This year is the year of living fearlessly.
At least, it is for me.
Fearless is the word I’ve chosen as my theme of the year, to be applied to writing, travel, and other areas of life.
Because it’s time. And I’m tired.
Not physically, though that’s often an oddly related factor. It’s more that I’m tired of a life that no longer seems to challenge me, or stretch my limits, or bolster my creativity.
I’m tired of my life and my projects feeling stuck.
I’m tired of sticking to my comfort zone in my writing and not pursuing more creative, avant garde ideas because I think I’m incapable of them.
I’m tired of feeling like the most breathtaking and courageous years of my life are already behind me.
I’m tired of wasting evenings reading books I’ve read before and watching Netflix and who knows what else because instantly gratifying, easy activities are always easier than putting in the work to invest in something big.
Basically, things have become too tiresome. Why? Because I wasn’t willing to face down my fears and take charge of the creative life I want to live.
There have been times in my life before when I’ve gotten this deep-seeded sense, this knowing that it was time to act, time to move, time to change. And this is one of those times.
I know I’m not the only one who struggles with a fear of embracing the creative life. It’s a huge theme of Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling book about creativity, and a topic that comes up time and again in writer’s groups. Embracing this role as a creator is hard work, and no matter where you are in your creative journey, taking the leap to the next level can be daunting. It’s personal and different and daring, and all those delicious things that usually accompany the goals and dreams we long for most.
I don’t pretend to be an expert on overcoming these fears. Far from it. (Obviously if I was I wouldn’t need to choose fearless as my word.) I’m learning, just like you are, about the power and magic of facing your fears and embracing your creativity.
Feel the fear, and do it anyway
To set the record straight, when I say fearless, I don’t mean a life of banishing all fear. That would be silly, if not downright impossible. We all feel fear for good reasons: it’s wired into our humanity and keeps us safe.
But unless you’re out getting experience so you can write a memoir about rope-free rock climbing or lion taming, your writing fears aren’t serving a purpose of keeping you safe from death. They’re not doing a whole lot to serve you.
When I talk about being fearless, I imagine the Fearless Girl statue on Wall Street. I’d imagine that faced with a charging bull, that girl’s heart would be racing like anything. But she’s also standing her ground despite that.
I think a lot of talk about getting over fear (and to be honest, a lot of writing advice in general) comes from the generic perspective of someone acting like the problems don’t apply to them. Fear doesn’t apply to them; they’ve got it all figured out.
But when it comes to fear, none of us have it all figured out. We’re all afraid of something: erasing fear is not what sets you apart. What sets you apart is feeling your fear, even deeply and acutely, and charging forward nevertheless.
Name your fears aloud
Remember in Harry Potter when Dumbledore says that fear of naming something only increases the fear of the thing itself?
When you keep your fears to yourself, alone, they tend to fester. And festering fears convince you that you’re the only one with this problem, or that this problem is beyond hope. Both of which are usually far from true.
I think one of the most empowering and therapeutic things I’ve found in regards to fear is the practice of naming my doubts and fears aloud. Throw open the windows. Air them out. Let your fears see the light of day.
What are some of my writing fears? In no particular order:
- That my prose isn’t good enough to really capture my ideas
- That only foolish people pursue writing like this, so I must be a foolish person
- That everything has been done before so I shouldn’t try
- That I’ll pour my heart and soul into a project that nobody will care about
- That I’m a disappointment to my friends and family who secretly I was a 9-5, businessperson, white-picket-fence type rather than an entrepreneurial, creative, traveler-type.
- That I’ve already let my fears ruin my writing life to the point where it’s too late to start again
- That there’s no real point to getting my hopes up of becoming a real writer, so I should give up
It’s kind of intimidating to write (and publicly share) something like that. But it also feels wildly refreshing to get those doubts off my chest. And even reading some of those to myself after they’ve been written helps me realize how unlikely and dramatic some of those are, even though they feel real in my mind.
Aim for rejections
At first this reads as crap advice, but when I say to aim for rejections I don’t mean to sabotage yourself or write badly on purpose.
Rather, I read this article recently on how writers should aim for 100 rejections a year. Why? There are a few reasons, but among them are that becoming hyper-focused on producing one “perfect” piece of art will inhibit your creativity more than the practice of putting out a greater amount of average art.
Additionally, the repeated exposure to being rejected will make it seem more normal and easier to bear.
Got some wacky ideas for blog posts? Write them! Even if a lot of people don’t like them, you’re getting practice at writing and practice being exposed to the inevitable people who won’t like your work. It’s a much better way to spend your time than trying to craft one perfect post that will please everybody.
Working on sending out your manuscript to literary agents? Send away! Learn from what they have to say and get better and better at querying as you go along.
Have rejection goals to increase your productivity, break the perfectionist anxiety, and learn to take it in stride when others don’t like you.
Think of the end
As in, your end.
As in, death.
I know, I know, talking about death is uncomfortable and we’d all rather ignore its inevitability. But it is inevitable, whether you like it or not, which means that none of us have a whole lot of time to agonize over whether or not we should pursue the things we really want to do.
At the end of it all, I’m going to be gone. And I have a sneaking suspicion that when I’m nearing my last breath I won’t be filled with regret over the chances I took to pursue my dreams.
In the course of a lifetime, the things that make us uncomfortable on a daily basis don’t really matter. The fears and anxieties and doubts will all fade away into distant memory.
But what will matter in the course of a lifetime, to quote the lovely Mary Oliver, is what you choose to do with your one wild and precious life.
What creative dreams do you have for your own life? What fears or doubts get in the way of that?