Working Through Creative Fear

What are we afraid of in our creative lives?

1. Messing up.
2. Thinking this is the one and only chance to tell this story so it simply must be perfect.
3. People not appreciating what we create.
4. Being seen as selfish or extravagant for indulging yourself in your creative endeavor.
5. Not getting anything done.

Any of those sound or feel familiar? Let's look a bit at the realities:

1. Messing up.We all make mistakes - it is as actually an essential part of the creative process. Every time I put together a layout or work on a project I make a mistake - it is pretty much a guarantee. So much of what I do is figuring out how to cover up my mess-ups. I have a couple "c" words I rely on when I make a mistake: cover (just hide it), collage (use other elements in conjunction with your mistake - no one will ever know it began as a mess-up), and combine (add another element to turn it into something else). Learning how to problem solve your mistakes (and work with them) goes a long way to alleviating the fear.

2. Thinking this is the one and only chance to tell this story so it simply must be perfect. Oh man, what a way to stop you in your tracks. What does perfect mean to you? And who is the judge? Perfect is so very relative. What is perfect to me in this moment may be entirely imperfect to you. To me, perfect is actually taking time to tell your stories. Risking that bit of yourself to document your experience. Perfect is carving out a bit of time to be creative. Perfect is embracing the imperfection inherent in creating something that comes from your heart, and your head, and your hands. Let it go. Simply
begin writing. Tell the story in simple, plain sentences one word at a time. Keep writing until all the words have spilled onto the page and then go back and edit. Perfect is actually telling the story rather than letting fear keep you from sharing the lives and lessons of your family.

3. People not appreciating what we create. Here's the plain truth: people will either love, hate, or be indifferent to what you create. You are the one who needs to love it, feel good about it, and not worry about what anyone else thinks. Most likely your family is going to either love or be indifferent towards your projects...and indifference doesn't mean they don't love you any less. Some of the things we create now may not be appreciated until later on - and that is ok too. This is why I encourage you to get to a place where you enjoy the process now - where you are filled up by what you are creating or by the friendships you are making through scrapbooking or by the stories you are telling and the memories you are recounting.

"Eventually I discovered for myself the utterly simple prescription for creativity: be intensely yourself. Don't try to be outstanding; don't try to be a success; don't try to do pictures for others to look at - just please yourself."- Ralph Steiner

4. Being seen as selfish or extravagant for indulging yourself in scrapbooking. There was a great quote from Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love) when she was on Oprah recently. A woman had asked her about being seen as selfish for creating a list of things in life she wanted to do and actually doing them; in essence, focusing on things she loved. "In Mandarin Chinese, they have two words for selfish," Liz says. "One means doing that which is beneficial to you. The other means hoarding, greedy and cruel." She talked about how we as a culture have meshed the two meanings together and made the word into something very negative. She suggests you simply ask yourself, "is this beneficial?" Is it beneficial to tell the stories of your family? Is it beneficial to participate in a hobby that combines your love for your family and your love for photography or words or creativity? (Note: even beneficial things can become negative when driven to the extreme. Striving for balance in all things is usually a good path forward.)

5. Not getting anything done because there is simply not enough time. This is a big one for a lot of people. You may never even begin because you envision the need for a huge chunk of time to create something. Nothing is more frustrating than that. One of the biggest lessons for me over the last few years is that little bits of time add up to big projects. It is lovely to have hours of uninterrupted time but it just isn't realistic for most people. Make the most of the time you can carve out for yourself. Maybe you do your journaling one night and upload photos the next and bring them together on a page the following night. Stop over-thinking. Stop creating complications. Your layouts do not need to take hours to complete. Ask yourself what is most important and why do you really scrapbook?

The bottom line: give yourself a break. Put aside the fear. Don't let it rule you and your passion for creativity.

As I was writing this up today I came across an article called Reflections on Photography & Art - 8: Exercising Your Creativity by Alain Briot. He talks about creativity and fear in relation to photography and art - much of which can be applied to what we do as scrapbookers and life artists. Definitely worth a bookmark and a read.

Originally published December 5, 2007 as part of my AEzine newsletter series. I will be periodically bringing content back from the archives, updating/adapting, and re-publishing here.

78 thoughts

  1. Jennifer

    2009-05-07 15:33:38 -0400

    Number Five hits home for me. Reading it actually brought tears to my eyes. Gave me goose bumps. I enjoy creating and taking photos so much it hurts. I am so excited for my creative space to be finished over the next month or so. A place where I can sneak away, even if only for a few minutes. All of my stuff in one spot. Oh my goodness, so excited!!! With the birth of my 3rd child this past December I have become more simple in my scrapbooking. But I have enjoyed it even more than ever. I now can use pink and flowers! And so many more stories to tell. Just have to find the time to do it. Thank you Ali for all of your inspiration...

  2. Cynthia

    2009-05-07 15:34:35 -0400

    Oh my I needed read this today!!! THANK YOU FOR RESHARING. And that lovely quote!!! so going on the inspiration board.

  3. Kaitlin Sheaffer

    2009-05-07 16:25:38 -0400

    Great post and reminder of not needing to stress about creating. I finally realized a few years ago there is no 'perfect' page. I think the best pages I make are the ones I make mistakes on because they force me to be creative.

  4. Marnie

    2009-05-07 16:49:56 -0400

    Thank you for this. All of the reasons that I have mulled and the same conclusions. It's nice to have my thoughts affirmed.

  5. carrie

    2009-05-07 17:09:06 -0400

    Pat Schneider--writer & artist has a fabulous poem about creativity and the eye of the beholder. I just posted it this week:
    Thanks for the post!

