On Writing – Fear and Frustration

The topic for the day is the two things that get in the way of my creativity most often. Doesn’t matter if we are talking about writing or photography or cooking or music. There are two culprits always lurking in the shadows.

Fear and frustration.

Some people may wonder about the question of time. My very packed schedule at the moment is certainly a problem. I don’t have a lot of time for my creative projects. But that’s not the real problem here. Note I didn’t say I had NO time. I said I don’t have a lot of time. There is time. It doesn’t get used the way it could.

And the reason for that is this deadly duo. Fear and Frustration.

Fear gets mentioned a lot by creative folk. Fear of failing, fear of humiliation, fear that our work just plain sucks. I have all of those fears. Part of me believes I have ability, that I have talent, that I can do this. The other part is that nasty little voice in the back of my head that likes to find new ways to ask the question, “If you’re so good, why ain’t you rich?” That voice can riff on that concept the way a great Jazz musician can turn a bar or two of music into an extended exploration. I even have a name for that voice, The Critic. This unpleasant little jerk has been with me for decades now. My best defense is to put him off his game. “That sucks, your writing is garbage!” “You’re right. This could be a lot better. I’ll start the re-write.” By working at improving my output, making it more polished, I make him a cheerleader (against his will) and reduce him to nitpicking once the work is better. The only way he can win is if I quit. So I keep pushing, even when it means starting from the beginning. I’m creating, no matter what. Creation is about the process. As long as my process never quits, I win.

The other issue is frustration. I’m very good at a few things, good at a bunch more, and just flat out struggle with others. Because many things have come easily over the years, I can get frustrated when I have to struggle. Those folks who have this drive to push through the struggles have my deepest jealousy. For many years, my response to the frustration was to just quit. I’m struggling with that frustration right now. How do I express the feeling? I’m not hung up on “perfection” (that’s easy for me since I don’t believe in human perfection. In fact, the closer a work get to perfection, the less interesting I find it), but I am very focused on “getting it right.” Making sure I extend myself to the limit of my ability. I just don’t have a lot of patience! I want to get it “right” the first time, or close enough that I can fix it quickly. For all intents and purposes that never happens. Everything needs re-worked, polished, reorganized, polished again, and that frustrates me. The process of getting an idea out of my head and into “reality” never goes as smoothly as I desire.

Then I get frustrated. And then another idea pops into my head. Something that will be “right” the first time, I’m sure of it! The impulse to walk away is strong. The frustration at that impulse, at leaving yet another work partially or imperfectly finished, makes me mad. Then I get caught in a spiral of frustration and frustration about frustration.

The cure for frustration? For me, it’s just to keep working. Yep, it’s not right. So fix part of it. Just one part. Now it’s better. Not “right”, but closer. And now if I change this NEXT piece…

If I don’t give up, then the work gets better, gets closer to what I want.

So the way to win is to just not give up. To keep working, to keep trying. To use whatever time is available to do something, anything. “What can I do in five minutes?” Fix a sentence, replace a word with a better, more expressive one, scribble down the notes on a new way to tell the story. You are now five minutes closer to creating the work you want.

And for five minutes, fear and frustration lose.

Never stop creating.



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