How to Fight Creative Doubt
Several weeks ago I wrote a story for The Write Practice about the hidden value of a handwritten letter. In my file, labeled Letters, I found a thirty-year old letter from Tokyo. The letter was addressed to me, at The Tokyo Journal, the magazine where I worked as a photographer and graphic designer in Tokyo, Japan in 1985.
The letter is postmarked, August 31st 1985. The letter is from Steven J. Pincus, the Vice President of Abbeville Press, a publisher of fine art and illustrated books, located in New York City.
I met Steven J. Pincus, the Vice President, at a press conference in Tokyo where I was sent on a photographic assignment for The Tokyo Journal’s Faces section. Abbeville Press was presenting a facsimile edition of John James Audubon’s Birds of America to The National Diet Library.
The Vice President was interested in the photo documentary I was working on, Women of Japan. I was photographing ordinary women in ordinary jobs. Housewives, store clerks, the women who lived on my street, nurses, and students who I met while I taught English. I was interviewing them about their lives and photographing them in their homes.
When the Vice President flew out several days later, he read on the airplane, that days edition of The Mainichi News. There was an article in the newspaper about a solo exhibit I was having at The Polaroid Gallery.
There was a fabulous announcement of your show in today’s Japan Times. I’m sure it’s going to be a big success for you and a launching pad to bigger and better things.
I’ve been thinking about your “Women of Japan” project and I think it could make a beautiful book. Although we couldn’t finance your photography up front, I do think we could do an excellent job producing and distributing a worthy book. — Steven J. Pincus
The Worst Enemy of Creativity is Self-Doubt
The worst enemy of creativity is self-doubt. — Sylvia Plath
I never finished the project, Women of Japan. I never mailed any photographs to Steven J. Pincus, the Vice President of Abbeville Press. I didn’t risk rejection.
I don’t know why I saved the letter for thirty years—maybe to remind me of what could have been? Maybe I saved the letter to remind me I had a good idea?
Instead of doing the work and completing my photographic project, I started to doubt my idea. I compared myself to other photographers. My mind was filled with all the reasons why my book wouldn’t be good. My book is just of ordinary people, I don’t speak Japanese very well. This is too hard. My friends are better photographers than me.
Steven Pressfield’s book, The War of Art — Break Through The Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, wouldn’t be published for another seventeen years.
Resistance is not a peripheral opponent. Resistance arises from within. It is self-generated and self-perpetuated. Resistance is the enemy within.
― Steven Pressfield,
My self-doubt was self-generated and self-perpetuated. I didn’t know how to fight the enemy within.
Learning From Regret
I regret not finishing the photographic documentary, Women of Japan.
The letter I saved reminds me to not quit and push through the fear. The letter reminds me to fight resistance and self-doubt, and create.
Steven J. Pincus, The Vice President of Abbeville Press, might not have liked the photographs I sent him. However, I never gave him an opportunity to like or dislike my photographs. I never gave myself a chance to fail or succeed. I never finished the project and I never mailed any photographs.
I don’t want my filing cabinet to be filled with letters of unfulfilled dreams. Letters of regret. I don’t want to put off my dreams until there is no more time.
The most pernicious aspect of procrastination is that it can become a habit. We don’t just put off our lives today; we put them off till our deathbed.
― Steven Pressfield,
Learn From Regret and Change Your Future
Never look back unless you are planning to go that way.
― Henry David Thoreau
Do you have unfinished manuscripts in your filing cabinet? Do you hesitate to finish your stories and submit them to an editor, or to publish them on your blog?
Are your songs unsung? Do you leave the paint in the tubes and your canvas’s bare?
Take out your manuscript, sing your songs, and paint your canvases. Replace regret with hope. Do the work. And don’t worry about what anyone else thinks. I love this quote by Andy Warhol. It helps me remember to make art and not worry about what people think.
Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.
― Andy Warhol
How to Battle Creative Doubt
Last fall, I took a class in page layout and design. I wanted to learn how to use Adobe InDesign to format books I had written and will write. For one of the assignments I did a self-directed project and made a ninty-eight page coloring book.
The number one selling book on Amazon at that time was an adult coloring book by Johanna Blasford, Secret Garden.
A Vice President of a publishing company was not offering to publish my coloring book. The market has changed in the last thirty years. Authors can now self-publish their books. I published my book independently using Create Space on Amazon.
There are no gate-keepers to keep us from publishing a book.
The battle we have to fight is within. Our battle is with creative doubt, or what Steven Pressfield calls, resistance.
I battled creative-doubt and resistance and silenced all the little voices I could not get to shut up in 1985 in Tokyo Japan. Why are you making a coloring book about cats? There are already one thousand, seven hundred and twenty-two cat coloring books on Amazon. Why are you making one more?
Well, little voice of resistance. Shut-up! There will be one more coloring book of cats. Now there will be one thousand, seven hundred and twenty-three cat coloring books.
1. Do the work
2. Do the work.
3. Do the work.
A FREE Gift For You — A Coloring Book
As a thank you to The Write Practice, and as a gift to everyone who reads my articles here, I would like to give you a free copy of my coloring book, Color The Cats: Forty Real Cats From Around The World and Their Stories.
The book is for sale on Amazon for $12.99, but if you sign up on my web-site, ipaintiwrite.com, I will give you a free pdf copy of the coloring book. The same PDF I sent to Create Space when I published the book. 10% of all proceeds will be donated to a no-kill animal shelter.
I write about art, creativity, and finding joy in everyday life with cat barf and seven litter boxes, at ipaintiwrite.com. Encouraging you to believe in your ability to create.
Have you ever had a battle with creative doubt? Who won? Let me know in the comments section.
Is there a story you stopped writing because you thought it wasn’t good enough? Did you doubt your ability to create? Please work on the story you gave up on, and share in the comments an excerpt of your story.
For today’s practice. Write for fifteen minutes about a creative person who has to battle a dragon every time they sit down to write. How will the writer kill the dragon? Will they hit the dragon in the head with their computer? Will they kill the dragon by throwing forty pound bags of kitty litter at it? How will they kill the dragon?
Or write for fifteen minutes on your current writing project. Or take a nap. Or clean your toilets.
As always, I love to read your writing, but I don’t want to clean your toilets.