21 Dragons

In Search of Wisdom

Unleashing Your Creative Monster: Be Afraid

Whenever I thought of writing this post, this scene from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back always came to mind:

You think you won't be afraid on your way to unleashing your creative monster (is that title getting old or what)? Oh you will be, you will be.

There's a perception going around that when a creative person achieves Epic Genius rank in the dark arts of creativity, she will no longer be afraid of new projects, and all creative tasks will cower before her in fear and the lowest submission, ready to roll over and give up their gifts if she only but wishes.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The truth is that fear is a good thing. Not the gut-wrenching fear that tells you (wisely) not to step into a dark alley at night, but fear of doing things that are good for you. Things that are new. Things that will help you grow. Things that will stretch you. The fear of hitting up against the edges of your comfort zone and stepping beyond them.

In his essential book The War of Art, Steven Pressfield calls this fear the Resistance:

Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.

Between you and your best creative work stands the Resistance. And how will you know the Resistance? By your fear.

Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.

You know those fears you feel when you're challenged with a new creative work? Those fears that tell you that you're not good enough, that you're just a hack, that you couldn't possibly do a good job, that you'll fail, that you don't deserve any success. Those fears are never going away. No matter how much better you become, you'll never stop feeling afraid. No matter how much more experience you get, you'll never stop feeling afraid. No matter how many accolades and awards and best-selling hits you accumulate, you'll never stop feeling afraid. Not if you're doing a good job and constantly challenging yourself to do better.

I've been doing this for nearly 15 years and I still get afraid every time I have to do something new. Which is what all creative work is really, the new and the different.

And you know what that means as well? It means you can no longer use your fear as an excuse not to do creative work anymore. There is no fearless black belt level. There is only now.

The only consolation I can give you is that while the fear never goes away, the more you work through it the easier it becomes to handle. Lifting successively heavy weights – like constantly pushing the limits of your comfort zone – never becomes easier, but it doesn't have to become harder. You know you've been through this way before, you know how the fear feels and you know you've made it in the past, sometimes succeeding, sometimes not, but always surviving.

What's one more time but another chance for you to make something that puts a goddamn dent in the universe?

P.S. I lied, by the way. There is one way for you to feel absolutely unafraid when tackling any creative project: keep doing the same thing you've always done, again and again. I don't have to tell you that you're absolutely fucked if this even sounds good to you. For the person who wants to unleash her creative monster, there simply is no choice but to do what scares her but will help her grow, to feel the fear but do it anyway.