  6. KazT

    2009-05-07 18:45:09 -0400

    Hi Ali, thanks for your fantastic post today. I found that a great read. I think it's important to remember that Rome wasn't built in a day, so if it takes two weeks to complete a project, so what!
    I'm working on a calligraphic project at the moment, and with twin four-year-old boys, doing my Masters Thesis, working part-time as an Instructional Designer AND all my household duties any time I can get is precious.
    Ten minutes, here and there all adds up. So far for my projct, I've drawn my plan painted my background, and it will sit there until I have time to take that next step. Sometimes slow and steady is truly better.
    Keep giving us these fantastic tips.

  7. Pretty In Paris

    2009-05-08 00:01:30 -0400

    What a terrific find!
    Thanks so much from Paris via a Chicagoan.

  8. Pascale

    2009-05-08 00:09:04 -0400

    This was a nice follow-up to your piece about creative ruts. I'l like to translate this one and publish it too, if you don't mind, because many of my readers were happy to read the first one in French and I'm sure they will love this one too.

  9. Dave Ridarelli

    2009-05-08 01:13:36 -0400

    Thanks for the article Ali - Getting paralyzed by perfection is my biggest blogging flaw. Your comments about being "good" selfish were spot on.

  10. Kristen Fischer

    2009-05-08 01:14:13 -0400

    What a great post. I will be blogging about it at There are so many creative fears and we tend to not admit to them. But it's good to be honest and bring them to light!

  11. Tina

    2009-05-08 01:41:07 -0400

    I can relate to every single one of these! I especially feel guilty for leaving things undone around the house and when showing someone the things I create and I get the response, "Oh, I do not have the time to do that." it just reaffirms that guilt. So I have almost become a "closet scrapper" to other people so that they do not think that I just sit around playing with paper and neglect my responsibilities. I need to get over that and do it for ME because it fulfills ME. Also, I need to work on the first two points...not being a perfectionist! Thank you for keeping it real and simplifying things for me!

  12. Helen

    2009-05-08 03:44:31 -0400

    Thanks for posting this article and for the link to the photography article - lots of food for thought there! Thanks! Best wishes, Helen

  13. Frances

    2009-05-08 04:48:23 -0400

    This tips apply to so many areas of life. You know, it wasn't until someone I respected told me that I had writing talent, that I actually believed I did. Once one person told me I could write, I was able to carry that comment with me and work through the fear of failure. That, and knowing that Hemmingway said "the first draft of anything is shit."

  14. Kymberly

    2009-05-09 15:19:35 -0400

    Although I'm not a scrapper, these thoughts are still applicable.
    I'm a combo of all of those points, but especially #4 and #5. There are so many other 'shoulds' and 'musts' that 'demand' to be done, before I 'indulge' being creative for myself.
    Hmm... I think I 'need' to change the language I use to focus on what I want to do! ;-)

  15. vinoth

    2009-05-09 15:34:40 -0400


  16. Naomi

    2009-05-12 17:09:23 -0400

    Perfectionism does suggest that there's only one way to do something (and that's a horrible feeling). Thanks for the reminder to just get out there and tell our stories.

  17. Shastababy

    2009-05-13 14:29:50 -0400

    Thank you for this! Sometimes I just feel like if I can't start and finish all at once, why bother. Then I make it harder than it is. Your post really hit home for me tonight-thank you for putting into words what so many of us feel and couldn't pinpoint!

  18. Nick--Creative Wealth Building

    2009-05-22 02:32:30 -0400

    Thanks for this post. I like number 1, fear of messing up. I use to be a perfectionist in real estate. I realized that was a fear of messing up and a fear of success. A lot of people fear messing up or failure, but I also find, unconsciously, most of us fear success.
    Thanks for the encouragement and insights, this is the type of material that will help us all break through fears.

  19. Ayana P.

    2009-05-26 12:59:27 -0400

    Crafting is always fun....
    If you love making crafts and such... then organization is always important. I thought you might enjoy this website:
    Anyone who enjoys doing crafts should check out the site!
    They have some excellent storage solutions and organizations products. I strongly recommend visiting their website!
    You won't be disappointed! :)

  20. Ayana P.

    2009-05-27 10:39:31 -0400

    By the way.... here's the actual link to the site I mentioned yesterday...
    I really think you'll enjoy it! :)

  21. Tammy

    2009-06-30 06:01:31 -0400

    Ali, A well written, thoughtful post. In those pockets of time, some discovered, some planned ahead, there is time for inspiration, planning a project, prepping supplies and creating, but it cannot always be done at once. It's hard at first to adjust to this new way of working, but once you start seeing progress, it makes sense!

  22. Beatriz from Spain

    2009-08-29 03:16:03 -0400

    Thanks, Ali. Need a boost for daring to express my feelings THROUGH photos. Floor paint pictures but I was missing something. Scrapbooking I have met online and I'm sure I've found a way to unite painting, photography and my life in one and put it out of me. This reading has confirmed me and made me take off my justifications and fear to start (time, you like it?, Etc.). Your blog has made me dream again.

  23. Florence Wolff

    2009-09-18 09:27:03 -0400

    Dear Ali,
    I love your work and your philosophy of life. Thank you for that.
    I need just to know please where you find your large wall letter, like E or A. Thanks a lot. Please continue to be so simple and pleasant.
    [email protected]

  24. Ali Edwards

    2009-09-18 16:39:01 -0400

    Hi Florence - I find most of those letters at antique stores or garage sales. There is also a great store in San Francisco called Timeless Treasures that sells a bunch of letters:

  25. Court

    2010-04-28 07:52:24 -0400

    I agree with this article. Creativity is the lack of fear. Don't worry about making mistakes because in creating something, there are no mistakes. Its something that you didn't expect to happen. I have made two scrapbooks myself and working on my third. I will tell everyone here that it doesn't matter how you evaluate your work, others will love it no matter what. Http://

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