Let's just say for the sake of argument that I've written over 1000 ads in my life. The number is probably greater than that. I remember once writing 24 in a day...haha. But let's say 1000. And 100 websites. And a couple hundred brochures, over a thousand promotional emails, one book...I've written a lot. Heck, I'm about to celebrate my 1000th blog post here.
And with each of those projects, I had a wave or a ripple or a drop of anxiety fall down upon me. What if I can't do it? What if I don't come up with a solution this time? Even though I always come up with a solution, the anxiety never quite goes away. Sure, it's nowhere near what it was earlier in my career, but it's always there.
It took me a long time to "own" the good stuff that rolled off my fingers and on to paper. There was a long time that I felt like a fake. I don't know any other way to describe it, but I think it comes from the focused place that all creators go into. When you come out, you remember little of the process, but there's a completed work sitting in front of you. Who put that there?!
Anyway, I finally got up the nerve to confess all this to one of my creative directors 20 years ago and you know what she said to me? "OMG, I feel that way, too! Always afraid I'm going to fail. And I always feel like a fake when I've succeeded." This was very freeing for me because, while I no longer feel like a fake very often anymore, I still get the fearful tinges of failure upon the beginning of a new project. And I know I'm not alone.
Whether we're talking about writing or painting or pottery or figuring your taxes, the secret, if you haven't guessed it, is to move forward anyway. There's always a risk of failure that comes with any reward. Our own insecurities are the biggest obstacles we have to overcome. Over the years I've met many frustrated creators who choose to do something less creative than their ultimate dream because they just don't push past that fear. The secret is just to move forward despite it. The second I "put pen to paper", the fear is gone. Every time.
The feeling of being lost and incapable that happens at the beginning of a new undertaking is not a scary place. It's the necessary void from which all creative ideas emerge. Sure, you'll be planting lots of seeds that will never bloom, but while you're poking around in the earth, you'll find the ones you want to water and nurture. My experience is that you rarely come up with an amazing idea without going to that place and planting some seeds. You have to push past the fear.
And, because all art is subjective, you have to get over the fact that you're not going to create something everyone will love. It just won't happen. Plenty of people don't like my style of writing in any of its iterations—as an author or as a copywriter or as a blogger. And that's ok. I'm happy to write for the people that do. In fact, I'm happy to write just for myself, because every cell in my body says I must. So even if I didn't do it for a living, I'd do it. But first and, for me, pretty much always, I have to write through the fear first. What about you?
Adapted from a post originally written on 11/17/11.