Before I left Vancouver, I took lessons in exotic and lyrical pole dance several times a week for fun and fitness. When I first saw people doing moves like “fallen angel” (in which a dancer hangs upside down from the pole with one leg, no hands), I thought, Uh-uh. No way. I’ll smoosh my skull like a watermelon.
But as I continued to practise, I began to understand that my body was capable of more than I’d thought. After a few months, I was no more afraid of “fallen angel” than I was of walking down the street.
Developing creative confidence is like learning how to pole dance because it requires building endurance, strength, and flexibility, learning the steps, and practising.
And, if you keep at it, you’ll find that, over time, you’ll become more comfortable in your skin.
I say “building endurance” because many of us have to ease into creative work.
At first, the idea of spending even an hour a day on it can be like the thought of running for an hour would be to a lifelong couch potato. We get tired before we even start. We want a snack.
To increase your creative endurance, commit, at first, to devoting small amounts of time to your creative practise.
Extend that time as your enthusiasm grows. If you stay committed, it will.
I say “building strength” because putting your art into the world and dealing with people’s reactions does require a certain amount of emotional strength.
Because here’s the truth of it: no matter how wonderful your work is, someone’s gonna hate it, and, at least at first, chances are a lot of people will ignore it, too.
Luckily, to be successful artists, we don’t have to be born with the fortitude to expose our bloody, beating hearts to poison darts on a daily basis. We can develop it.
Here are some of the best ways I’ve found to cultivate emotional strength:
- Give yourself little pep talks, rest when you’re tired, and be gentle with your partially-completed work.
- Get your vitamins. Seriously. A lack of D or B12 can wreak havoc on your emotions.
- Surround yourself with people who will support and inspire you.
Building up your flexibility
I say “building flexibility” because developing creative confidence requires a sort of mental limbering akin to a dancer’s stretching of her muscles. We have to release misconceptions and open ourselves to new ideas.
Learning the steps and practising them
I say “learning the steps and practising them” because that’s how we gain a sense of mastery, which is a powerful source of confidence. I was afraid of “fallen angel” partly because I initially lacked the endurance and strength to perform it, and partly because I simply didn’t know how to do it. Once I did know, I wasn’t afraid.
I was afraid to write a novel for a lot of reasons, but underlying them was a sense of my own fundamental incompetence. I knew it required skills like character creation, plot structuring, and “world building”, and I knew I didn’t have them.
So I read books on how to write novels. Lots of books. And, to be honest, most of them didn’t help.
What did help was taking a series of online courses, first with Dean Wesley Smith (who got me through the first draft of my work-in-progress), and then with Holly Lisle (who’s helping me turn it into a story I love).
Lisle breaks the entire process of writing fiction into such small, manageable chunks that I’ve been able to grasp them, practise them, and slowly begin to feel, well, competent.
Putting it all together
Following a series of defined steps in the creative process can help you stay focussed on the process itself instead of its outcome. When you’re focussed on the process, you’re present, and when you’re present, you can tap into what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow”: that state of supreme focus and engagement in which the world falls away and time loses its meaning.* When we’re in it, there’s no room in our consciousness for fear.
If there’s something you want to create, and you don’t think you’re capable of it, you’re wrong.
It’ll probably take time, maybe longer than you’d like. It will take commitment. But if you start small and build up your endurance, practise self-care to preserve your strength, open your mind, learn the necessary steps, and practise them daily, you can create anything you want to create.
Photo: “Pole dancing instructor working”, © AntonioDiaz, Adobe Stock.
What’s one action you can take today to increase your creative endurance, strength, or flexibility? What’s one thing you can do to learn the steps for accomplishing your creative goals? Share your answers in the comments.
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