Entering the Underworld (or Facing Your Demons)

Are you stuck with creative block on your work-in-progress? Do you feel like creating anything is hard, grueling work and you get nearly no output? Have you run into a wall on your art or your project and feel like there’s no way around it?

Lately I’ve been struggling not with a lack of creativity or motivation or excitement about my projects, but with keeping focus. I’ve had trouble making any progress and when I do, it’s hours of pulling-out-my-hair work with very little to show for it at the end of the day. The good news is, I think I’ve finally glimpsed a clue to my problem: fear.

Fear and Creation

Maybe you have a similar problem. Resistance offers plenty of opportunities for fear in every artist, every writer and every Creative, no matter what your particular craft. Fear of what other people might think of you, fear of insignificance (of what others don’t think of you), fear of failure, fear of success (yes, that is genuine struggle), fear of not measuring up and even the fear of discovering you have a debilitating fear. Often fear is coupled with denial.

I don’t know if mine was denial or just trying to ignore the problem, hoping it would go away. Whatever the cause, I just recently came to grips with one of my phobias: the fear of thoughts that are dark, depressing and painful.

Negatively Optimistic

I’m an optimist. I shy away from pessimistic thoughts and the bad-things-are-going-to-happen mentality. When people (friends or strangers) go through gut-wrenching hardship and loss, I unconsciously distance myself as a protective mechanism. (I’ll admit I’m not great with empathy, and it’s something I need to work on. But I don’t do it consciously…usually. Protecting my emotions just comes naturally.) I also hate conflicts.

As you can imagine, avoidance of negative ideas puts a serious damper on one’s writing. Tension is necessary for a good story. By definition, a protagonist must have a struggle of some sort; he or she must face something bad. Otherwise there’s no plot. And villains aren’t out there for the hero’s best interest. There’s plenty of bad to deal with when you write that character.

Resistance is Futile

I know all this and yet I resist it, every single time I sit down to write. Something inside me is reluctant to face dark issues or consider a bad turn of events. It is fear. It’s why I sometimes have a hard time letting bad things happen to my characters. It’s why it takes me so long to figure out my antagonist’s motives, words and actions. Fear tempts me to circumvent gritty, painful ideas and make a beeline for pleasant, mediocre plot points. And fear is full of hooey.

I’m done listening to it. I’ll take honest, painful scenes over naïve, bland ones. Facing the fear will be difficult not only because it’s out of my comfort zone, but because it’s out of my expertise as well. I have a very limited basis of knowledge on pain. I didn’t come from hard times. I haven’t experienced great loss or persecution. And through what minor trials I came, my emotions were sealed with denial, leaving few cracks for feeling harsh things. This leaves me little to go on.

Despite that fact, I’m determined to overcome this fear. If you want to face your fears, one thing is absolutely necessary. You’ve got to be so fed up with your situation (in my case, Creative block) that diving into the darkness looks better than the alternative. I’m there.

If you have the courage, dig deep and try to pinpoint your weaknesses. What fears hold you captive from succeeding at your art? Have you reached the tipping point where staying put is worse than facing your fear? If you haven’t, consider what it might take to push you over the edge.

And if you’ve overcome a fear, I’d love to hear what it was and how you did it.

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