Book Reviews

Review: Fearless Creating by Eric Maisel

Fearless Creating is a step-by-step guide to starting and completing your work of art, written by psychotherapist and creativity coach Eric Maisel. The book is packed with inspiration and guidance on the creative process and the problems you’re likely to come across along the way. It breaks the process down into six stages and goes into great detail on the various obstacles and how you can overcome them.

Sometimes the hardest part of the creative process is dealing with your own doubts. But there’s no way to avoid doubt if you want to create something. Creativity opens you up to the risk of failure – or of looking stupid – and this can make you feel very anxious. The fear can even get so bad that you end up not being able to create at all.

Fearless Creating provides valuable support and encouragement through all six stages of the process, and gives you loads of advice and exercises to help you work through the obstacles. The six stages identified by Maisel are:

  1. Wishing – you want to create and gather ideas
  2. Choosing – you decide what to create
  3. Starting – you begin to create
  4. Working – you continue to create, until…
  5. Completing – you finish what you started
  6. Showing – you share your work

Each stage has its own challenges and its own set of anxieties that come up. But by following the advice in this book, you can overcome your fears and find a way to bring your creative work to life. Let’s have a look at an example:

In the first stage of wishing, you have a strong desire to create something. This is where you’re dreaming, playing around with ideas and trying stuff out, but you’re not sure exactly what you want to create. Maisel calls the anxiety of this stage hungry-mind anxiety: you feel inspired and chase ideas, but then they evaporate, or they lead nowhere and you begin to doubt yourself. Maybe the idea wasn’t any good, or you drift to another idea, then another, but nothing seems to feel right. The ideas never really catch fire.

Maisel says that each type of anxiety has its own appropriate solution, and the way to deal with hungry-mind anxiety is appropriate feeding. This means you find an idea and hold it. You don’t go running off after another idea or let the doubt stop you from working at it. You give your idea enough space and room to breathe so you can play around with it. You feed the idea until it catches fire.

You can read more on the first stage of the creative process here.

If you want to create, you need to find a balance between your wildness and tameness. The wildness is your passion and vision, your need to say something and be heard. It’s how you express your uniqueness and stay open to the dynamic flow of life. But without balance in the form of healthy tameness, your wildness can get out of control.

Healthy tameness allows you to pull back before you tip over into obsession or rage. It stops you burning out or indulging in drama for the sake of attention. But too much tameness is bad for you too. If you allow tameness to take control, you conform too easily and give in to your fears. You give up on your creativity and become depressed or bored.

In real life, you’re neither wild nor tame, but a mixture of both:

“Wildness is the heat, tameness the thermostat. Wildness is the energy, tameness the valves that regulate. In the artist’s real life, this translates into dynamic tension and dramas as he attempts to value both qualities. It is played out internally when a novelist debates whether to write wildly – to craft a novel that is all one sentence or to pillory church and community – or instead to carefully consider publishing industry requirements. Can he do both at once? That is the question. It is played out externally when he debates whether to accept or reject an editorial change that smacks of censorship. Can he do both at once and meet his editor’s need for safety while not agreeing to censorship? That is the question. To say that healthy tameness and healthy wildness are both valuable means that, in real-life situations, the artist attempts to operate as effectively as is humanly possible, neither playing dead nor combusting.”

Fearless Creating is a great book for anyone who creates: writers, musicians, painters, sculptors, actors, dancers, etc., and is guaranteed to help you work through your anxiety with courage and passionate discipline. Creativity is an essential part of life and may be more important now, living as we do under the influence of a destructive culture. I’ll give the last word to Eric Maisel:

“To actually think, to actually love, to actually commit, to actually rebel are remarkable feats. But accomplishing these feats puts an artist at risk. Throughout human history the efforts of individuals to think for themselves and to create works of art have inevitably put them at risk. Hence the title of this book. …

“What the artist does poses a threat to the ordinary person, and at the same time strikes him as terribly luxurious. The artist is hated for telling the truth and envied for living his life authentically. Thus subtle and flagrant stops are put on the artist’s creativity by society at large. But in the individual too, his own creativity hangs in the balance. …

“Will you create? The question is an open one and can be answered only through action. If you have taken that action, congratulations! You know as well as I do that not creating is a dead loss; and that creating is one of the few genuine answers to the question ‘How can a life be meaningfully spent?’”

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