Afraid to Create

Being arty is terrifying. Although, inside myself, I’m proud of my creativity and happy with my thoughts, I crumble at the thought of sharing them with others. A switch flips. Pride evaporates. I think:

I’m not really that interesting. I don’t have much to add. The world will get on fine without me. Why clutter people’s lives with my ‘insights’? Great. Another mediocre blogger. Another clever kid who thinks he’s got something to say.

And so I don’t post my posts; I don’t sing my songs (“Great. Another clever softie with a guitar.”); I don’t write my writings (“Ooh, another college kid thinks he can write?”). Sometimes I don’t do much of anything (“Another kid trying to self-actualize. Thank god.”).

And you know what? That sucks.

Unfortunately, it’s not even unusual (“Another depressed young artist!”, lol! ). I spoke today with one of my best friends — a brilliant musician and a sparkling soul (a champagne of a person!), who told me of her own struggles with these same fears. More than that — two web artists I admire very much, Ze Frank and Tycho Brahe, recently posted about their own self-doubts.

How do these great creators deal with these fears? These people who are so obviously talented, with so much to offer — how do they explain them? How do they resolve them?

Here’s what Ze had to say. Ze Frank, in case you don’t know, created the YouTube series the show with ze frank, which greatly influenced the vlogbrothers, Hank and John Green. He’s gearing up now to launch a new show. He announced this with a bit of self-therapy: a video called “An Invocation for Beginnings”.

I was particularly grabbed by his riff on “Generosity”:

Let me think about the people that I care about the most — and how when they fail, or disappoint me, I still love them; I still give them chances; and I still see the best in them. Let me extend that generosity to myself.

I felt something wiggle inside me when I heard this. I’d heard something like this before…maybe some guidance counselor or leadership speaker in high school, saying, “We spend a lot of time telling you all to respect each other. But we forget to tell you to respect yourselves…We say things to ourselves we’d never say to other people. Mean things that we’d know were unfair if we said them out loud to someone else.”

I think here of that wonderful talented friend I mentioned earlier. She doesn’t know what she’s doing any more than I do. And not all of her ventures have taken off. But I don’t hold that against her. I don’t write her off. I’m still thrilled to watch her and see what sparkling thing she does next.

Maybe I can learn to watch myself that way.

The second bit I want to share is by Tycho, alias Jerry Holkins, writer for the tastemaking gamer comic Penny Arcade. He’s setting to work on something very personal and outside his comfort zone: a long-delayed game of his own, starring himself and his collaborator Gabriel (a.k.a. Mike Krahulik, artist for PA), based on his long-form fiction On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness. In a recent post, Tycho opened by describing Gabriel’s anxiety about running a new Dungeons and Dragons campaign:

[…] this sense that he does not have it.  The suspicion.  There’s a way to find out, of course, but this carries with it the danger of verification.

That’s a beautiful encapsulation of one of my greatest struggles. “The danger of verification.” I suspect I may be no good, which makes actually trying anything terrifying. Because…I might be right. But until I actually try, I don’t have to know whether I’m any good or not. I can stay in this blissful/tortured state of not knowing/not having to know.

But this is, as Tycho puts it,


Fucking insufficient.

You have to get back on the horse.  Somehow, and I don’t know how this kind of thing starts, we have started to lionize horseback-not-getting-on:  these casual, a priori assertions of inevitable failure, which is nothing more than a gauze draped over your own pulsing terror.  Every creative act is open war against The Way It Is.  What you are saying when you make something is that the universe is not sufficient, and what it really needs is more you.  And it does, actually; it does.  Go look outside.  You can’t tell me that we are done making the world.


I love Tycho’s style. That evocative phrase, “a gauze draped over your own pulsing terror”, is very characteristic. But what I’m still digesting are those last few lines:

What you are saying when you make something is that the universe is not sufficient, and what it really needs is more you.

I have so much trouble making myself believe that. I see my creative acts as arrogance — as me imposing myself, unnecessarily, on a perfectly sufficient world. It’s very hard for me to believe the world actually needs more Arden.

And it does, actually; it does.  Go look outside.  You can’t tell me that we are done making the world.


You can’t tell me that we are done making the world.

I believe that. But somehow I’d lost sight of myself as someone who could help.

I guess the sign that this is true — that we are still making the world — is that each of these guys really did give me something real. I have an understanding now that I wouldn’t if they hadn’t filmed that clip or written that post. We can give something to each other! We can help each other!

So here I am, passing these on to you — giving you something that I hope will help you too.



5 thoughts on “Afraid to Create

  1. thoughtsontheatre

    that video is one of my favorites. I think we all get caught up in the fear of negative what ifs. It’s too easy to, but as Ze and any of the greats will tell you. Just start doing. The only way to get better at something is to just jump in and do it over and over again.

    1. ardenrb Post author

      Thanks so much, thoughtsontheatre — that’s very well said.

      The scary thing is how hard it can be to get to where “just start doing” makes sense. There’s a dark place where even the prospect of improvement seems useless or self-indulgent. It’s hard to see why you’d bother “doing” at all.

      What’s helped me the most to get over that is, quite honestly, to see comments like yours — to feel that I am part of a conversation with people who care. So thank you for commenting 🙂

      I guess, in a weird way, that means the best way to “start doing” is…to start doing; by “doing”, you give yourself the chance to see how wonderful “doing” is, which leads very naturally to more “doing”!

      whee. & thanks again — Arden


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