Ali Edwards Capture life. Create art.

May 7, 2009

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.


  • 1.
    Tina S. said…

    I really needed this today. Every time I sit down to draw, paint, scrap, knit, you name it, I hear my mother’s voice asking, “But what are you going to DO with it?” Maybe I don’t need to DO anything with it except enjoy it. This explains why I find it difficult to create anything unless it’s a gift for someone else!

  • 2.

    So true! Small things add up to big ones. I have learned to work in bits – scrapbooking, sewing, but also cleaning, reading, … – realizing that it will come together sooner or later.

  • 3.
    Cheri Freeman said…

    Thank you for this post today!!! I really needed it! Been feeling all of the things you listed. All so very true. But in hearing it from someone else, that somehow validates everything. It is ok to love being creative, set asside a little time to do so, perfect IS relative, and it doesn’t really matter what others think of our creations. You nailed it! Thanks again!

  • 4.
    Melanie said…

    Thanks so much for this post… I definitely needed this today. I have been stuck in a rut (actually, 3 years of scrapping to do). I’m finally deciding to stop trying to make everything look like it should go in a magazine and just make it. Your words today were truly my “kick in the butt” to get going and just do it!
    Thanks again!

  • 5.
    cheryl said…

    Thanks Ali! I always love your blog, but it really spoke to me today and I really need that encouragment, you are the best! and truly inspired in so many ways! Thanks again!

  • 6.
    Brian said…

    This is sooo me and my “excuses” for not being creative right now! Thank you for bringing this to my attention(as you always do!)

  • 7.
    Alicia Koh said… hit the nail in the head!! Its so true for me!! My greatest joy in reading your blog is that its so encouraging and inspiring. Just be yourself, know what you are doing, treasure the things, moments and people around you. Live with no regrets!!

  • 8.
    Ashley said…

    Thanks for that! I think this article can speak to so many people and creative outlets! You hit the nail on the head! :)

  • 9.
    tara pakosta said…

    My reason for not wanting to scrapbook lately is that I NEED to go buy about 15 albums and get these pages into books!!! THey are all sitting in about 4-5 different places in piles and it’s bothering me so much! But I can’t afford to run out and get that many books at once so I am collecting 2-3 every time they go half off at HObby Lobby! so eventually I will get back to scrapbooking! I did do 31 layouts over my crop weekend that I go to every 6 months! so that was productive!
    LOVe your blog ali!

  • 10.
    Kim said…

    Great words to live by :)

  • 11.
    Jennifer said…

    Ali, You nailed it!
    “There are no mistakes, just opportunities for creativity”! (not sure if I made that up, or someone said it to me…)

  • 12.
    Maureen said…

    I guess that being in my 60s allows me not to feel the need to be ‘productive’. That’s a good feeling and I love that when I show – sometimes – the things I make or do, my dh says…Well, it keeps you ‘off the streets’! He knows it makes me happy even if Photoshop and I end up not speaking for a bit.
    I’m glad you are bringing back some of the old writing which I have never seen and which gives you a break of sorts from external demands. Enjoy your children, and that politician!

  • 13.
    Molly Irwin said…

    Glad you are ressurecting some of this content. It’s always relevant.
    I’ve been fixed on a period of time that in retrospect was one of huge personal growth. I don’t know if I have any photos of that time/place, and have been so emotional over it that poetry seemed the right avenue. Just another creative medium from the toolbox and I don’t differentiate it from my memory keeping albums. The poem doesn’t provide the whole story, but it was good for me in the moment — as you say — for self satisfaction, and I believe the kids will one day ‘get it.’
    I’m not up for digging through pictures just now, so I’m focusing on just writing; things that only I can phrase.
    Thanks for validating me ;)

  • 14.
    ellie and abbie said…

    I definitely tend to want to wait until I have a big chunk of time. After becoming a mom, I’ve had to shift into thinking of productivity in little steps throughout the day–rather than in great big starts and stops.

