Creation and Fear

In Creative Inspiration on February 18, 2013 at 8:51 pm

There are some weeks I feel I engage in procrastination more than any other activity, which is ironic since procrastination is the postponing of activity. However, I hear this paradoxical activity/non-activity is fairly common for writers. For example, TV-writer Dan Harmon was supposed to deliver two pilot scripts to Fox and CBS by the end of last year but instead took his podcast Harmontown on a nationwide tour for a month, at his own financial expense. Me, I just clean my desk or watch YouTube videos of the Harlem Shake when I’m procrastinating. But Harmon has a reputation for being a zealous perfectionist in his writing, so why should putting off writing be any different?

But why do we do it? As writers, writing is supposedly what we long to do the most, right? Why would we go to such lengths to avoid it? Instead of chastising myself for being lazy, which is my usual stance, I’ve been giving this behavior some serious thought.

The question comes down to this: Is avoiding making art ever worth it? If so, what would be the point of it? It is essentially the avoidance of making meaning. Why would it ever be beneficial to avoid the process of taking in the random events of the world around you, weaving together the strands of those events, and spinning them into a golden fiber of wonder and significance? What would be the point of avoiding that?

Well, according to Neil Fiore, we avoid this process because it’s stressful. We procrastinate basically to avoid the pain that accompanies the process. Ironically, procrastination is a strategy that helps us accomplish tasks. Eventually it forces us to work when the fear of not completing a task becomes stronger than the pain of engaging the task, a fear that increases as the deadline looms. It’s akin to refusing to leave a building until it is on fire.

But while this may work, most of us don’t enjoy this strategy. In fact, it seems to create more stress than just strapping in and getting the job done. So what are our reasons for doing this, and are any of them valid?

I believe that the major stress of artistic creation comes from facing our vulnerability, whether it is from facing the limits of our skill, the limits of our vision, or the aspects of our character that we feel shame about that block our connection with the rest of the world. The expert on vulnerability and shame is Brené Brown. It’s through her lectures and books that I began to understand this aspect of my procrastination. It became apparent that through revealing my vulnerability, I felt I was placing myself at risk.

Another fear is that, despite the effort to create meaning, we will fail. Regardless of our effort, we fear our lives will be as meaningless and insignificant as before. Our efforts will only exhaust us and move us no further to truth than if we had just sat and watched YouTube kitten videos all day.

Yet another fear is that we won’t like what we find. The truth will be revealed to us and it will be a truth that we have feared our whole lives: We are worthless. We are talentless. We have nothing to contribute to the world. We are frauds and imposters, trying to fool everyone that we are worthwhile.

Are these fears reasonable? Let’s look at them.

Fearing that we expose ourselves to vulnerability is missing the point. The point is that this process is how we become powerful. It’s the same logic about why we avoid exercises that will make us stronger. We may feel exhausted and uncomfortable while going through it, but it is inevitable that we will be stronger at the end of it. This is how we become powerful. I again direct you to Brené Brown. She has a much more specific and detailed explanation of how this process works.

Will we find our lives are meaningless by engaging in a process designed to produce meaning? That’s simply irrational. You can see the inherent contradiction. I think this fear is really about the impatience of not seeing a meaningful payoff immediately. To curb this impatience, we need to breathe and realize we’re taking in a lifelong process of creating meaning. The exercise analogy works here as well. This isn’t a quick weight-loss scheme. This is about how to remain healthy your whole life.

But what if the meaning that is discovered is an unpleasant one? If we acknowledge it, then no matter how unpleasant it may be, facing the truth is still the only way to lead ourselves to our power, because everything else that we may believe is powerful can only be an illusion and temporary.

But here’s the real truth. When I fail to create, I am often depressed and feel out of touch with my own mind, my own feelings, and I become disassociated from my own sense of joy. Ignoring and postponing creating art is definitely the easiest way to do this. It is the simplest way to alienate you from yourself.

I need to create because I am a skeptic and I question everything around me. The explanation I’ve been handed about how this world is supposed to work doesn’t work for me. It doesn’t resonate with who I am and what I see as just in this world. I create in order to revise the state of the world, to make it so others see it in ways that jar them out of what is their normal way of seeing. It is a rock thrown through the glass container of conditioning. It is meant to disrupt brainwashing. It is meant to awaken consciousness and conscious choices and acts in the world. It is not a panacea. It is the use of vision and imagination as an added dimension of reality in order to further clarify the rift between the world as it is and the world as we wish it to be, testing one against the other.

I think I’ve pretty well debunked all these fears. This blog post has become yet another reminder to me of the power of creation and the necessity of engaging in it every day. Whenever I feel an emotional inertia that keeps me from writing, I should test my inactivity against these arguments. I hope that this is useful to others as well. Nothing, not even ourselves, should keep us from engaging our imaginations in this powerful and meaningful way.

  1. I found it very useful.

  2. First of all I want to say awesome blog! I had a quick question that I’d like to ask if you don’t mind.
    I was interested to find out how you center yourself and clear your thoughts prior
    to writing. I have had trouble clearing my mind in getting my thoughts out.
    I do take pleasure in writing however it just seems like the
    first 10 to 15 minutes are usually lost simply just trying to figure out how to begin. Any recommendations or hints?


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