Creativity is vulnerability (or, the urge to delete everything) 

Originally published in The Creative Cafe.

Some nights, as I’m drifting off to sleep, I remember the fragments of my thoughts littered across the internet. And I get an overwhelming, near painful urge to erase it all. 

To get up and delete everything. To do whatever it takes to wipe away all the traces of my inner mind from the world. To give myself a blank canvas where I can start again. I find myself regretting it all, perplexed about why I ever did it in the first place.

When I silence that doubt, I’m able to publish regularly for weeks or months without much self-doubt. It becomes a delightful process of getting thoughts down on paper, editing and releasing

When the doubt gets too intense, I spend weeks or months writing daily without publishing anything. Drafts pile up, notebooks fill up, but nothing gets shipped. 

***

I’ve written online since I was 13 and grown used to the background anxiety it provokes. 

I’ve had too many different blogs to count, deleted literally thousands of posts, erased everything and started again endlessly. 

Why? Who knows. 

It’s hard to say why writing and publishing it is so emotionally taxing. Part of it is the simple sense that so much of yourself is out there, to be found and analysed by anyone.

It doesn’t particularly scare me for strangers to read my work. And my friends have no real interest in it, nor most of my family most of the time. It’s the casual acquaintances, the people I’m just getting to know, that scare me.

Because I have a compulsive need to compartmentalise different parts of my life. To put work, my hobbies (aka blogging), dating, friendship, and everything else in their own boxes. If they intermingle, I need to control that, to modulate who knows what and who gets to see what.

Writing, publically, makes that difficult. It means I all too often have to face someone knowing a lot more about me than I know about them, and the discomfort of not knowing what they’ve read and how they’ve interpreted it. It’s a fear born of knowledge of the inherent malleable ambiguity of all writing. 

***

Just about everything I write is based on notes written to myself.

 I do it all the time. Whenever I learn or observe something new, I write myself a note about it. It’s something I’ve done for the majority of my literate life. It’s a reassuring form of self-care.

That’s why I baulk when anyone refers to it as advice or directives. I dislike the notion that I’d consider myself qualified to tell anyone what to do. I’m not. It’s just me, writing to myself, and maybe 10% of the time publishing it. So I find it hard to reconcile that overwhelming imposter syndrome and always hoped it would go away with time. 

***

But I don’t believe this fear ever disappears, except for those born with supernatural self-assurance and confidence, with the entitlement that lets them believe everything that they spin out of their thoughts is pure gold.

For the rest of us, it remains a draining struggle. It only worsens when we acknowledge that the world doesn’t care if we make anything or not.

We don’t talk enough about the fear. We talk about writer’s block, the anxiety of criticism, the horror of public shaming. We talk about productivity tips, finding inspiration, coffee and quotes.

What we rarely talk about is the deep vulnerability that accompanies acts of creativity. I first wrote about this two years ago, in a post that later turned into my TEDx talk. But it’s something I only appreciate more and more with time. 

Creativity is inherently an act of vulnerability. It forces you to place a piece of yourself in the hands of others. It’s relinquishing control of your own thoughts.

Like many things in life, the only way out is through, which is why I try to write about this and to keep pushing through it. When I show up consistently, it always gets easier. It’s just when something derails me, a few days of illness, a crisis, or paying too much attention to something else, that the fear returns.

So, throughout the rest of this month, I’ll be trying to post on here daily as a simple exercise to get into the rhythm of shipping again. Some days it might be reposts and some days might get missed, but I’ll aim for posts like this one: relatively short, fast, unfiltered. 

patti-cat