Fear That Kills Creativity
By Missy Tippens
Missy, here. And I, like many writers, battle fear—fear that can sometimes hamper my creativity.
A few months ago, my sister, an elementary art teacher, sent me a link to a video by Sir Ken Robinson that I found interesting and inspiring. In it, he asks Are Schools Killing Creativity? He contends that creativity is as important in schools as literacy.
He tells the story of a little girl who hardly ever paid attention in class. But during a drawing lesson, she did. The teacher asked her what she was drawing, and she said, “I’m drawing a picture of God.” The teacher said, “But nobody knows what God looks like.” And the little girl said, “They will in a minute.”
Don’t you love that certainty? Robinson says that kids take a chance. That if they don’t know something, they’ll have a go at it. They’re not afraid of being wrong.
Let me say that again, kids are not afraid of being wrong.
That’s the creative spirit you and I had when we were kids, too.
Robinson says he doesn’t mean that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. But he means that if we’re not prepared to be wrong, we won’t ever come up with anything original.
Let me say that again too! If we’re not prepared to be wrong, we won’t ever come up with anything original.
As we grow up, we become frightened of being wrong. In schools and business, we learn to be frightened because being wrong is stigmatized.
Robinson quotes Picasso, who said that all children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up.
So as adults, we need to battle that fear of making mistakes or failing. I think the problem for us as writers (published and unpublished) is to keep our creativity when we face criticism, writing rules, deadlines, self-defeating thoughts, lack of support, money woes, days jobs, and the list can go on and on.
We need to re-train ourselves to work on a different model than we learned in school or in the business world. Of course, most of us are in this as a business, so what I’m talking about here is re-training ourselves for the creating phase of writing—the putting down that first draft.
So I have an exercise for you to do today. Quick and easy! (So please don't run away.) :) I want you to think back to how it was when you first started writing. Before your teacher marked your paper with red ink. Before your mother said she would read your story and promptly set it aside and forgot it. Before anyone critiqued your work. Before you took any writing classes and learned all the “rules.” Before you entered contests.
Okay, so do you remember how it felt to write then? Back then, I wrote a book in two months while nursing a baby (typing with one hand!). That story flew onto the paper. And it was FUN.
It was terrible! LOL But it was fun. And I didn’t worry about every word I wrote. I didn’t worry about goal or conflict or story arc. I didn’t worry about sympathetic characters or pacing or POV (heck, I didn’t even know what POV was!).
Of course, all the things we learn about good writing are important. We do have to write a good story and edit ourselves and get outside edits. We do have to learn and improve and worry about the rules.
But sometimes when all that overwhelms us, we can lose our creativity. We feel stifled. We feel like the words we put down are boring and awful. We think our story is a pathetic.
If you ever hit that point, then I’d like to suggest you go back to the beginning. Think about writing as if you don’t know anything other than the feeling of a story that’s burning to be written down.
Let the passion return. Don’t fear failure. Don’t fear saying the wrong thing or being “punished” for writing poorly.
What we have to do is learn to write first (some of us planning at that time, some not doing any planning beforehand). Then go into a different mode for editing and polishing.
Here are some tips I’ve come up with to help:
--If you like to plan/plot beforehand, then do so! But when you first start, treat it more like brainstorming. Jot down every little idea that comes to you. Don’t censor. Don’t make fun of yourself or criticize anything.
--If staring at a blank screen is freaking you out, then go work with a pen and paper. Jot notes until some idea hits you that will work. Then either go with it on paper or come back to the screen.
--If negative feedback (or any feedback) stops the flow, then set it aside and deal with it later during edits.
--If critique freezes you up, then don’t get critique until you’ve finished the whole manuscript. Or instead, get brainstorming help from your cp’s ahead of time.
--Same thing with contests. You know how much we love contests around here. But if they throw you off track, then don’t enter them until you have your book finished and where you love it.
--Feed your creative well. Do what works for you. Examples: Read, go to movies, do something else creative (I sometimes make jewelry), spend time with friends or your family, cook, take a class…
--Be aware of what you’re afraid of. Figure it out. And then fight it.
Fear of failure? Think about what’s the worst thing that could happen and tell yourself you’ll survive.
Fear of success? Then look at all the other people who’ve handled it, and know that you have others around you willing to help show the way.
Fear of embarrassment/humiliation? Then come up with a graceful way to handle it if it were to happen (most likely, it won’t!).
Fear of having those closest to you thinking success will go to your head? Then share with them all the struggles you’ve had along the way.
Fear of having to become an extrovert to promote yourself and your books? Then figure out a plan that you can work with, doing only what’s comfortable for you, not what you think everyone is expecting of you.
Fear of your bad grammar or spelling? Then hire someone to proof it for you.
Fear of messing up that one big chance you have (editor or agent request, etc)? Then say to yourself: I may blow it, but if I don’t take the chance, I’ll never know what could have happened.
Fear that you’re not qualified? Then remember that God will provide and will equip you to do His work (studying the story of Moses is what got me over this hurdle).
Don’t let all the fears that we learn into adulthood overcome our inborn creativity. Learn, through trial and error, what your self-defeating patterns are and come up with a plan to battle them.
Think back to when you were little, and the joy you had in writing or telling a story. Try to recapture that feeling. And enjoy this writing journey!
I’d love to hear your remembrances of your first writing joys that you came up with during your exercise!
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