What I’ve Learned About Creativity + Fear

I am a writer.

I say this with confidence and certainty. Whether or not I am a good writer is up for debate—but I stand in my truth when I say that I am, in my mind and in my heart, a writer.

About a year has passed since I’ve completed a piece of fiction (or at least, a draft). This I say with shame and frustration. I have managed a few pages here, a sentence or two there. Just fragments.

Let me clarify. I have written: blog posts, letters, journal entries, product descriptions, marketing copy, technical documentation, and countless emails. While each style exercises my creativity and keeps me lithe, there’s something within me—a truth, a passion, an excitement— that these projects do not have access to in the same way that fiction does.

So, what’s stopping me? It’s not writer’s block, because that does not exist. I have plenty of ideas that I could run with.

Lately, I’ve been watching and listening to a lot of content by Marie Forleo (entrepreneur, writer, philanthropist, overall lady boss). On the way to work last week, I tuned into her interview with best-selling author Elizabeth Gilbert. They focused on the vexed yet necessary relationship between fear and creativity.

In the midst of their discussion, Elizabeth laid out this big piece of TRUTH.

“People tell me about the projects that they want to be making and are not making […] When they come to me with their problems about creativity, […] I find that they always have some rational, reasonable, material real-world reason why they’re not doing it that they can lay out as an explanation. But when you scratch away at that, what’s there is always and only fear. […] Creativity will always provoke your fear because it asks you to enter into a realm with an uncertain outcome, and fear hates that.” – Elizabeth Gilbert

I fear rejection and criticism. I fear that my stories do not have enough value or meaning. I fear mediocrity. I fear that I will invest time and energy into a piece that will never get published.

The last one is major for me. Be it the desire for human connection or the need for validation, I get a thrill from sharing my work with others (once I gather the courage to do so). However, I’ve somehow convinced myself that sharing is equivalent to publishing, and that my platform must be public, whether that’s a blog or a paperback.

In another interview, Marie Forleo speaks with Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, who says:

“One of the early decisions I made was to not focus on getting published and to rather focus on my craft.” – Cheryl Strayed

Most of my fears hinge on what other people think of my writing, as well as what they will do with it. The pressure to publish does not help; in fact, it is paralyzing.

With the help of Elizabeth and Cheryl, I’ve realized that time spent on a story that I’ll never published is just as fruitful as time that I’d spend on a lit mag submission. Published words, though more visible, are not inherently more meaningful than the words that I scribble into my journal. Now is the time to reclaim my creativity and my passion and to redefine what gives my work value.

I’ll begin now by saying this:

My writing is important, because it is important to me.

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