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Managing Fear During the Creative Process & Finding My Voice

Updated: Nov 15, 2021

Over the winter, I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear (paid link) and was inspired by her description of how she handles fear. It made me think of what I went through while writing my memoir. I grappled with my fears and self-doubt on a daily basis. I made a decision early on to remain faithful to my own experience and my own expression. This was necessary, because my past pattern had been to synthesize the divergent viewpoints I’d been exposed to into a single, workable philosophy, and in doing so, had effectively neutralized my own perspective.

As I was writing my story, I didn’t look at circumstances from all sides, only the sides that were most relevant to me, the experiences that had the greatest impact on my evolution. I didn’t analyze my words to death to be sure that nothing unconscious would slip out. My intention was to allow the purest version of truth to be told while staying as faithful to my own voice as possible. I wrote down the words and passages as they came to me, knowing that all the emotions present within me during the writing process would make it into the final draft.

All the revelations I came to during that time, the epiphanies that rocked my world were woven together in those words, those pages. The entire process was unpredictable, having multiple layers that I couldn’t consciously plan.

I made a conscious choice to ride the mysterious waves my imagination wanted to take me on. I trusted that every tangent would come full circle if I just went with it, and that the work that was coming through me would be exactly what it needed to be, even if I didn’t see, know, or understand the full implications of what I was putting out there.

I decided to be brave enough to let it all come out, even though I didn’t know for sure what was inside me. I did this because I trusted that my deepest intentions are based in immense love and generosity and that this would show through.

I felt fear rise up in me when I thought about how much of my inner darkness would be revealed through my words. I worried that I was saying too much, giving too much of myself away. And then I remembered that my intention was to allow the purest version of truth to be told, not something that had been scrubbed clean and sanitized. So, I took many deep breaths and allowed my shadow to be just as present as my light. I worried about how other people would respond to the expression of my truth. I worried that I wouldn’t be strong enough to handle criticism over something that made me feel so vulnerable. I’d felt somewhat safe in the knowledge that there probably wasn’t much I hadn’t already heard from my own inner critic. And then I thought, what if I put myself out there into the world and then receive a backlash that is so cruel and horrible, not even my inner critic could have thought it up? {And she talks a lot of shit, so it would have to be pretty bad.} Something from my blind spot that I never saw coming, that I hadn’t prepared for or been inoculated against. Something that could throw me into an uncontrollable shame spiral that I couldn’t recover from. That’s the real fear. Because as harsh as my inner critic is, I am familiar with that voice. I knew it would be exponentially more devastating coming from someone else. I felt all of these fears, and then I decided to keep going. Because I didn’t feel like there were any other options that my soul could accept. I needed to do this. And if I let my fear run the show, I would pick myself apart forever and never do anything at all.

“If people enjoy what you’ve created, terrific. If people ignore what you’ve created, too bad. If people misunderstand what you’ve created, don’t sweat it. And what if people absolutely hate what you’ve created? What if people attack you with savage vitriol, and insult your intelligence, and malign your motives, and drag your good name through the mud? Just smile sweetly and suggest–as politely as you can–that they go and make their own fucking art. Then stubbornly continue making yours.” ~Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

For one year, in 2012, I set my alarm clock for 4:44 a.m. and each morning, I got myself out of bed, made a cup of tea, sat at my computer in the dark, and wrote for at least an hour before anyone else was awake. This discipline was not something that I had ever been able to achieve before, and it hasn’t been replicated since. I had decided I was doing this, and my soul believed me; it showed up to support me and make me feel held every step of the way. When my fear showed up, I looked at it, let it voice its concerns, and then said, “None of that is happening right now. Right now, I’m alone in this room. I am safe. I’m writing this for me. I don’t have to share anything with anyone if I don’t want to.” That was enough to temporarily calm my fear. I visualized it sitting across the room, giving me space, as I wrote.

When it came time to write a particularly painful passage, or something that had the potential to humiliate me, I felt fear step up and tell me all the reasons that I should stop. Again, I listened, and again I told my fear, “None of that is happening now. I am safe. I’m going to keep going.” And so it went the entire year as I finished the first draft, and again, each time I began a round of edits. What this experience showed me is that I am capable of training my fear to give me space to create, and that I can do that without demonizing it and dismissing it.

Something I learned from my creative process is that the function of my mind is to organize the details and provide access to them as needed. The function of my mind has nothing to do with directing the flow of inspiration. It is there to support my Soul as it moves through the creative process. When the flow begins to wane, my mind can give suggestions and help make decisions about the next direction to take, but only until my Soul finds the flow again. Then it’s time for my mind to get out of the way. Fear comes in when my mind is being expected to take on the Soul’s job, in addition to its own.

Overburdened, my mind creates detailed scenarios, showing me outcomes that I would rather avoid, and making them appear real. It does this because it wants to serve me, to keep me safe, and because it doesn’t know how to navigate in that synchronous, magical way that the Soul does.

So, when fear shows up during the creative process, don’t fight it. It wants to help you. Love it, like you would a cranky child who is overdue for a nap. Give it a kiss and a blanket, rock it gently and sing it a lullaby if you need to, set it down in its crib, and then get back to work. The creative process is about making a choice, again and again, to get out of your own way. Making a choice, again and again, to trust what comes through. I didn’t truly find my own voice until I was more than halfway through writing the first draft of my memoir. I never would have found it if I hadn’t trusted myself and my process, if I hadn’t continued to show up, day in and day out, willing to face down my fears and enter the unknown. The next step of this journey is about taking what I learned and applying it to my other creative pursuits; to find my painting voice, my dancing voice, my teaching voice…

“The moment that you feel that just possibly you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of your self…that’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.” ~Neil Gaiman

This is how I’ve been feeling almost every day since I took the leap of faith and started showing people my work. It’s been terrifying and it’s been awe-inspiring, because I know what it means. It means that after a lifetime of comparing myself to others and feeling like a fraud who doesn’t measure up, I’m finally finding my own voice. I’m finally trusting that I have what it takes to walk each road that appears under my feet and that I have the courage to do it my way.

Blessings fellow travelers,


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