Keep Going Despite the Fear

Do you ever feel like fear is a constant companion to your artistic life? Are you scared to apply to something, put your work out there, or get criticised? Is it preventing you from doing what you really want to do?

I get it, because I feel it too. As I write these words, I’ve been paralysed by fear for the past hours, writing and deleting blog post after blog post. I’m scared it won’t be interesting enough, or good enough, or groundbreaking enough.

Fear doesn’t spare anyone, but you can learn to keep going despite it. In her excellent book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert talks about fear extensively, and gives strategies to keep creating while being scared. I love this book, and I watch her TED talk regularly, to remind myself that it’s OK to be scared and that it’s important to continue anyway.

So if you are scared right now, here’s a few things that you might find helpful:

Do One Thing at a Time

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you contemplate a huge mountain in front of you. Do you sometimes feel like there are too many things to do and you don’t know where to start? Each task calls for another one, and there’s not enough time or energy for all of them. For example, you need a website, but for that you need money for the hosting, but for that you need to earn money, but for that you need to get a job, but for that you need to write a CV, etc?

It can feel like you have to accomplish everything, immediately, but in reality not everything has to be done right here, right now. Start with the first item on your list. Do it, as well as you can. There’s no need to worry about what comes next, you just concentrate on that one task. Then, when you’re done, go to the next one. Don’t borrow worry from the future. Concentrate on what you are doing now.

Every Master Was Once a Disaster

It takes time and effort to become a successful artist. Do you know the old saying that it takes 10’000 hours to master something? That means that during the previous 9’999 hours, you were not necessarily great at it, but you needed to go through them and not give up before you became good.

Your fear wants you to give up after a few tries. It tells you that you should be good from the beginning, that if you really had “talent”, you would not go through all these obstacles. It’s completely wrong. It takes time and many many failures to master something.

In other words, allow yourself to make mistakes, allow yourself to be imperfect. It’s OK, it’s how you will learn your craft. If you let fear prevent you from even trying, you will never improve, you will never make the necessary adjustments to your art, and you will never see any progress.

Show Up

Fear is not the boss of you! Yes, you are scared, but guess what? You can still be there, shaking and vulnerable, because it is your job. The same way writing is my job, so I don’t give myself a choice. It doesn’t matter if I suffer from writer’s block or if the words coming out are horrible. I’m still there, battling with the white page, because I won’t let fear dictate what I should or shouldn’t do. And you should not let it control your life either! You are the boss, you can decide to show up and do the thing.

Show up, and show up consistently. Think about your day job: would it be acceptable to only show up when you feel like it? I’m pretty sure you would be fired quickly if that was the case. No, you show up, you do the job and you get the money in return. Art is exactly the same: you need to show up, and you need to do it on a regular basis, even when you feel scared. In return, you’ll get progress, inspiration or results.

Be a Child Again

Remember when creating was fun and pressure-less? Remember the feeling of pure joy at making your art for the first time, before fear ruined it for you? Amazement, delight, pleasure, it was like being a child discovering something fantastic.

You need to reconnect with this feeling, and you need to do it often. We tend to forget this joy when we face obstacles, and we tend to forget why we started creating in the first place. Art used to be fun, but now art is scary and difficult. Try to remind yourself the feelings you had at the beginning, and try to feel them again.

Every time you feel scared, imagine the child in you, the daredevil who doesn’t know better. Picture them shrugging at the fear and getting excited at the idea of doing this thing you really want to do. Bathe yourself in this excitement. This is the feeling that will crush your fear.

Has fear prevented you from doing something you really wanted? Did you keep going and created something amazing? Share your experience in the comments below!