Top Shelf: Don’t let fear be your excuse


Author of “Eat, Pray, Love”, Elizabeth Gilbert, says fear plays a big role in the creative process. (Pimthida/Flickr Creative Commons)

Author of “Eat, Pray, Love”, Elizabeth Gilbert, says fear plays a big role in the creative process. (Pimthida/Flickr Creative Commons)

When it comes to our individual creative pursuits, we love to rationalize our way through why we aren’t working on them. We’ve all heard the excuses, and we’ve all said them: My class schedule this semester is crazy, I need to study for the GREs, I work too many hours, I’ve been too busy. We love to convince ourselves that we don’t have the time and band-aid that pretty little excuse over our passion projects to make ourselves feel better for neglecting them.

My creative writing class discussed this tendecy for rational excuse-making last week when we listened to an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of “Eat, Pray, Love” among other titles. She not only spoke about what creativity is, but she also discussed how big of a role fear plays in the creative process.

“The real reason we don’t move creatively ahead is always and only fear,” Gilbert said.

She explained that fear is at the heart of our creative excuses, but this is normal. That being said, we can’t ignore it or pretend it isn’t there. Rather, we should invite it along for the ride with the understanding that it might be there, but it doesn’t get to make any of our decisions for us.

“[Fear] doesn’t know the difference between a genuinely dangerous situation and just a little bit of a nerving situation,” Gilbert said. “Creativity will always provoke your fear because it asks you to enter into a realm with an uncertain outcome, and fear hates that. It thinks you’re gonna die.”

We’ve all felt this before. I often don’t write or draw because I’m afraid I’m gonna try my hardest and it’s still going to wind up being awful. The fear of that disappointment can be debilitating. I’m afraid to pour my heart into a chapter only for it to need to be rewritten for the fifth time. I’m afraid I’m going to finish my novel and nothing will ever happen with it. And above all, I’m afraid I’m never going to finish it.

Gilbert would probably hate me because I have a tattoo that says “I won’t be afraid,” which goes against her entire philosophy. But at the same time, my tattoo has always represented to me the point she wants to get across: It’s okay to be afraid. I just can’t let fear make all of my decisions.

Being creative is scary! It’s downright terrifying. You put so much of yourself into something and throw it into the world for people to judge. What if it’s bad? What if they hate it?

Whenever I get thoughts like that, I take a look back at my old work. I have hundreds of shitty poems and thousands of words’ worth of novels that will never see the light of day. They’re cringey, and I would probably shrivel up and die if some of them were published. But my god, they’re hilarious to read. And each step of the way, I can see how much I’ve grown. I can see how much I’ve learned about punctuation, how much more natural my dialogue feels, the little bits of myself I put into the work and every piece of inspiration I got back. And you know what? I wish I had more of it. I wish I hadn’t thrown away or deleted so much of my past.

Fear might make my creativity feel pointless, but I know it’s not. Even if what I wrote ended up being scrapped in my final piece, so what? I had to write that in order to figure out what I truly wanted to say. It was practice. No piece of art is pointless; we always gain something either from the creative process or from the viewing process. It’s worth it.

It might be daunting to start. You might look at an empty Word document and think, “Who cares? I can’t do this.” But screw it! Do it anyways. Look your fear dead in the eyes and tell it that you’re going to be fine, because you will. The world wants to see your art. Don’t let your fear stop you.

Courtney Gavitt is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at

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