Courage and Creating
By Douglas Eby
Doing anything creative often brings up fears, anxieties, insecurities. Courage may be defined as going ahead in spite of fear. But many creators not only live with their fears, they welcome them.
Fear is perhaps the most basic emotion we have. As Leonardo da Vinci reportedly said, "Fear arises sooner than anything else." Writer Julia Cameron has commented that artists are often terrified. Being creative is venturing into the unknown, and it sets off emotional alarms.
Fear can show up, in various forms, at any stage of a creative project, and regardless of our level of talent or experience.
When she was told that Scholastic Press was paying a huge advance to publish her first Harry Potter book, J.K. Rowling said, "Most of me was just frozen in terror."
Actor Nicole Kidman admits she has tried to get out of almost every film she has done "because of sheer terror. I can always come up with a list of actresses who would do better."
Meryl Streep said she identified with "Adaptation" screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's insecurities. "You realize that everyone is just eaten up by that feeling," she said.
Many writers and coaches talk about the destructive and limiting effects of fear, and what to do about it.
Dr. Judith Orloff, author of the book Positive Energy, says we are addicted to fear. and cautions it is "the biggest energy thief there is." She counsels acknowledging any voice of fear in our head - "Thanks for sharing" - then moving awareness back to our heart.
Sandra Ford Walston, author of the book Courage: The Heart and Spirit of Every Woman, points out the cowardly lion of "The Wizard of Oz" actually had tremendous courage but was unable to perceive that quality in himself. She notes that people often do not recognize their everyday actions as courageous, especially women.
But is it always in our best interest as creators to "fight" fear?
Director Steven Spielberg has said, "I still have pretty much the same fears I had as a kid. I'm not sure I'd want to give them up; a lot of these insecurities fuel the movies I make."
Many actors and other artists say they are drawn to projects that make them feel scared. Meryl Streep said of insecurity, "Maybe it's a good thing. I hope it's some sort of breaking down of whatever is familiar to you. Whatever is complacent, whatever is easy."
American Buddhist nun Pema Chodron writes in her book The Places That Scare You: "To the extent that we stop struggling against uncertainty and ambiguity, to that extent we dissolve our fear."
Psychologist Robert Maurer has worked with many successful writers and other creative people, and thinks fear may be an indispensable part of the creative process.
"Fear is good," he says. "As children, fear is a natural part of our lives, but as adults we view fear as a disease. It's not a disease." He points out that a creative achievement, such as publishing your first novel, does not make fear go away.
He adds, "Your skill at being able to nourish yourself and give yourself permission to make mistakes and learn from them is your single greatest attribute as an artist and as a human being." Philosopher Mary Daly notes we "learn courage by couraging."
Doing what scares us can enable us to do more and be more.
About The Author
Douglas Eby writes about psychological and social aspects of creative expression and achievement. His site includes a wide range of articles, quotes, book titles and other material for information and inspiration.