Overcome the Anxiety of Sharing Your Creative Works

I’ll admit this first, I’m not an expert on anxiety. While I do get stressed occasionally, I don’t suffer from anxiety in any chronic way. However, I recently read a book about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (or CBT)[Amazon] and found some mindset techniques useful for dealing with my own household stress, such as sharing my creative work. 

My creative work. I’ve put my heart and soul into it and the thought of someone disliking it tears me apart. Especially if I’m awaiting feedback from someone I respect. 

The reason for anxiety is because back in the cave people days, you needed to be ready in case a sabertooth tiger jumps out of the bush and attacks you. In that situation, anxiety raises your heart rate, heightens your senses, and speeds up your breathing to help you stay alert.

Today, anxiety is still useful when you get caught in tiger territory, however, it’s not that useful when you’re sitting safely at home contemplating publishing your work. While the triggers are different, the reaction within you is much the same. 

In the moments before, during, or after you’ve shared your creative work, you may feel your body firing up, preparing yourself for danger. But there’s no real danger. Yes, there is a possibility that your work will be negatively received, but it’s not a tiger, you’ll survive. These types of false alarms can cause you to panic, pull back, and hide your work from the world

To do that is a disservice to yourself and the world. You’re preventing yourself from growth, both personally and in your craft, and you’re robbing an audience of a chance to discover you. 

Okay, so here we are. Anxiety is a real barrier. Yet, with patience, practice, and the right frame of mind, you can overcome it by countering those reactive thoughts that trigger anxiety, which is what CBT is all about. 

There are two types of reactive thoughts: 

First are the thoughts you have when you jump to conclusions: 

  • They will all hate my work. 
  • They will laugh in my face. 
  • They will make fun of me to their friends. 
  • Someone will hate a passage and I’ll get canceled. 

These types of thoughts lead you to the worst-case scenarios, catastrophes. The likelihood of someone reading your work and reacting in such a way is unlikely. Can it happen? Yes, it’s possible. But it’s equally likely that they’ll love your work, congratulate you, and share it positively. In either case, the reaction of others is not something you can control. 

Accept it! Once you put it out there, it’s out of your hands. 

To combat the negative thoughts, remind yourself that you’re merely jumping to an unlikely conclusion. You’ll feel pressure to hide your work, but hang onto it — push through — and share it, submit it, publish it. The more you practice going through this process of sticking with it, the less scary it will feel. Especially when you see nobody’s laughing at you. 

Another thought that may flash in your mind and cause panic is that of misplaced responsibility. These thoughts cause guilty feelings about what you’ve created. 

  • My career would be more successful if I wasn’t working on this novel. 
  • I’d have better relationships with my friends if they didn’t think I was going to write about them. 
  • I should’ve been taking care of my family instead of writing. Even though they are fine, I know they are resentful. 

This type of thinking starts in childhood when parents or other adults blame or shame you for unrealistic expectations. Statements like “raising you is the reason we’re poor,” may have caused you to feel that the unhappiness or displeasure of others is your fault. That can certainly induce anxiety later in life and halt you from sharing or pursuing your creativity. 

Much like how you handle thoughts where you jump to conclusions, to counter your thoughts on misplaced responsibility, you must accept that other people’s expectations of your work are their business, not yours. Then acknowledge that your writing is something that you do for yourself. It’s not harming anyone, it’s done in your own well-deserved time, and it’s an expression of who you are. There’s no pressure. It’s doesn’t have to win the Nobel Prize, spark a revolution, or cure cancer for it to be meaningful. 

Should you need to, speak to those you care about or those who are dependent on you and explain how much writing means. They’d likely support that or at least, you would have started a conversation to build a healthier relationship. 

Know that even if your boss confronts you about your personal projects, you can show him your performance report, or if your family is in need, you can take a break from what you are doing to help them. But they’re fine. Everyone is fine. All these issues are thoughts and are not real — when they become real, you’ll deal with them then. 

Dealing with anxiety takes time and if you are feeling very overwhelmed, a professional, like a clinical counselor, can really help. With that being said, I encourage you to keep creating for the love of it, even when faced with the fear and stress of sharing your work. 

Understanding the sudden thoughts that trigger your anxiety is the first step to countering them. At any stage where you find yourself jumping to conclusions or taking on misplaced responsibilities — stop, breathe deeply — accept that you’re only in control of yourself, counter the unrealistic expectations, and push through. It might never be easy, but it’ll get easier. Good luck! 

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What If Nobody Cares About What You’ve Created?

I remember being in school and working on a project for hours and hours. I’d hand it in. The teacher would read it or I’d present it in front of the class — and then… it’s done. What I had spent so many hours researching, producing, and polishing was essentially made for one person. And even then, that person who saw what I made was paid to be there. If my classmate saw it, well, they were forced to. 

I think about that experience often when I do anything creative, because — unlike school — I know that the audience is not guaranteed and the work I put into it might not yield any returns. 

