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.

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81 thoughts

  1. Florence Wolff says…

    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.

    Reply 1 Reply
    1. AliEdwards says…

      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:

  2. Ali Edwards says…

    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:

    Reply 0 Replies
  3. Court says…

    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://

    Reply 0 Replies
  4. raorek says…

    I am so glad I came across this page/post. I go through all the things you have mentioned. Time, other's opinions, mistakes, perfection and frustration. But , like you said, if we make things for ourselves then we must do it so that we are happy with what we make. Not why we do what we do!! I have so many supplies but uet no time because the thought of finishing it in 1 go is daunting. Thank you for this.

    Reply 0 Replies
  5. djruffing says…

    I have no reason why-since I have a tumor on my pancreas I am afraid this might be my last DD-like what do I say...that I am afraid I will be dead next year so I should be making my DD this year as it will be my last because 5 people in Mama's family died younger than I am from pancreatic cancer although my tumor is not cancer as of last July yet). : ( Are they available in digital? I have a maker so could print them on wood...
    I wish I had a reason why...I know you have not had a situation where the grandchildren were stolen for 7 months, your dh got PTSD from war, and you had a pancreatic tumor...but I know some years have been rough. I remember crying for a day because you had to have Christmas without your children... And I know that now things are better for you... But I am scared Ali. And I need to write something... And I have so much scrapbooking to do from the kids and grandkids...and want to get the Disney and early years of my own daughters and my grandchildren done...but I am not finished with DD 18, 19 and 20 for journaling. And I am just not scrapbooking...many times I sit and cry because I don't know how to put the photos down when I don't know if I will be here to tell the stories...and the stories are hard because I don't want my daughters and grandchildren to be alone and not have me here with them. It was just my Mama's birthday and we always have a beautiful cake for her and go to the cemetery to put up her Christmas tree... I don't want my family to have to do that without me...or to have to do it for me. sense to this. I just don't know what to write for a reason why...and i need to add that in.

    Reply 0 Replies