There are three stumbling blocks that prevent me hitting the publish button or sometimes even picking up the pen, metaphorical or otherwise.
They are three questions.
Can I do this well enough and will it be good enough?
Can I make it and let it go out into the world?
Can I show this much of myself to the world, will anybody care?
These are questions designed to help me avoid risk. Which is stupid, because if I want to be in the business of ‘making’, then I want to be in the business of risking myself in vulnerable ways. I know that it’s stupid, so I thought I’d share my strategy for avoiding the trap.
There will always have to be bad writers, for they answer to the taste of the immature, undeveloped age-group; these have their requirements as well as do the mature. —-Nietzche
I hate the idea of not being good at what I do. Regardless of what I’m doing. My pride does cartwheels in the tension of doing something new without knowing whether it will be good. Logically, I understand that in order to be good, I must risk being other-than-good; but every time I open the page to write or try a new recipe, the process begins again.
Why is it sometimes hard to write? Because the risk is so great that it won’t be any good. That it will be too honest, too vulnerable. That people won’t engage or respond or understand me. So the questions run through my mind and my desire to avoid risk stops me in my tracks.
The better way to answer these questions is in editing, refining, fine tuning and optimizing. In my business, it’s called the process of iteration. We make something, we learn, we craft, we make it better. We make it again.
Will it be good enough? becomes How can it be better?
The other questions are not about the creation but about the creator. Ouch. Even in talking about vulnerability I have to be vulnerable.
I find myself wondering how those flawed and tuneless auditions for TV singing competitions make it to air – with all that bravado and self-confidence. It appears that there is no pride or ego to filter the risky and non-risky behaviours.
I’m learning that if I want to be truly vulnerable (and I do, because it seems to matter and connect more with people), I have to de-tune my ego too. I have to put away my pride and concern.
The easiest way I have learned to do this is by facing the consequences of risking something big. Really, in being more vulnerable than I want to be, I’ve learned that it is really not so bad. There’s not a single moment that I truly regret. A few painful bumps, for sure, but that’s to be expected as the rough edges are smoothed away.
It might sound a little mad, but truly – in being a little braver, in saying a little more, in choosing not to edit away the thought, the moment, the possibility.. I’ve learned that it’s rarely as bad as I thought. Mostly, I’m afraid of feeling hurt, feeling bad or feeling ashamed or embarrassed when my ego starts talking.
These ego-driven, risk-averse questions stop me from starting. Starting is the step that produces raw product that can be shaped, redrawn, remade, improved until it’s ready for the world. I can only be a writer, a maker, a speaker or a creator if I begin.
Here’s the strategy to overcome the questions:
Accept that the risk does not exist.
Until you make something, there is nothing that risk can be attached to. Once something is made and re-made, it is no longer dependant on you. It may carry the reflection of the maker, but it is a separate entity. So the risk (to your ego) does not exist.
So just make something, damn it. The risk is the art itself, the risk is the proof that you are creating something unique and authentic.
For me, being creatively driven is a mixed blessing. Nothing is as fulfilling as the process of applying your talents to create something of merit, something that matters, something with your personal stamp on it – but often that requires you to bare some part of your soul to the subjective opinions of others. People will form opinions or maybe just ignore it, all of which you see as a judgement of both the creation and of you. If your sense of self is not strong enough to bear that, you end up with notebooks of stillborn ideas and the unsatisfying hollowness of what could have been. So you gather your courage, you steel yourself and you try.
When you are in the process you strive for excellence and push yourself, you second guess yourself and refine, but you shy away from perfectionism which invariably bleeds away all passion and creativity that holds any risk. You learn to take a breath and step away for a bit, to distance yourself enough to come back with fresh eyes and ear, and with objectivity. You craft and hone until you somehow realise you are done, or because you have reached the deadline, and then you release your creation into the wild.
Then the questions start… Will they like it? Will they get it? Will they even notice it? But it doesn’t really matter, because soon you are chasing the next idea down and your precious creation has been moved to the completed pile. Ultimately, you didn’t make it for them, you made it because you needed to make it, and you needed to share it irrespective of the audience’s response. So you move on and you grow. When you look back at your past creations you can see what you would have done differently ‘if you knew then what you know now’. You don’t regret the choices you made, you know that it’s part of the journey and that it’s the measure that you are growing. But it’s never enough – you always want to make the next one, and always secretly fear they won’t like it even before you are half done.
Who would choose this? Who would want this rollercoaster of heart-lifting creativity and soul-destroying judgement? Maybe nobody would choose it, you certainly didn’t. It’s just who you are, they way you were made. It’s as natural as breathing and just as essential. So, you let the inspiration come, you gather your courage, and you try.