FEEL THE FEAR (And Do It Anyway)*

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.

FEEL THE FEAR (And Do It Anyway)*

Share your work, your thoughts, yourself on social media, and own it!

(5 minute read)

There’s a hidden underbelly to using social media to promote our creative work. We don’t talk about it much, it’s quite prevalent, and it can’t really be fixed.

There will always be someone who’s happy to tell you what’s wrong with it: Your style, your subject, your technique, your skill level, your choice of color, theme, title, etc. And also what’s wrong with Y*O*U.

If this happens to you, here are some words of comfort and encouragement.

In 1948, Shirley Jackson’s most famous short story, often included in high school reading/literature classes, “The Lottery” was published in the New Yorker magazine. It generated a (quote) “deluge of complaints” to the editor, and a substantial number of cancelled subscriptions. (Just FYI, the new movie about Jackson is not based on her actual life, according to her son, and contains incredible untruths, as does the book it’s based on. The author says it’s fiction, though it can ‘read’ like a true bio. Although I also hear Elizabeth Moss’s performance is amazing!

One of my all-time favorite mystery writers, Sue Grafton, died before completing her famous “alphabet series” (A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar, etc. and her last one was Y is for Yesterday. No Z.) She’s won almost every mystery award you can think of, multiple times.) Critics have called her one of the top mystery writers in every category, especially her series. I’ve read them all multiple times.

Out of curiosity, I checked some reviews and ratings on Amazon, while buying her last book. I was shocked to see how many 3-stars and below ratings her books got, usually between 17-19%. One longtime reader gave her 1-star and a terrible review, because she “wrote too much”. (Remember “Too many notes” in the movie Amadeus?)

One of my top three favorite advice-givers, Captain Awkward, is hugely popular, known for her wit, in-depth analysis of what’s going on, her insights, etc. She is an advocate for kinds of good causes and movements, all people, all genders, etc. She has thousands, tens of thousands, of followers, maybe more, including thousands of paying supporters on Patreon.

And yet, she has created a special folder for the deluge of hateful, angry, highly-critical comments she receives on a daily basis, which she doesn’t even read. (She also deletes their comments and blocks them forever after their first rant.)

And we wonder why people hesitate to post their thoughts, their writing, their artwork, their stories online….

I actually wrote a series a while back called “Haters Gonna Hate”, about how we can’t focus on who hates us/our work, we just have to get it out there. I received quite a bit of blowback about using the word “hate”. (Can you spell “irony”?) And another series, Mean People Suck, has truly stood the test of time.

We know that Shirley Jackson persisted and began a highly-popular and highly-respected author (faux movie dialog notwithstanding), as did Sue Grafton. Captain Awkward (aka “Jennifer Peepas”) does not let the haters slow her down for a minute.

Neither should YOU let these people slow YOU down.

I used to engage with nay-sayers, until my team/partner/wise people in my life encouraged me not to even try. I still struggled, hoping to convince those toxic people to simply skip over or delete my posts/emails/columns/articles.

Now,in the movements for justice and equality today, people deep in those movements advise the same: Don’t waste time or energy trying to change someone’s mind. Instead, find ways to support the people/communities/organizations who are already working to change the world for the good.

You could do the same. Delete, mute, block. Move on. And get back to your happy place so you can make your art, and get it out into the world.

It took courage to see the artist in yourself. It took courage to take up brush/pencil/clay/a camera/a microphone/dancing shoes and pursue the work you care about.

It will also take courage to put it out into the world.

I’m reminded of this today from another source: Ginger Davis Allman’s email newsletter The Muse. Allman works in polymer clay, but her wisdom and insights apply to almost any creative endeavor. In today’s article, she concludes, “Best is subjective. Because each of us is different, things resonate with us differently and hit us in different ways. So we each have our own idea of “best” or “favorite”. There IS no best.” Yes, in certain instances, the opinions of others are relevant. But in the end, “the only idea of “best” that matters is your own.”

I get it. I dread reading comments. I’ve gotten some doozies, and it can be daunting. But I’ve worked too hard to get where I am today, and I’ll be darned if I let someone who’s having a bad day/hair day/time/life take me down to their level.

Do your work. Do it for yourself. Take a deep breath and share it with the world, however you can. Be proud of where you are, and be excited about where you’re going.

I wrote some of my best articles when I had no audience. Because, I learned even before my favorite “Sally Forth” comic was published, that it’s not about having an audience….

It’s about having a voice.

It’s not about having an audience, it’s about having a voice.

You can be afraid. You can worry about being judged. You can worry about feeling ‘less than’. It’s human.

We all want our work to be loved, respected, collected, displayed with joy. Once it leaves our hands, it has its own journey. To be loved now, or in a hundred years (like Van Gogh), or in 10,000 years.

Or forgotten, like so many others lost to us in time. No matter. It’s not where it goes that counts.

It’s what it brought YOU, in the making.

Feel the fear (and do it anyway.)

 

*Thanks and a hat-tip to Susan Jeffers for her amazing book, where this title came from!

THE ECSTASY AND THE AGONY: Your Creative Cycle at Work

Not all parts of the creative process are fun…
Not all parts of the creative process are fun…

Not all parts of the creative process are fun…

 (5 minute read)

For the past week or so, my partner has been working feverishly on a new project.

He’s in high-tech, and the work he does is highly creative. Now, I can almost see some of you cringe. “He’s a nerd! NOT an artist!” I’ve heard that from people before. Sometimes I try to set them straight.

He is an extremely talented writer, who started off as an English major, tried his hand at fiction, but soon slid into non-fiction. He was awarded a prestigious Hopwood Award at the University of Michigan, a year or so after we met. His work was so good, it didn’t fit into any of their categories—so they created a new one, just for him. (He bought his first computer with the prize money.)

Yes, a computer. Because after he graduated, he worked in a department for the university. When the data management guy quit, Jon took over—and eventually taught himself coding. His superpower is using an open-source (“available for anyone to use or adapt”) information system, usually developed by others, and finding ways to create unique applications that meet the unique needs of each client he works with (“integration”). He has a skill for taking a product, and seeing the potential, usually outside of the original maker’s scope. He makes important work faster and easier for others.

If you don’t think developing new software to assist people in their creative work, that it isn’t creative in itself, please remember who the owner/developer of this blog is, and what he does, okay? (Hint: FASO? Clint Watson?)

He’s working on a new project. Typical of him, he dove into it headfirst, staying up late, getting up early, spending hours and hours in his workspace, on fire with this new idea and process he wants to bring into the world.

Then he finished it, exulting in all the issues, roadblocks, and problems he solved in the process.

Then, he crashed. He’s been in a deep depression ever since.

Okay, that’s the backstory. Where’s the creative lesson here?

This can be a normal part of the creative cycle process.

There are many different creative cycles.

 I took a workshop years ago with a creativity coach, Lyedie Geer. You can read more about her work at thelongingsproject.com. Here is the recommendation I wrote for her the next day:

“Last night I attended an amazing presentation by Integral Coach, Lyedie Geer. The focus was time management for creative people. I attended with much prejudice, assuming we were going to learn about day planners and Google calendar. I was prepared to be bored stiff and take away a nice idea or two. Well, Lyedie blew my socks off. Her presentation gave me a deeper understanding of my creative process, and how to use that understanding to focus even more on my creative and professional goals. Her information is the kind I would attend to many, many times, as I would ‘hear’ something different every time. The content is powerful, and Lyedie’s presentation style is earnest and heartfelt. Our entire audience of creative professionals (web designers, commercial photographers, graphic artists, etc.) stood up and applauded when she finished.”

 Welp, then we moved, and I can’t find my notes. But until I do, here is the U-theory graph that brought such amazement into my life.

There are other graphs and arcs and diagrams, of course, and many of them are good. But here’s the most important take-away:

You creative process cycle may be as unique as YOU.

The graph I learned was complex. The gist of it is, we start with the spark of a new idea, we go through experimental phases to explore it, figure out how to do it, how to perfect it.

And then, somewhere along the line we run into obstacles and setbacks. We get discouraged. We’re baffled, stymied, and frantic.

Many people walk away at this point. They believe they are too stupid to figure it out. They don’t see how it will make money, so why do it? They believe it’s just too hard, and so not possible. Or they postpone it until “the kids are grown” or “I retire”, when they believe they’ll finally have the time to devote to their creative work.

But perseverance pays off, we rise again, and we might just end up bringing something new into our work, our lives, and the lives of others.

And the cycle repeats.

In Jon’s case, he goes through this with determination and focus. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him stuck for long, because he keeps at it until he figures it out.

HIS funk arrives at the end, after he’s accomplished his goals.

He’s exhausted. It’s not clear it will be received well. It’s not certain it will catch.

That’s because it’s happened before: Major breakthroughs that get chucked (by others), don’t gather the approval of management. Don’t make it to the finish line. (Years ago, the entire company he worked for shut down forever, two days before he could launch his biggest project.) So maybe there’s that dread for him at the end of all his efforts.  (When it does make it through, people/clients love what he’s accomplished.)

Or maybe he’s depleted from lack of sleep, exhausted by a 100% effort. Kinda like how awful it is after you cross that marathon line, when your body lets you know how much pain it’s really in…..

But here’s the thing: This is his cycle. My heart aches for him, that he goes through so much emotional pain and physical exhaustion at the end. But this is how he creates.

I know, when another glimmer of a great idea appears, he will go after it with all his heart.

So when things get hard, when it feels like no one wants our work, when it feels like we aren’t “enough”, take some time to think…  Maybe you are at the hard part of your creative cycle.

Do what it takes to help you stay the course. Don’t accept “failure” as a measure of your success. It’s simply the hard part.

And the hard part can land anywhere. It doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing.

What is your creative cycle?

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