Most highly creative people struggle with self-doubt. Am I good enough? Is the work good enough? The difficulty of “breaking in” to most any creative field makes it that much harder. You’re inundated with rejection notes. Passes at auditions. People criticizing you at every turn.
But far worse is the Inner Critic – you know who I’m talking about. The one that mocks the work even before you sit down to write it. The one that makes the first part of your creative life living hell. The little voice inside you that insists you’re not good enough, you’re not smart enough, you’re not succeeding and you might as well go home. The Inner Critic will do its very, very best to make you give up – or at least put off your dreams. It will remind you of every failure, every stumble, and every insecurity you’ve ever had.
But guess what? Every other successful creative person has faced that same voice, those same insecurities. Every success has stood against this dragon, nostrils belching smoke, and heard the evil words masquerading as realism. Every one has faced this first and most deadly enemy of the creative mind. And every one – all of the successes you hear and read and watch – have found a way to knock it down.
There’s the brute force approach. With a sharp sword of cussed determination, you can walk up to the dragon and tell it to F**k Off – or whatever conveys your personal disgust. If you are resolute and unflinching, the dragon will back down. But it will be back.
If your resolution wavers in the face of such a fearsome beast, try another approach. Bribery sometimes works – offer it chocolate. Or literary praise. But if more than ten minutes have elapsed and it will not leave, grow more stern. You will do this, tell it. You will do this with or without it. Wouldn’t it rather take its chocolate and leave? Then, hands shaking, heart sinking, slog through the Swamp of Despair with it by your side. Do your creative thing with difficulty and repetition until it leaves.
Or, you might try trickery. Dragons are quite stupid, actually, and dragons of insecurity rarely think for themselves. If it speaks in your Aunt Ethel’s voice, tell it Aunt Ethel is a fool who knows nothing of art and move on. Or, if it taunts you with the thought that your work will be terrible, agree with it promptly, and send it off with your thanks. By the time you’ve written your next scene or chapter (badly if necessary), it will have gotten lost in the woods somewhere, hopefully not to return. After all, you don’t have to share your work with anyone else if you don’t like it. The creative process is a happily solitary one.
But, in the nasty event that your dragon latches on with words like Failure, Dismal, and Not Enough, you may be forced to wrestle. This is a painful process that should be avoided if possible, but in the case of a latched-on parasitic dragon, must be done or you risk losing any joy you have in your art. Take a deep breath. Gather your arsenal of weapons against the dragon – compliments if necessary, the reasons you love what you do, and any past successes – and cock your first arrow to the bow. Fire every arrow you have at it – with repetition, and with posts on the wall – and if it still will not let go, get out your knife.
If you must cut out your regrets, your shame, your fears along with its claws, it must be done. Pour out the words onto a notebook. Name your fears. Then, with sharp pen and stubborn bravery, face them. Tear them out of the notebook and up into small pieces. Say, this thing will not stop me anymore. Then, take a day for your heart to heal. Rest. Then take up your creativity again, and go bravely into the night. Your path is worth it.
When the dragon comes back – and one day it will – say to it, I have defeated you once and I will again. I will not stop, I will not turn back, I will not falter. Then start again on your strategies.
Your journey of creativity, your art, is worth the struggle. It is worth the pain. It is worth the trouble. Because, whether it ever receives the world’s attention, it has done something powerful for you: it has made you a better person, a stronger one, someone who is brave enough to look in the mirror of art and dare to dream anew.
Do not give up. Do not give up. And…. when the going gets tough and you look at someone else’s successes, when the dragon looks bigger than it ever has, when it screams at you with fiery darts…. do *not* give up. The hero is the one who does not and will not turn back.