How I Conquered My Fear of a Creative Life
In my first blog, I referenced a passage in my novel about ‘learning to walk sideways,’ which addresses how to face adverse changes that occur in life. In this blog, I want to talk about the opposite – creating change.
As a child, I knew two things: I loved books and writing, and I was insatiably curious about the natural world.
In college, I pursued a degree in science which as an adult I ‘sensibly’ translated into a professional career in the pharmaceutical industry. While I truly enjoyed my work, there was something missing. A path forward for my love of writing. Through my choice, I’d neglected an entire side of my personality. It was as if I’d split myself in half. Awesome characters and cool themes for books played hide-and-seek in my brain, where I left them unattended.
A Non-Creative Life
In the busy-ness (sometimes fugue) of work and raising a family, I became creative at ignoring the world of fiction that insisted on presenting itself to me, starving my right brain while overstimulating my left. The ‘something is missing’ feeling just got stronger. I obtained my Masters focused on writing. Sent some poems out. Got published and won an award. But I still held back. The alternative to my steadfast career, pursuing the craft of writing, was scary and posed questions of legitimacy.
A nasty voice inside grew – you know the one – the one that squashes creative ideas and desires as childish and seeks destructive perfection in an imperfect world. The one that reminds you what responsible adults look and act like, and that you just might not be one if you pursue things deemed childish. Because, of course, when we are happily creating, we are essentially like kids making mud pies.
Time passed. Still, I refused to give myself permission to pursue my dream.
How did I overcome the inertia, the fear of risk of leaping into creativity?
It wasn’t some giant moment, some crazy life event. It was actually quite mundane: I grew tired. Of my internal struggle, of fighting myself. The inevitable ‘if not now when?’ moments became a nagging mantra. And then, there was that other quiet voice. The one we all have. The one that whispers – why not try?
It encouraged tiny steps– made me feel safe. Why not just write a single phrase on a piece of paper. And I did. And put it away. The next day or several days later the voice would come back – Hey that phrase looks lonely – why not add another? Each writing session I felt stronger.
Which did not mean that the monster went away. It went stealth. Did I mention I majored in science? Guess what – monster voice reminded me that I was technically incompetent in English. That I changed tenses more often than a chameleon at a wallpaper store and didn’t it suck grammar was miles outside my wheelhouse?
Battle ensued. I outlined draft chapters. When the bad voice screamed, I jotted down character sketches. Writing became my weapon. Paragraphs grew into scenes which flowed into chapters. I gave myself permission to be sloppy, to just write and not think, to worry about revising at a later time.
And when inspiration ran dry, I began to seek it out rather than waiting for it to find me. I made lists of things that caused pause during my day, things I found, and still find remarkable –like how many giant squid have actually been seen (not many!), and that the praying mantis is the only insect that can look over its shoulder.
I put these gems in places where they couldn’t be ignored – in open Word docs on my desktop, or scribbled them on post-its and set them eye-level around the house.
Spurring my natural curiosity was one way I harnessed my creative energy. And that created a daisy chain for change.
Seeking a Creative Life
I began to seek out artists and experiences that made me think expansively and feel part of something larger than myself. Little by little, I developed the habits required for success in any skilled endeavor: a mixture of perseverance, self-encouragement and flat-out monster slaying (remember that old voice)?
It was slow-going, still is. I have to remind myself that most things worthwhile take time – lots of it, close to geologic, in fact. This is what I meant in the beginning about a slow quantum leap. I’m still learning. How to keep myself encouraged, how to maintain focus through distraction, and, yes, how to keep my tenses consistent.
Reaping Creative Rewards
Through it all, I seek inspiration and use creativity as a tool to keep me moving forward. And here’s the good news. The reward for my efforts is that in Spring 2019, my novel, LITTLE LOVELY THINGS, will be published by Sourcebooks as a real flesh and blood (okay, paper and virtual and audio) book. Which makes me a real flesh a blood author. Which means I will be fulfilling a dream!
Now that’s cool.