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Fear & Loathing in Creativity

How to bust through creative blocks and make things that matter

I posted something on Facebook recently and it hit a bit of nerve—not like a “viral Facebook storm” level nerve. But, within my community of creatives and online business owners, I think I tapped into something.

For your reference, here is the post.

It’s written in, what I like to call “tounge-in-cheek-but-true-and-oh-god-now-I’m-sobbing-over-my-coffee-style”. You know…my signature.

But, what started as a moment of truth and vulnerability with just a pinch of levity, showed me something about the minds of my fellow creatives.

Here’s what some of them had to say in response.

These four people, and the others who responded, represent a variety of creative fields. They’re designers, illustrators, writers, photographers, videographers, coders. And they’re all talented. I know because I’ve seen their work.

So, how can a whole bunch of hyper-talented creatives who seemingly have it all together be struggling in their own pursuit of creative excellence?

Well, I have a bit of a theory on that.

And, it’s something I see both in the uber creative and in my clients—who swear they’re not creative, but really, they are (more on that some other time).

Maybe you identify as creative, or maybe you find yourself saying “I can’t write, paint, design, etc.”, “I don’t know what to say”, “I’m just more of a logical thinker than a creative one”.

Either way, you’re here so you probably identify with the pain of creating something. It’s often slow, it hurts your brain and your heart, and sometimes, it doesn’t result in a masterpiece.

So what is it that halts our creative process?

What keeps us from expressing ourselves the way we want to?

What makes us look back and be a total hater on what we made?

As I said, I’ve got a theory and HINT: it goes deeper than imposter syndrome and self-loathing.

After working in content and copywriting for over four years now, I’ve seen the “start-stop” uncertainty that accompanies and delays—if not, all out crushes— most creative endeavors. It happens to me, it happens to my fellow creatives, and I’m guessing it happens to you.

IT’S FEAR YA’LL.

Now, hear me out because I know that sounds a little trite and probably has you saying something like, “So, all I have to do is be…not afraid? Sure.”

To which I would answer—yes, but it’s a little more complicated than that.  

Allow me to elaborate.

My theory has two main “theses”:

  1. Fear and creativity are such bosom buddies because real creativity (the kind that makes people go “ooooh tell me more…”) requires real vulnerability—we have to bare a little of ourselves to make things that are good and that is, by nature, scary.
  2. If we examine that fear we can anticipate it, understand it, and bust through it like some mixture of Seth Godin and the Kool-Aid Man—fearlessly creative, memorable, and unmistakeable.

To get there though, we gotta dive in head first and confront the fears that halt creativity.

Specifically, we need to look at three of the most common fears that come up in my work AND their antidotes.

Fear #1 I don’t know what to say.

Eesh. Been there. One blinking cursor, two cups of coffee, three hours, and a frantic Google search “how in the actual f**k do I write a blog post?” later aaand…nothing.

This one is painful.  

Fear #2 Someone else has already said this.

Ah well…Amy Porterfield, Marie Forleo, [insert your industry superstar here] already covered this. Sooooo, nah. I’ll just keep my mouth shut.

Fear #3 What if people don’t like what I have to say?

Ok, so this one should really read “What if people don’t like me?” . Which, unless you are particularly contrarian, feels icky, isolating, and it goes against our nature as social creatures. If you’ll recall from thesis number one, real creativity = vulnerability and vulnerability = scary. It’s scary to face the potential of being disliked.

All of these fears probably have you nodding your head.

And, all of these, left unchecked, lead to premature self-editing in anticipation of future self-loathing.

AKA creating work that’s uninspired, uncharacteristic, and (in the worst cases) unpublished.

Now, before you go hanging your head in shame. Remember that just about every person who’s ever created something experiences this. Hell, this blog is inspired by a post I put on Facebook remember?

It happens.

But, with the proper antidote for each fear you too can learn to kickstart your creative endeavors and have a finished product your proud of.

Antidote #1  I̶ ̶d̶o̶n̶’̶t̶ ̶k̶n̶o̶w̶ ̶w̶h̶a̶t̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶s̶a̶y̶.̶  You don’t have to start from scratch.

Say it with me: swipe file.

Keep a running list of things that inspire you.

Notice what social posts or emails you write that get a great response. Save them and use them as a template for the future.

Approaching a blank document or starting a new email is 10,000 times less scary with something to start with (it’s the reason I’ve shared my high performing email templates with my peeps.)

But, don’t just look to your peers or people within in your industry.

Like a lyric from the newest Cardi B track? Write it down. Hang on to it and use it as an original blog prompt or to inspire a turn of phrase.

Antidote #2 S̶o̶m̶e̶o̶n̶e̶ ̶e̶l̶s̶e̶ ̶h̶a̶s̶ ̶a̶l̶r̶e̶a̶d̶y̶ ̶s̶a̶i̶d̶ ̶t̶h̶i̶s̶ No one has said it exactly like you.

You have a voice.

It’s made up of a lot of nuances—your cadence, colloquialisms you use, pop culture references, regionally specific phrases, deeply held beliefs, core values.

They all come together to make up your unique way of expressing yourself. And, the more you practice saying or creating something in your own voice/style, the more apparent it will become.

So, for example, the next time you’re writing something and it sounds off, imagine yourself saying it in a bar or social situation. Does it sound weird, maybe a little too formal? Re-write it the way you would actually say it.

Antidote #3 W̶h̶a̶t̶ ̶i̶f̶ ̶p̶e̶o̶p̶l̶e̶ ̶d̶o̶n̶’̶t̶ ̶l̶i̶k̶e̶ ̶w̶h̶a̶t̶ ̶I̶ ̶h̶a̶v̶e̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶s̶a̶y̶/̶m̶e̶?̶ This is actually an OK thing.

Take a deep breath and listen to what I have to say without judgment.

Some people won’t like you and that is OK. Not only is it OK…from a branding perspective, it can be good.

When we say things in our way, with our unique blend of values, influences, and genuine passion for the topic, some people will be turned off. And truly, if that’s the case, then they don’t belong in your orbit.

In fact, I would argue that the absence of haters (or at least people who “just aren’t that into you”), indicates that you’re probably watering down your work and creating middle-of-the-road drab that’s unmemorable.

To put it simply, “you do you boo”.

These fears are ever present for even seasoned creatives. They’re not going anywhere.

So, the lesson for anyone battling it out with their creativity is to lean into those fears. Because recognizing it, understanding it, and moving forward anyway is where creative excellence begins.

It’s painful for sure. But that’s just because you give a damn.

And giving a damn is what helps you create stuff that actually matters and that you—and your audience—love.  Stuff that has teeth. Stuff that stands out. Stuff that expresses ideas that are real, alive, inspiring, and totally you.