The Source of my Creative Anxiety

Following a creative pursuit can require a lot of resilience. I love hearing the stories of other creative individuals regardless of their interests because creative anxiety is a common issue linked to many disciplines. There’s no easy way to deal with it, but neither is it an unusual problem. When we create something we are pouring much of ourselves into the project and it can be difficult to emotionally detach from the outcome. We might have been working on that same project for a long time and could have made sacrifices to bring it to completion. We risk leaving ourselves open to criticism as we attempt to share our ideas with others, hoping that they’ll understand what we are trying to accomplish.

Kids can be more fearless than adults. I remember that I never hesitated to share my work. In fact I really enjoyed getting feedback for it. I shared loads of photos and artwork online as well as running a website. I emailed other web developers to help me with my website. I look back at my old work and cringe at that thought. Nowadays, even though my skills have massively improved I’m much more insecure about putting my stuff out there. The older we get the more opportunities we’ll have had to learn; Unfortunately that also includes developing new fears. I connect strongly with a line from the song Stressed Out by Twenty One Pilots, ‘I was told when I get older all my fears would shrink, but now I’m insecure and I care what people think.‘ An important aspect of creativity is playfulness. Kids are very playful, but many of us struggle to hold onto this as we get older.

If we look at our memories we can pinpoint moments where we might have lost some of our playfulness. For me it was during a history class in which we had to team up to create a themed board game. I worked on these cards that the players would pick up when landing on certain squares. I would provide a penalty or a bonus and write it into a scenario. I thought I’d been clever in how I’d connected events with mechanics and was proud of what I’d done. When we played it however, upon revealing the first card a person responded with no subtlety whatsoever, ‘this is really stupid, who came up with these?’ I was embarrassed and didn’t own up to my contribution to the game. I realize now that as kids we might say daft things, but at the time it knocked my confidence with sharing my ideas. I had a few issues during art class at school too. Other kids sabotaged my work and the teacher put me down. My ideas were often disparaged because I was too young or not yet good enough. I remember while doodling somebody leaned over my page and exclaimed, ‘what on earth is that?’ From then on I developed a fear of showing my work before completion. I cover the paper with my hand when anybody walks nearby. Recently I’ve been carrying a small sketchbook around with me in case the sudden urge to draw takes hold, but I feel self-concious doing it in public. I feel uncomfortable working in office spaces because it’s harder to conceal what’s on your screen if somebody comes over. I never did much work in class and would give up my spare time to do it at home instead.

As adults we follow rules that we’ve picked up from our experiences. How we perceive the world is shaped by the people that influenced us during childhood: family, teachers and friends. For some reason we don’t doubt a lot of what we were told, but it was recently recommended to me to consider that everything I know could be wrong. There are lots of ideas in my head that are not my own, but due to what others have told me. When you stop to ask why you think something you might find that some ideas aren’t serving you at all, but dragging you down or offering you an excuse to hold back on the things that really matter. I believe that a part of being creative is to fail on lots of ideas until finding the right one. To get better I need to practice and be willing to change or refine my ideas. I struggle with perfectionism, but I do enjoy art more when I give myself permission to make mistakes. The fear of failure can freeze me up and prevent me from getting started at all, which is obviously counter-productive towards my goals. I explained the creative process to somebody once and they were very negative about it. This was also a person that claimed they didn’t think it was possible for them to be creative and I wonder what happened to them to leave them with this belief. We all carry a few insecurities around with us; We don’t have to take on board everything that others tell us. Luckily I have a creative family and was always encouraged to make things. I also like to encourage others to do the same as I believe that it’s possible for anybody to be creative. (See ‘Learning Unlearning: Who told you you couldn’t draw?’ by Alex Box – TEDx Talks.)

Dealing with criticism is a part of being creative. Some of it will help us to improve while other parts might be a projection of another’s insecurity. Creative anxiety isn’t unusual and there are lots of individuals sharing their stories and advice on how to deal with it. Creation is a wonderful experience and it’d be a shame to allow anxiety to stop anybody from sharing. Some of my work is terrible, but if I allow every bad piece to put me off from creating I’ll never know what wonderful things I could potentially come up with after a little more practice.

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About wallcat

I have a strong passion for computing. In particular programming for which I am able to use a variety of languages including C++, Visual C#, Blitz Basic, Actionscript 2.0, Python and Lua. I also enjoy web-design and have some knowledge of HTML/CSS, PHP/SQL and Javascript. As well as programming I have a strong background in art and enjoy drawing in my spare time. When I’m not sat at my computer I like to keep fit by going to the gym or using my exercise ball.

4 responses to “The Source of my Creative Anxiety”

  1. Lori L MacLaughlin says :

    People can be so mean sometimes, particularly young people. I’ll never understand why it makes them feel better when they tear others down. I hope you will always be inspired to create, regardless of what anyone else says. The problem is with them, not you, and you can’t let them take the joy of creating away from you.

    • wallcat says :

      Those are wonderful words, thank you. I’ve come to realize that a lot of problems are caused by the way we carry our insecurities. Mine are a driving force that push me to want to get better at things. For some it’s easier to put others down so they can feel better by comparison than to try and work at something. Creating things is great because it gives us something to feel good about. We just have to make sure we’re not too self critical in the process.

      • Lori L MacLaughlin says :

        That’s so true. It’s easy to over-criticize our own work. Sometimes we can be our own worst enemies. We have to remember to look at the beauty, rather than the faults, of what we create and revel in the sheer joy of creativity itself.

      • wallcat says :

        I keep reminding myself of that. I’ve probably criticised myself worse than anybody else ever has. What we see as mistakes can be what makes something special to others.

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