Doubt

The Vulnerable Artist – Or How I Overcame the Fear

I mentioned an EP in my last post…. I’m working on an EP. It’s going to consist of 6 cover songs reimagined by myself and my producer Willie Green, called The Homage EP, and it’s the first solo project I have ever released – I’m crazy excited. But also terrified. As I have mentioned, I ran into vocal troubles recently. That occurred right at the point in the recording process where the songs had been rewritten, instruments had been recorded, vocal parts had been arranged, and it was time to hit record on my voice. This was when I had to put everything on hold! I had no idea when I would be able to get back at it, I felt betrayed by my own body, insecure in my own abilities, and scared for the future of my career if I was going to go losing my voice at key turning points. But after months of recovery and strict diet and focus on being well (detailed in the last post), I went back into the studio last week. I’m SO AMAZED and EXCITED by the progress but my whole journey has now been tinged with self-doubt.

I constantly worry myself about my voice and this project. For a while there I consistently told myself terrible things. “Who do you think you are doing covers?...” “Just write your own songs or no one will care…” “Why highlight the vocal capabilities of someone who’s struggling with their voice?....” Why are you wasting so much time, money, and energy?....” “Don’t get too excited or you’ll just be let down by how it turns out….” And my favorite after listening to each track as it progressed- “That sounds terrible, everyone will hate it.” That last one is so not true, you guys will love this project, but that’s honestly what I’ve told myself. I’m my own worst enemy sometimes.

I don’t think it’s a surprise to find an artist with self-doubt or anxiety about their work – and it’s these thoughts and feelings that have driven me to share this journey because I do not believe I am alone here. Artists are unique in that they are constantly going within, exploring the very depths of themselves and their world, feeling all the feelings, and working to express those feelings to the world. It’s an incredibly vulnerable feeling – exposing our truths like that, and it can be terrifying and exhausting.

I obviously could not allow myself to go on thinking like that or my voice would have never healed, my work would never have been completed, and I would probably have eventually given up on this singing dream and settled for something less difficult. These feelings of self-doubt kill creative flow. They stop the process of creation in its tracks. But instead of allowing for all of that, I’ve developed some coping mechanism that I use to deal with the artist doubt. I want to share them in case you ever find yourself doubting anything about yourself – artistic creativity or otherwise.

First things first,

  • Stop allowing yourself to talk to yourself that way! You would never let anyone else talk to you that way so why should you get away with it? Talk to yourself as you would expect someone who loves you to talk to you. Imagine your closest family member, mentor, best friend, or partner engaging with you about this particular doubt – I’m pretty sure if you love them and they love you, they’d be pretty nice and soothing about the topic – imagine their words.
  • Similar to the above suggestion, replace negative mantras with positive ones. It seems easy but it’s actually quite difficult! It’s so easy for us to constantly tell ourselves negative things that it sometimes feels silly to tell yourself something positive. When’s the last time you looked in the mirror and thought “Beautiful! “I’m looking great today!” “Cuuuuuute!” or something else positive? Try it! It feels kitschy, but it works. Same goes for our art – even if you don’t yet necessarily believe it, what if you thought “This is some amazing work,” “This rivals (insert favorite artist of the genre’s) early work,” “This will inspire millions!” instead of the usual doubt. Next time the negative comes in, try to replace it with the positive and see what happens to your artistic flow and process.
  • Allow the thoughts to exist, don’t judge them, but don’t let them linger, either. One thing that we constantly do is pile on negative feelings on top of negative feelings. When we feel doubt, sometimes our next thought is “Stupid! Stop feeling doubt! You're being weak!” or something ridiculous like that. This blame game is an additional waste of energy and time – energy and time that could be spent creating. So when the thoughts bubble up, as is normal and will happen, let them. Even though you’ll eventually work to replace them with positive thoughts, that doesn’t mean you have to beat yourself up for having them in the first place. Let the thoughts stand; acknowledge them without judgment; then work to send them on their way. But trying to force them out, pretend they don’t exist, or beat yourself up are not going to work.
  •  Do. Yoga. Or running or biking or dancing or swimming or weight lifting or karate or ANYTHING physical. It’s important. Not just to your health and wellness but also to your connection to your breath (the epitome of flow), your mind-body connection, and to get you out of your head. It will also help you develop a disciplined practice in something that will naturally help you connect in a more disciplined way to your creative process. Have a regular practice in anything physical that you love doing and watch the ideas flow right from your heart into your work.
  • Acknowledge the fear but don’t let it hold you back – Sometimes we have the fear and it stays present in our minds despite the work we do to release it. If this is happening (honestly, I listen to my voice every day and have something critical to say that I’m scared my listeners will catch) it’s fine. Thoughts are thoughts, feelings are feelings, they exist and sometimes can’t be controled, but draw the line at them being thoughts. Do not let fear drive you to actions. Do no let fear keep you from releasing your art into the world, do no let fear make you tell everyone who looks at or experiences your art that it’s “not very good,” do not act from fear. It’s easier said than done but try to act from truth and instincts, rather than fear.
  • Share your work with loved ones who care for you, first- they’ll tell you the truth and ease your mind about your own brilliance. It’s hard to share your art with the world so start small. Show it first to someone very close to you who’s opinion you value, and who’s love for you will keep them honest and open. What will probably happen, instead of whatever disastrous outcome you’ve invented that might occur, is a little bit of number one up there – a calm, soothing, open discussion of your fears that are relieved by the support of those you love. It’s good practice for sharing with the world and you might end up with some useful feedback instead of just judgment.
  • Manifest – We often forget the power of our thoughts. If we’re constantly thinking “this is terrible, everyone will hate it, etc,” guess what order you’re placing with the universe? Instead, allow your daydreams around the subject to be epically wonderful – instead of seeing the worst possible outcome, imagine the best ever. This doesn’t mean set yourself up for disappointment but allow yourself to enjoy the daydream of winning the Oscar, getting the Pulitzer, winning a Mac Arthur grant, finding fame, or whatever else amazing things can come of you making this work. It’s from these powerful thoughts that the greatest creations are set free.
  • And finally – Know you are not alone. When we experience overwhelming feelings like doubt, fear, anxiety, depression, or other emotions that block the flow, we sometimes feel ashamed and alone. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. I’m sharing this with you to prove that. You’ve got me. I also bet that there are artists and colleagues all around you that doubt themselves at some point. Hopefully this blog can help you to understand that these sorts of hiccups are all part of the artistic process. Dive into your process, feel and live your process, share your process and the flow will come right along with it.

 

These simple practices have become my life. As someone who wants to spend my life creating, open, and vulnerable while also staying well and not reverting to the usual artist comfort tactics of drinking, smoking, or not sleeping with worry, they work for me. Next time you feel mired in doubt or fear, or creatively blocked, try one! Adopt one of the above practices into your life and see how it goes! My next post I’ll offer up some resources full of ideas and practices like these that have truly opened me up, got me flowing, and helped me to create this project that I can’t wait to share in early 2015!