  • 15.
    alexandra said…

    thanks for the great post – I really liked the ‘stop over-thinking’ and ‘stop creating complications’ – needed reminding of that!

  • 16.
    Sara E said…

    Ali – awesome! I’ve got my first paid photo shoot today and I’m sooo doubting myself and my ability. Words of wisdom couldnt’ have come at a better time.

  • 17.
    Lauren said…

    No Ali, you are one to bookmark. :-)
    This entry really speaks to me because I have (for far too long) been putting off exploring my interests in photography for the fear that I just won’t do it as well as I aspire to. It’s ridiculous because I wind up not picking up the camera at all. Your words help, thanks.

  • 18.
    PeaceLiving said…

    Ali, I love your three C’s and the reminder that pages don’t need to take hours to complete! While magazine layouts inspire me, I am not willing to spend the hours it takes to make my pages like those. Thanks for keeping it real!

  • 19.
    Christine said…

    The peonies are gorgeous. It makes me long for summer to hurry up and get here in my parts (Canada!). Have a great day!

  • 20.
    Noell Hyman said…

    I love the quote by Ralph Steiner to be “intensely yourself.” I’ve found this to be true in everything (not just scrapbooking). At my kids’ school I get to introduce the great artists throughout history to the children and the most amazing part to me is learning how those who created the masterpieces had found their own way of doing things, which was sometimes rejected, but which always set them apart and distinguished them as “Masters.”
    Even if being “intensely yourself” doesn’t turn you into some great master, I’ve found that it makes for a more passionate and exhilarating experience, which is probably my biggest end goal.

  • 21.
    margvp said…

    Love, love, love today’s blog! You really hit this subject dead on. Thank you ever so much for your encouragment. God Bless.

  • 22.
    Noell Hyman said…

    Maureen–you are so cool. I love your comment.

  • 23.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I put a lot of pressure on my creative self sometimes, and reminders like this are just what I need.

  • 24.
    Mary Beth said…

    My College Advertising Professior had a definition for Creativity…..
    “Creativity Is The Freedom From Fear”.
    I have remembered this definition for more than 25 years and struggle with living it every day.

  • 25.
    Samara said…

    #5 = great reminder

  • 26.
    Janice said…

    first, it has to be said that those peonies are absolutely and spectacularly extravagant and gorgeous. they are one of my favorite flowers because of that very extravagance.
    love the thoughts you shared today. i’ve been in a rut lately, not really feeling it creatively. i joined a scrap challenge this week not for the possible winning of prizes but just to jump-start me. loving taking a bit of time every day to work on the challenges. and loving being creative today – it makes me irritable when i don’t create!

  • 27.
    Debbie S said…

    Thank you so much for this post. I need to print it out and read it every time I go to my studio.

  • 28.
    Greer said…

    #5 really speaks to me. I look at my desk and think “what the point in getting started if I can’t get finished”. But sometimes I break myself of the thought and do it anyway, turns out I’m always happy with the result. I just need to remember to break the thought pattern.

  • 29.
    Christina O said…

    Thanks for the tips! I really needed this especially #5, that is one that gets me really fustrated. Doing a little here & there is something I’m learning to do.

  • 30.
    Amber Zimmerman said…

    Wow. . .I needed that. I have experienced a few of those at one time or another. Thank you for the inspiring quotes and for the explanations behind the fears. I am going to print this one out! =)

  • 31.
    Susan Bowers said…

    Thanks Ali for all those reminders!!! Much needed. The one that spoke the most to me right now is my work not being appreciated. Most of the time I can wrap myself around ‘I’m doing this for me, to tell the story, etc.’ but sometimes, when I don’t see appreciation, or hear it, when I hear the ‘well I’m doing a paper book not a digital one’ I thanks for the reminder that however I scrap (paper or digital) it’s not about others appreciating my work.

  • 32.
    Brittany said…

    Thank you, Ali!
    I really needed this today (especially the link for, my medium, photography and art).

  • 33.
    Alicia said…

    Thanks Ali,
    I know it’s an echo of what many others have said, however, I truly appreciate when others share their encouragement to get through dry spells…or lack of time. Many of the messages you shared resonate with me today & I think I will share your message with some other creative souls I know.

  • 34.
    Jen said…

    Oh I soooooooooo needed this post today! Thank you for sharing it! A quote I found this week that coincides is this:
    “Always do what you are afraid to do.”
    -Ralph Waldo Emerson
    Fantastic! Think I’ll go face the fear right now! ;D

  • 35.
    Pita said…

    Thanks Ali! Words of wisdom couldn’t have come at a better time.

  • 36.

    Thanks for republishing this! It’s the first time I saw it & it definitely resonated with me. I’ve learned that I overcome the fear by breaking down the project into the smallest steps, and then allowing myself “just” 45 minutes of time towards this project. It tricks my brain into thinking that it’s not a lot of time to work, but when the timer goes off 45 min later I usually set it again. Or, if I want to stop after 45 min, I do – no guilt.

  • 37.
    Ali Edwards said…

    I actually really like the idea of a timer – thanks for that suggestion.

  • 38.
    Donna said…

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.
    Your reminder is so timely. Just last night I was agonizing over the ‘perfect’ choice for a layout and instead got nothing done. I am going to try again with a new frame of mind.

  • 39.

    I have learned that messing up or feeling overwhelmed is the springboard to getting where I need to get to… so for me, knowing what I must go through in order to be satisfied holds me back from jumping in… 4 kids and a dog… things to do, places to go…
    I miss that raw enthusiam of my late teens and early 20′s that never considered where I was going to end up.
    Although that said… I never thought that the mundane could invite such creativity…. storing toilet paper and cleaning supplies, organizing toys, storing food, list making… all good stuff.
    Blessings! ~ Suzanne

  • 40.
    Nikki M said…

    Thank you. That’s all I need to say.

  • 41.
    Samana said…

    Thank you for this great post Ali!
    Here is a wonderful talk with Elizabeth Gilbert on TED:

  • 42.
    SchoolMommy said…

    Fantastic post! I need to print it out, frame it & place it somewhere as a reminder to myself. In fact, I think I’ll do that – right now!!!

  • 43.

    Great post!!!
    I’ve done a few mistakes lately, and “fixed” them!! IMHO, You and Noell Hyman are a great inspiration to keep on going whatever happens :o )
    I always have something in progress on my table so, whenever I pass my scraproom, I can make a little something.
    I’ve loved reading your post.

  • 44.
    Caryl Hope said…

    Thanks for this Ali. I am so #5 and lately I have just surrendered to the idea that I will never be able to get uninterrupted time to scrapbook unless I’ll live in Timbukto, so, every now and then I visit my page and found that the time away from it doing other stuff made me come up with more creative possibilities. :-)

  • 45.
    shelley e said…

    love that- so what I needed to hear! I think I am a little bit of them all!

  • 46.
    Carla Stolte said…

    Thank you oh so very much…

  • 47.
    dr berry said…

    Did those peonies come out of your yard? They are gorgeous!!!

  • 48.
    Ali Edwards said…

    They did :) . I can’t tell you how amazingly happy they make me!

  • 49.
    Heather said…

    Oh. my. Numbers 1, 2 and 5 are me in a nutshell. I have spent the last five years collecting scrapbooking products and I have yet to make ONE SINGLE PAGE because I’m so afraid it won’t be perfect. Man I’m annoying. LOL

  • 50.
    Theresa Grdina said…

    #5=Good thoughts! I hope I can remember this one!!! Also, those Cat’s Life stamps of the seasons are WONDERFUL! I am going to be getting my own set SOON! I can’t wait! Thanks for showing them to us!!

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