Or: The terrible responses our imaginations work up about our art and what we can do about them
A couple months ago, my brother asked for some input regarding some pieces of writing that he was holding off publishing, in part because of the terrible responses he imagined hearing when certain people might see what he wrote. We had an email thread conversation about that and he then said one of my replies should be a blog article.
Because he's my big brother who has a lot of wisdom and one of the first people I knew to have a blog, and because I bet a lot of people (myself included) delay sharing their work for the same reasons, the text of that email makes up the majority this post -- a little revised for clarity and context -- one that I hope will get me back on a more consistent posting schedule, too. If you've been avoiding writing/sharing/making/doing something for similar reasons, I hope there's something here you might find useful here as well.
Yes, our imaginations can work up some pretty awful responses to the writing (art, anything...) we put out in the world. Often these imagined reactions are not based in reality. The fact that those projected statements and voices are not based in reality can be what makes those fears (or monkey mind thoughts, or the editor, the censor) most powerful. They come from that part of our brain that just wants to keep us safe, keep us in status quo, keep us from going out of our comfort zone because that's what it's evolved to do to keep us alive. All it wants is to get us to stop writing (and/or stop doing whatever scary thing it is that might be what we really want to do with our life).
There's an exercise Beth Pickens (a creativity consultant who lives in the Bay Area) gives her clients sometimes: work out all the possible worst-case scenarios to their very end. With that in mind, what might happen if these people do object to the writing and artwork you release? What's the worst thing they can say? What would happen if they said that? And what would happen after that, and after that, and after that? (Invariably, Pickens says this train of thought goes on until every client ultimately says, "and then I'll go broke and die," or something like that.)
So...what happens if you work out that fear until it reaches the very bottom of the barrel, and see just how dramatic your imagination can go -- and then decide what you'll do anyway?
And/or then go the other way -- what happens if you don't publish? If you don't make the thing you've always wanted to make, or go where you've always wanted to travel, or book the scary gig, or ______ (fill in the blank with what fits your circumstance)? How will you feel if you continue to keep the book (proverbial or literal) in the drawer? How will you feel if you do publish? Where do you feel that in your body? Often our bodies know what we need to do, but we train ourselves to tune that out. Instead, what if we listen to what our bodies have to say?
Or as Oliver Burkeman quotes James Hollis in Four Thousand Weeks, what happens if we ask ourselves, "Does this choice diminish me, or enlarge me?" (I'm asking myself that about a lot of decisions right now.)
Often that fear (of writing, publishing, sharing, doing anything that moves us toward the life we want) is the resistance Stephen Pressfield talks about in The War of Art -- resistance being the sign that the thing you're afraid of IS the thing you need to be doing. Resistance is going to try to find any way possible to stop you from doing the thing that takes you out of the comfort zone -- so you can use it as a compass that will show you the direction you(r larger, higher, wiser self) want(s) to go.
Or as I recently heard someone paraphrase Iyanla Vanzant, "If there's not something in your life that pushes you to the point where the pee is running down your leg, then you ain't living big enough."
And so then, if you decide to go ahead and publish (or do whatever it is you want to do with your art/life/work), which I hope you do, what is the least you need to do next in order to feel good about that decision and move forward? (In the case of publishing something that someone might not like, such as a piece of writing that could affect someone else because it includes something they said or did, do you give them a heads up? do you let them read a bit of it? do you draw a boundary around how they can respond if you decide to share it with them early, or how much you'll let their reactions affect you? or do you let all of that go and hope for the best?)
In other words, what is the smallest next step on the way to your big goal? Not what are the five next things you can do -- but what is ONE tiny thing you can do right now?
Can you do that little thing? Right now?
Please do. Your art, audience and I thank you for doing that.
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Process notes on a work in progress (me). This mostly contains raw rough content pulled out of practice notebooks. Occasional posts also invite you into the way I work, with intermittent notes on the hows and whys on the whats I make. Less often you may also find prompts and processes I've brought to workshops, as well as surveys that help me gather material for projects. Similar earlier posts from years ago can be found on: