photo credit: Jim Richardson

Fear and Creativity

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” — Ira Glass

The number of ideas that fail – fail to get out of your head, fail to get onto a sketchpad or into an instrument, fail to be sketched out in code our outlined as prose – is far greater than the number of businesses that fail every year.

These ideas that start off as brilliant, as the future, as unsinkable, like the titanic, and after a few hours, they start to crumble as doubt, fear, and “I don’t know how to do that” set in. My ideas have gone down this path. In fact, a lot of them do.

What if? No… Maybe…? … ! … Nah, that’ll never work. I can’t do that.

How do we shed the fear of creating when we don’t know what we’re doing or when we can’t be certain where they’ll end up? How do we shed the fear of just exploring an idea that somewhere inside feels like it needs to exist?

Is the solution to break things down into the smallest possible pieces and move forward one at a time? Is it telling one person to hold you accountable, that you’re going to make something by a certain date? Is it access to other people who are also creative and also equally as scared? Is it access to resources for where to start, how to get set up, or how to tinker? Is it a sandbox to play in without judgement? Is it transparency from the idea phase and encouragement from future audience members or users? Is it a retreat to an unfamiliar place with people you trust where you can all create and explore without editing?

I don’t know. I don’t pretend I have the answers to these because I struggle with fear and creativity too.

How do we get more people from I have an idea…to prototyping and sketching and trying to get the first version out, so they can make the second version and the third, trying new things each time in order to figure out what they’re actually making?

I’m a firm believer that when we start working on something, we don’t know what it is we’re actually working on. A TV show transforms through the seasons until it hits its stride, a podcast keeps churning out episodes as a bad host becomes a good host and her content transforms along the way. A musician puts out albums until they slowly find their sound.

How do we tip the scales so that the pull to make something – anything – is so much greater than the fear of not knowing what the hell you’re doing or where you’re going? How do we help people get started without the need for a map?

I don’t know, but I’d like to try to figure it out.

Zack Shapiro is the creator of Built in Public, a project studio and year-long experiment in creativity and transparency. Zack also founded Luna, a nighttime delivery company based in San Francisco, which was acquired in early 2014.

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