make A Mess: Daily Prompts + Projects for Rediscovering Your Creativity
And Living A More Playful Life, I include prompts on courage. Because creativity requires courage. As George Prince once said, “Another word for creativity is courage.” As Cynthia Ozick once said, “If we had to say what writing is, we would have to define it essentially as an act of courage.”
Creating means getting out of our comfort zone, trying new things, expressing ourselves in different ways, telling the truth, being silly, being unsure, flirting with failure. Creating might even feel like standing atop a gigantic cliff, knowing full well what’ll happen if we slip. Sharing what we’ve created might send us falling.
The creative process is often vulnerable and intimidating. Some days your fear might convince you to stop creating altogether — whatever you’re working on. Writing. Drawing. Dancing. Sewing. Cooking. Sculpting. Playing the piano. Taking pictures.
On those days, we need reminders. Below I’m sharing the words I turn to and reread when I need a dose of courage. When I need a pep talk to create no matter what. When I’m having a serious case of self-doubt and I need to remember that others struggle, too. And they do.
I used to assume that people who were super successful rarely struggled. They didn’t struggle with self-doubt or anxiety or fear. Especially not the self-doubts, anxieties or fears that I struggle with. But, again, they do. Of course, they do. Because these are human emotions and experiences. Because this is the reality of being a human being.
- “Who do I think I am? I’ll tell you who I am: I am a child of God, just like anyone else. I am a constituent of this universe. I have a right to collaborate with creativity, because I myself am a product and a consequence of creation.” ~ Elizabeth Gilbert, from her upcoming book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
- “I made 5,127 prototypes of my vacuum before I got it right. There were 5,126 failures. But I learned from each one. That’s how I came up with a solution. So I don’t mind failure. I’ve always thought that schoolchildren should be marked by the number of failures they’ve had. The child who tries strange things and experiences lots of failures to get there is probably more creative.” ~ Sir James Dyson, creator of the Dyson vacuum, from this piece
- “I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life—and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.” ~ Georgia O’Keeffe
These are several sentences from Christina Rosalie’s book A Field Guide to Now: Notes on Mindfulness and Life in the Present Tense:
- “…The first ten things I make will be crap. Likely, the first hundred things I make will be crap. But it doesn’t matter. What matters are my fingers moving and the clay beneath them. What matters is practicing this movement again and again, clay slipping through the curve of my hands.”
- Whatever the work is that you long to do, do it today without excuses. Involve your children if that is the only way. My studio is always a riot of snippets, their paintings always strewn about my floor. Begin with pouring yourself wholly into whatever you are doing, and trust that momentum will gather, that resources will arrive. Opportunity will find you.”
And here are a few of my favorite excerpts from The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear by Ralph Keyes:
- “E.B. White was the most graceful of writers. A generation of imitators tried, but seldom succeeded, to match his casual self-assurance. We like to imagine White on his New England farm dashing off lighthearted essays and charming books for children when he wasn’t slopping hogs or chopping wood. In fact, White worried over every word. He rewrote pieces twenty times or more and sometimes pleaded with his postmaster of North Brooklin, Maine, to return a just-mailed manuscript so he could punch up its ending or rewrite the lead.”
- “When it came to his calling, White wrote eloquently about how much courage it took to write. ‘A writer’s courage can easily fail him,’ he observed while accepting the National Medal for Literature. ‘I feel this daily.’ In his simplest testament of all, White said, ‘I admire anybody who has the guts to write anything at all.'”
- “Fear is felt by writers at every level. Anxiety accompanies the first word they put on paper and the last. ‘I write in terror,’ admitted Cynthia Ozick. ‘I have to talk myself into bravery with every sentence, sometimes every syllable.'”
Each of us doubts ourselves. Each of us feels fear. But what’s reassuring is that we’re never alone. As we sit down to write or draw or create whatever we’re creating, we can remind ourselves that countless others are sitting down, too, hesitating, doubting, worrying, fearing. And yet starting, and trying and working. Because courage is showing up. And without even realizing it, that’s exactly what you’re doing.
* A few years ago I interviewed several artists and authors about ways to overcome creative self-doubt, which you might find helpful.
What helps you navigate your creative fears? What gives you a dose of courage? Certain quotes? Certain books?