all you do is sit staring
at a blank sheet of paper
until the drops of blood
form on your forehead.
There’s this amazing book I read back in December of 2007 called Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland (copyright 1993 Image Continuum Press). It talked about writing being an art, and writers dealing with some of the same issues other artists dealt with.
The opening paragraph says this:
“MAKING ART IS DIFFICULT. We leave drawings unfinished and stories unwritten. We do work that does not feel like our own. We repeat ourselves. We stop before we have mastered our materials, or continue on long after their potential is exhausted. Often the work we have not done seems more real in our minds than the pieces we have completed. And so questions arise: How does art get done? Why, often, does it not get done? And what is the nature of the difficulties that stop so many who start?” (Bayles & Orland, pg 1, 1993)
As the title of the book suggests, fear is one the greatest motivating factors behind a writer 1) not starting a project, or 2) not completing it. It’s what binds and cripples them. It’s what wears them down and gives them reason to quit. And it’s what metabolizes their writing into artistic disease or, worse yet, artistic death.
Bayles and Orland talk about artistic death and how it comes about:
“…while artists always have a myriad of reasons to quit, they consistently wait for a handful of specific moments to quit. Artists quit when they convince themselves that their next effort is already doomed to fail. And artists quit when they lose the destination for their work—for the place their work belongs.
“Virtually all artists encounter such moments. Fear that your next work will fail is a normal, recurring and generally healthy part of the artmaking cycle. It happens all the time: you focus on some new idea in your work, you try it out, run with it for awhile, reach a point of diminishing returns, and eventually decide it’s not worth pursuing further. Writers even have a phrase for it — “the pen has run dry” — but all media have their equivalents. In the normal artistic cycle this just tells you that you’ve come full circle, back to that point where you need to begin cultivating the next new idea. But in artistic death it marks the last thing that happens: you play out an idea, it stops working, you put the brush down…and thirty years later you confide to someone over coffee that, well, yes, you had wanted to paint when you were much younger. Quitting is fundamentally different from stopping. The latter happens all the time. Quitting happens once. Quitting means not starting again—and art is all about starting again.” (Balyes & Orland, pg 10, 1993)
The American Heritage Dictionary describes fear as: “A feeling of agitation and anxiety caused by the presence or imminence of danger. A state or condition marked by this feeling.” Which makes me wonder…is the fear writers often possess imaginary, or is it real? Are we in the presence of immanent danger when we write? And if so, from what?
The authors of Art & Fear put the fear factor into two basic categories: fears about yourself and fears about your reception by others. In “fears about yourself,” Bayles and Orland say fear is often rooted in our concern that others may find out we’re not really writers…that we are “pretending.” Or that we really don’t have talent. Then there’s the lie of perfectionism: Our writing isn’t good enough to qualify us past the level of “hobbyist.” In “fears about the reception by others,” the authors state “acceptance” and “approval” are two of the greatest fears artists face.
“For the artist, the issue of acceptance begins as one simple, haunting question: When your work is counted, will it be counted as art? It’s a basic question, with antecedents stretching back to childhood.” (Bayles & Orland, pg 41, 1993)
“…Acceptance means having your work counted as the real thing; approval means having people like it.” (Bayles & Orland, pg 45, 1993)
So how do we overcome this fear? How do we get past this debilitating disease? How can we walk forward in our writing when we feel our legs are nothing more than mush and Jello?
First, we must recognize God as the Author and Creator of our work is. Second, we need to acknowledge that in Him and through Him all things are possible. Third, we must keep our eyes on the LORD and not “turn aside to the left or to the right” (Deuteronomy 5:32 NIV) so that our feet remain on the path He’s called us to. And fourth, we need to remember that the spirit of fear is NOT of God. “For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV)
Writing is a call. A special one. We are scribes of the LORD, and our work matters as much today as it did for the ancients thousands of years ago. For when we rely on our heavenly Father to work in us and write though us, we find there is no bondage of fear. Instead there is a sweet, gentle voice whispering in our ears, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”
Therefore, it is a gift.
Therefore, it is a privilege.
Therefore, it is an offering I may make to God.
Therefore, it is to be done gladly, if it is done for Him .
Here, not somewhere else, I may learn God’s way.
In this job, not in some other, God looks for faithfulness.
— Elisabeth Elliot