I recently attended a small, intimate gathering of artists and writers, all members of the National League of American Pen Women, to discuss this unlikely topic, and here are a few of my thoughts:
Isn't the creation of art usually associated with pleasure in using our unique skills and talents, in exploring our interior ground through words or clay or paint? The idea that fear would enter into the production of art might not occur to most people.
But fear often accompanies the creative process. Will fresh ideas/concepts come to you? Will you be able to execute them? Will people like your work? Can you meet a deadline? Find a publisher? An audience? For many artists, most daunting is the necessity of revealing your innermost self to strangers, authorities, critics, and ─ perhaps worst ─ to those who know you.
When you hang, publish or produce your work, you expose the quality of your talent and thinking to public opinion. You make vulnerable a part of yourself that is unique: your creativity. The artist cannot know where creativity will lead or end. You can only trust and explore. And that can be fearsome. Even Barbra Streisand wasn't spared paralyzing stage fright just because she was a brilliant singer.
What helps writers and artists deal with fear? I listened to a quill artist share her thoughts, which resonated with us all. She struggled, she said, with strong feelings of inadequacy when she was learning her craft, but what bolstered her most was affirmation from a mentoring successful artist who observed that she liked this or that aspect of the work. Positive comments helped the learning artist dismiss fear, develop confidence, and move forward.
Our small group discussed the role of preparation in reducing artistic fear, of consistently making scheduled time to work, whether morning, noon, or night. Most importantly, we asserted the importance of accepting that art comes from within us. It is us. Some stayed on after lunch to continue the animated discussion. I left, but continued to reflect on my own experiences as a writer.
Some years ago I was hired by the Cape Cod Times to co-author with Alan Petrucelli the Insider's Guide to Cape Cod, ultimately a 600-page book. Having completed numerous assignments for Fodor's travel guides, the writing process was familiar for me, but the Insider assignment extended over many months and the deadlines for each section were brutal. We had only a few weeks to research and write up thousands of pieces of information.
I dealt with recurring spasms of fear by protecting my health and sanity. I walled off two times each day that were absolutely off-limits for anything that intruded on peace of mind: I read a newspaper in the morning and a novel at night. I got exercise, sleep, and ate reasonably well. Other than that, I worked. Somehow, impossibly, the deadlines were met. The book came out on schedule, it was gorgeous, and Barnes and Noble marketing staff said it was by far the best Cape Cod travel book that year.
We artists work alone in solitary spaces, often for long periods of time. Then, we must transfer our work from cozy privacy to the public stage. So, be kind to your artist friends! You never know when your few words of encouragement might provide a poet or potter, a novelist or muralist, a helping hand over the latest hurdle, a reason to stare down fear, or maybe even the courage to keep on creating.