Yet, today we focus so much on creating something that will be seen by hundreds and thousands and millions of people. Reaching a large audience is great! That is how we measure success, right? By the number of eyeballs and thumbs ups we get. However, this is a dangerous treadmill we’re running on if we constantly chase numbers. 

This mentality stops us from sharing our work. We have an expectation. We worry that when other people do see it, and they notice the lack of views and engagement, they will think of it as unworthy. It’s like inviting the world to your party and it’s just you, your mom, and maybe a couple of people you knew from high school. It’s embarrassing, I get it. Why aren’t people watching it? Why aren’t people reading it? I put so much work in, why doesn’t anyone care? 

Whenever I’m working on a project today, as an adult, I remember those horrible years in school, where I worked hours and hours on a project only to hand it in to the teacher — but now, instead of sitting back and waiting anxiously for the grades — I feel grateful that I’m not there anymore. When I’m working on my creative projects, it’s not an assignment and I’m not being evaluated. I’m creating something I want, and because I’m doing that, there is no guarantee that even one person will notice, because it’s for me first, and nobody is being paid or forced to see it. The people who will come and see my work are making that choice themselves. That makes what I’m doing now so much more important. A person who chooses to see your work is worth much more than a person who is forced to see your work.

Before you’ve built an audience, nobody cares what you’ve made. And that’s freeing. Be creative. Break rules. Try new things. There are no teachers stopping you! And when you’re ready, and when the time is right, people will start to care. Keep doing it and people will notice. Anybody can hand in an assignment to the teacher, but on their own, without self-discipline, not everyone can keep creating. It’s going to be pretty impressive when you do! So enjoy this period when nobody cares, because just like the classroom, it’s not going to last forever. You’re going to look back and be glad you went through it. But you gotta graduate first. Good luck! 

Need a break from your work, but still be productive? Here is an article about 5 productive ways to procrastinate.

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How an Imperfectionist Thinks | 10 Tips to Avoid Perfectionism

I’m not a perfectionist. If I was, this video wouldn’t exist, because I’d be too busy fussing over every cut or picking the perfect background music. Or fixing the light or writing this script or making sure my hair looks good. I’ve gotten very good at not worrying about those things over the years because this… is a YouTube video and blog post so it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. 

I’m not here to impress anyone, I’m only here to express myself. 

I know a lot of people suffer from being perfectionists. It can be paralyzing and it can stop you from taking your first steps in creating something. It’ll stop you from learning and trying. I get it. You’re afraid you’ll look stupid.

Well, as someone who’ve looked stupid many times in the past, I’m happy to share some of my advice. Yes, this is me giving advice on how to not be good at things. 

10 tips — let’s go! 

Embrace Mistakes

After you hit publish, you are bound to see mistakes. You are going to want to pull that piece down and delete it forever, but it’s often something inconsequential. It’s often things that your audience, unless you tell them, won’t even notice. Even if someone calls you out for it, embrace that, someone actually took the time to let you know (even though they might have been a jerk telling you). Say thanks for catching that. Or oh man, my bad! It’s going to happen. There are way too many things to deal with. But with my next tip, I can help you get more comfortable making mistakes.

Make A lot

Once you start making a lot, then you stop being precious with each individual project. Mistakes that have happened five, ten projects back don’t matter anymore because your mindset is on to the next thing. You are going to make the next project better. When you have the mentality that you are going to make a lot, then being perfect doesn’t matter, but rather, consistency, practice, patience, and incremental improvement become the goals. 

Give Deadlines

If something is never due, then you will never feel any pressure to finish. You can keep working on it and working on it until the law of diminishing returns leaves any improvement so minuscule that it wouldn’t even be noticeable. Sometimes, you work a project so much that you end up making it worse. Give yourself a time limit, not a quality limit. There is an old adage known as Parkinson’s law which states that a task will expand to the timeframe given to complete. If something is due in a week, you’ll take a week to do it. If something is due in a month, you take the full month. The best way to make more is by shortening the deadlines.

Create Limitations

Much like giving yourself a deadline, creating limitations is actually a good way to avoid getting bogged down by your perfectionism. Whether it’s forcing yourself to write in a specific genre, having a maximum word count, or using a set structure like the hero’s journey, you establish some rules that you have to follow. Having complete freedom may sound great, but it is too nebulous for you to focus. You end up creating something too grand that keeps expanding and expanding, which is not good if you want to actually finish something. By setting limitations, you know the boundary in which your creativity can focus and flourish. 

Start Something New

If you feel the pain of imperfection, if you’ve been staring at your work and are not even sure how to fix it, then it’s time to start something new. Clear the table of what you’ve been doing and begin again. The longer we spend on a project the more invested we get in it and feel we need to do it justice. This type of thinking imprisons us. What we should do is put that project aside, recognize that we are not at the level to get it to the standard we want, and begin something new. I often tell myself,  “Okay, this new project I’m going to try to learn how to do this…” so that by the end, I’ll have the practice to go back and fix what I couldn’t in the previous project. 

