Do You Want to Create? Then Prepare for Pain

From Jeff: This is a guest post by Matt Ragland, who is a writer, speaker, and camp director at Camp Rockmont. You can read more from him on his blog and follow him on Twitter.

In our connected world, the tools available for people to create are plenty and affordable. You can start a blog for free, a beautiful website for under $100, Zenfolio will host your photography, Etsy will sell your crafts, and Behance will do pretty much anything.

Pain of Creativity
Photo credit: Joby Elliott (Creative Commons)

These are just a few of the options available. It’s incredible, encouraging, and means you’re out of excuses to hold back your art. But there is a cost to this opportunity.

“Stop hitting yourself”

Do you remember when you were younger, and a bigger kid would grab your own fist and hit you with it? All the while mocking: “Stop hitting yourself! Stop hitting yourself!”

That’s what writing is like. Your own mind will put up a fight, because it enjoys the status quo.

Understand this: The moment you decide to begin creating, you are under assault. Yes, “The Resistance” (to borrow Steven Pressfield’s term) will be in full force, shouting at you, keeping you up at night, trying every ruthless trick to keep you from creating.

Every day, I need to remind myself I can write, but it takes a conscious decision to actually do it. Even 150 posts later, I’m unable to sit down and honor my craft without a fight.

The Resistance casually rears its ugly head: Well, you’ve managed to get by another day. This article is all you had left, good luck tomorrow.

Once again, the assault begins.

You’re not alone in the fight

Anne Lamott writes about a similar problem in her book, Bird by Bird:

I know some very great writers, writers who people love, write beautifully, and make a great deal of money. But, not one of them routinely sits down feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident.

There is enough great material in the world now about the internal struggle of writers, and tactics for fighting through the pain (Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones is another great book).

This is certainly the first broadside shot to your creativity that you must face, because it’s done in secret, the wee hours of the morning or the velvety darkness of midnight.

But if we cannot triumph over ourselves, we cannot make it to the next level. Which brings more creativity — and more pain.

Sounds like fun, right?

Going public with your art

Eventually, it’s time to go public.

When I say this, I’m not talking about your first post (although, that’s a big step). I’m talking about the first essay you write that is going to strike a nerve with the people you love. The kind of writing that shines a light on pain, passivity, and fear.

You will get sideways glances at the dinner table, passive-agressive statements about your superiority and knowledge. You may have to remind others you are no better than anyone else, but there is value in creating, in naming struggles.

If you survive, then you’ll do what most of us are afraid to do: keep creating.

For sale

This is the final step, and if you’ve gotten this far, take heart! This is where every artist wants to end up: to be at a place where you’re creating stuff people value so much, they’re willing to pay for it.

I did this recently and have received some good feedback. But I’ve also received some surprising feedback, as well, most notably from people I know. The words are well-intentioned, cautionary, and dangerous to my art:

I think it’s great you made this book, but are you sure you’re qualified to be giving people this advice?

It’s pretty bold to ask people these questions… why do you have to cause a fuss?

It’s a nice product, but I don’t think people will pay money for it.

Before you crumble in worry and self doubt, know I did receive good feedback and constructive criticism, which is helping the process. But, it’s painful to hear these words, and difficult to digest.

The Resistance gleefully picks these words up from the scattered remains of your psyche, and carefully places them in his ammo belt for future attacks.

My advice? Get used to it.

Good news

Do you love creating? I mean, really love it? You need to; otherwise, it’s not worth the trouble. Because the pain makes it hard to survive.

If you do love this, these attacks become easier to deal with. You’ll know what’s possible on the other side, and can confidently say, “I’m doing what I was made to do.”

And start fresh.

What’s been your experience with pain and creativity? Share in the comments.