2016 is the year I face my creative fears. I call it my Fear Year. Every month I publish a report, looking back on the month, sharing my thoughts, fears and lessons learned. If you want context, you can read more and find the earlier reports here.
Fears faced: Working on my novel. Staying with creativity when I don't believe in myself. Experimenting and creating when the result might be bad. Not creating at my own level of "good enough".
Struggles: Getting back to working on my novel again.
Lessons learned: When I open up to experimenting and creative freedom, focusing more on the process, all creativity will be easier, including novel writing. When the demons come, the best option is to create through them.
I have to I have to I have to.
I don't want to I don't want to I don't want to.
But I have to.
Everything else is done.
It's time to do what I've been avoiding for so long.
The year's second attempt at Camp NaNoWriMo
I the end of June, I had sat down to write a half a Fear Year report, and realized what I needed to focus on for the upcoming months: bigger projects and getting over the fear of selling. Most importantly, I knew, was to find a way to work on my novel consistently. That was partly why I started this Fear Year in the first place.
I decided to give Camp NaNoWriMo another go, the novel writing challenge that I'd attended before. In April, I gave myself a too steep word count goal of 25 000 words, in retrospect a choice based on impatience, but I had at least managed to write 6000 words. In July, my odds were better since my vacation started July 20. I decided for the quite ambitious but not impossible goal of 15 000 words.
The first weekend of the month was a Bigger Project Weekend, and I had decided to try to both write one lesson for my story-based course project Expedition: Daringland, the week's Teacup Owl letter and one chapter for NaNoWriMo. I knew I would have to get everything else done before I could attempt to work on my novel, so I finished the other two on Saturday.
That Sunday, I walked around in my apartment, agonized and procrastinated, tried to come up with excuses and shot them down. I had known it would be uncomfortable to start. But I had decided to not let that stop me and after a few hours of shuffling, avoiding and feeling pretty crappy, I finally managed to sit down and start. As always, the start was the hardest and by the end of the day I had written 2 500 words. I felt happy, relieved. Maybe this could work. I hoped so.
Summer is not the time for hustle.
Summer is for breathing, for freedom, for counting how many birds you can hear. For slowing down, living life as it should be lived. Noticing when stress creeps in.
I won't take that away from this summer.
I won't kill the soul of my summer.
Embracing the soul of summer
I spent the weekend at my family's summer house in the Swedish archipelago, a beautiful place filled with memories of slow days of my childhood. I was preparing Instagram pictures that weekend and walked around with my camera and my sketch book. I wrote my Teacup Owl letter on the small wooden pier, looked at the sunset, discussed Brené Brown's book Daring Greatly with my mum.
I had hoped I would get the time and energy to write on my novel, but the weekend was soon over. What I did have time for was to contemplate why it is so hard for me to write. I identified two problems.
Firstly, my level of good enough is high, because I'm a picky reader.
Secondly, I don't believe that I can write at my level of good enough. Even if I would write at that level, I still wouldn't believe it. It's not rational.
I didn't know exactly what I could do to help myself with those problems, but identifying them felt like a step in the right direction.
I've gotten quite comfortable with visual creativity now, but something is still holding me back. I want to make bigger things, new things, test, try, experiment… But I still hold back.
I've fallen into some kind of safe zone, not branching out, and it's keeping me from working on the visual aspect of Expedition: Daringland. I need to do something about it.
I need a dedicated space to experiment freely.
Daring to experiment
Work was stressful with everything that needed to get done before my vacation. I was tired and had no energy to work on my bigger writing projects, so I decided to focus on painting instead. There was this thing that I'd noticed, a tendency in myself to hesitate before trying something new, that I decided to work on. I needed to work on it, because I wanted my course Expedition: Daringland to have illustrations - painted waves and forests and mountains that were elements in this story-based thing I had made up. I hadn't tried painting any of those things before and I needed to practice.
At some point I had started thinking in terms of that's a waste of paper and paint and then there'll be an ugly page in my now so pretty sketch book. I knew this was ridiculous - I shouldn't stop myself from experimenting just because I wanted things to be neat. It was probably based on the fear of a bad result that had crippled me so many times before.