Have a Clear Audience

Instead of creating something that I’d think everyone would enjoy — which is impossible — when I feel like my work isn’t perfect, I think about one specific person who I’m creating for. Once I have this person in mind, like for example with this video, I’m thinking of someone like you, who is perhaps curious to know why my projects are so not perfect and how I live with myself. Knowing you, I have a clearer understanding of why I’m doing this and I feel supported. Also, don’t be afraid to make things for yourself. Your audience can easily be yourself in the future. I want to make a video for myself a year from now. I want to write a book that I want to read. Making it for yourself is as worthwhile as making it for a million faceless fans. You probably won’t make money, but then again, you never know until you finish. 

Work on Multiple Projects At Once

I usually have multiple projects going at once because if I ever get stuck, tired, or angry at a specific project, I can just switch to another. This allows me to always be making something. Even though my attention is scattered, there is often progress happening on multiple fronts. Experts will tell you not to do this. And I’m no expert, however, it’s this diversifying method that has kept me from burning out. It’s also helped with my continuous improvement even though it’s not as exponential as focusing on one specific project at a time, in the end, I still have something to show for it, which to me, is worth a whole lot. 

Have a Learning Mindset

Much like advice number 5, it’s good to go into each project with the eagerness to learn, not the pressure of making it perfect. If you can approach a project as an opportunity to learn something specific then you can measure the success of the project not on the merits of the work but rather your experience and knowledge gained from it. Having that student approach is so humbling because then you can ask questions and discover as you go, as opposed to feeling like you need to land the perfect trick in front of a group of judges. You don’t need that type of pressure.  

Accept That You Might Lose it Forever

Create with the knowledge that tomorrow that project might disappear. Something could have happened to your hard drive and everything was erased or there were a fire and all your material burned to the ground. Know that what you are making is not going to last forever. It might not even survive the process in being finished. It’s a terrifying thought, but that’s why it’s so important to not be precious with your work and do it because of the enjoyment and not because you want to make something so astoundingly perfect that it can stand the test of time — because nothing can. 

You’re Not Perfect (neither is your audience)

We all have the idea of a perfect project in our minds. In there it is beautiful and complete and so very great. But we are not perfect and as soon as we attempt to transfer what’s in our brain into the external world, we are bound to muddy everything up. Languages, colours, and emotions appear and sound differently to different people. Even if you think it’s perfect, you cannot help how others are going to respond to it. Everyone has different preferences and tastes — and nobody is completely right or completely wrong. You are bound to make something some will love and you are bound to make something that someone will hate.

Those are my 10 thoughts on how I live with the fact that I’ll never create anything perfect, nor do I even try. I wish I have a little more attention to details sometimes and perhaps I could be a little bit more diligent with my work, but honestly, I feel like this approach has kept me content and consistent. But like I said, everyone should have their own process and as long as you are enjoying what you’re doing then it doesn’t matter if you want to make something perfect or not. None of this matters. 

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Double negative

Image via Thinkstock

Why you might be concerned about the wrong things

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in the Other Press. November 18, 2015

What concerns us in day-to-day life differs from person to person; some worry about immediate problems such as deadlines and commitments, while others worried about situations that have no direct influence on them. I’m all for the former and not so much about the latter. We waste too much time concerned with aspects of the world that we cannot control, and when we do think that we are making a positive impact, we are often neglecting an issue closer to home.

The environment: it is the foundation of life upon Earth. Many of us make every effort to take care of it, but then again, we often forget to take care of ourselves—to protect ourselves. How often do I see commuters on bicycles swerving this way and that on the road without a helmet? I see it almost all the time, especially in urban areas. Riding a bike is better for the environment, but neglecting your safety is far from smart. Your wellbeing is a far bigger concern than the carbon you would emit into the air if you were driving.

The world at large is full of disruption and corruption. I remember this cliché line growing up: there are poor children in Africa that want what you have. Hell, there are poor children in Canada that want what I have. We often look at developing countries or countries in crisis, such as Syria, and offer our deepest sympathy. However, when we look at an unfortunate individual closer to home, what do we do? We call them lazy, we call them bums, and we call them stupid, and so on and so on. If you want to help people, start with those in your backyard.

Worrying is a type of escape, don’t deny it. Sometimes we get emotionally invested in things just so we can avoid the immediate problems with our lives. Look at sports for example. We put so much emotional weight on the performance of a group of people we don’t even know. The outcome has minimal effect on our lives. If we own a sports bar, we might benefit from the Canucks winning, but otherwise, it’s pretty much a way to misdirect attention from our own work ethics. We worry so much about how the Canucks, Whitecaps, and Lions are doing, but how often do we turn to our friends and family and show interest in their pursuits? Rarely. Working at an office or a restaurant is not as interesting as scoring a goal. Finishing an assignment is not as exciting as making the playoffs. But if you are worried about the successes and failures of complete strangers, why aren’t you worried about those who matter so much to you?

It’s okay to be farsighted now and then and be concerned about the world, but more often than not, we should look at what’s around us—there are problems everywhere that need to be solved. Let’s start with those.