I needed to get my hands dirty and let it be ugly if it wanted to. To resolve it, I had made an experiment book that I now worked in. It was liberating, and fun.
Finally, my vacation started. I sat down and listed all the things that I had saved to do and quickly realized it was a lot of things. I would have almost four weeks to do them, but I also needed to start packing up the apartment since we would be moving in August. I wanted to meet friends and my boyfriend and I had just decided to go on a trip through Sweden for a week.
I rushed through the days before our trip, meeting friends, cleaning the apartment, packing for the trip, doing some preparations for the move that I'd procrastinated. Before I knew it, we were going away and I hadn't had the time to slow down or create much at all, certainly not work on my novel.
I wish I could live like this.
A step away from the world.
Where freedom comes naturally.
Where opinions are softer, where the result is less important.
In these places, I find myself more in tune with the process. It's a relief and it gives me a creative freedom I so long for.
Defending my creative freedom
We spent the first days of our trip at my boyfriend's sister's summer house. There's something special with summer houses that instantly make me relax and slow down into my creativity. I painted and wrote.
During all of July, the idea of creative freedom had been in the back of my head. It was in my blog post about summer projects. In my Instagram feed. In my experiment book. Mostly, it was a calm, strong emotion, a longing pulling me towards it, slowly and steadily. A direction I was ready to go in. But in that moment when I finally started to relax in my vacation, it was also slightly angry.
The anger I felt was directed at the fact that I felt constrained in my creativity. The unconscious tendency to follow labels and rules. I still cared too much about what the world would think. I wanted to break out of my own box, of the constraints I put on myself.
It wasn't the first time I realized that I longed for this freedom, a freedom as much from myself and my demons, as from the outside world. The whole Fear Year was probably an act of trying to free myself.
This wouldn't be the last time I would have to work for my creative freedom, but I knew so strongly out there on the countryside, that I needed it. It was a path I needed to forge.
It's uncomfortable but I will stay through that discomfort.
If this is a test, I'm ready to take it. Bring it on, fear. I won't budge today.
Facing my demons while getting deep into novel writing
We got back from our trip and with three days left of Camp NaNoWriMo, I knew it was not likely that I would be able to write the 12 500 words that was left, but I decided to to write as much as I was able to. I was tired of procrastinating.
While I hadn't written much on my novel throughout the month, I had somehow prepared for this moment. Embracing freedom and experimentation, letting results and opinions come second, it was all preparing me to write.
I hadn't really understood the spillover effects between writing and painting before, but now I found myself staring at one. My issues with experimenting and freeing my creativity wasn't exclusive to either writing or painting. It was based on the same fears - the fear of creating something bad, of not being good enough, of failing, of breaking the rules, of rejection.
These fears gave the same effects everywhere. A hesitation, a discomfort when creating something entirely new, when pushing my limits, when doing work that made me uncertain of the result. All those things were true everywhere in my creativity, no matter the medium.
Which is why no matter how I worked on them, it helped all my creativity.
For three days, I wrote. I opened up my laptop right after getting dressed in the morning. I wrote until I was too tired to write. I slept and started over again. It wasn't easy, but it was easier than it could have been. It was like the time had finally come.
On Saturday, I had a few hours of complete disbelief in myself. I couldn't write because everything I wrote felt like crap. I brought out my water colors in hope of calming myself down, but I just hated everything I painted instead. I was completely convinced that I will never be able to finish my book and feel remotely satisfied with it. I will never be able to build even a tiny creative business. Nobody will ever want to buy anything I've created. Any other beliefs would just be a way of deceiving myself.
But I sat through it. I wrote though it. I didn't run away and I didn't stop. Slowly it grew weaker. I slept and got back to it. I wrote on a paper JUST KEEP WRITING and put it on the wall in front of me.
I didn't reach my goal of 15 000 words, but to I got to 9 000 words and was happy with it. When I decided I was done for the day on July 31, I knew that the big test was not to get through that weekend, it was to keep going after it. I have been able to cringe out writing before. NaNoWriMo have even made me write at full speed for a month. But I have never been able to keep writing, consistently.
Now that I've gotten started again, the big test is before me - to not let the evasive, sneaky ways of discomfort stop me. To keep going.