A Little Bit Afraid

A hundred people gathered for a lunch-and-learn session on developing their creative process. Just a quick look at creativity as a discipline rather than an airy flight of fancifulness.

As part of that process, I encouraged them to fill their creative wells by seeking experiences outside their comfort zone, what I call “rambles.”

One woman raised her hand: “How do you know when you’re doing it right?”

In a flash, her question coalesced for me what drives my creative process.

The answer came so quickly, it surprised me. Only later, I realized its intuitive truth: “When you’re a little bit afraid.”

A little bit afraid. Not burdened by fear that paralyzes you. But also not bored or complacent. If you’re not taking risks, pushing yourself, how can you possibly create something that interests and engages anyone else?

Any exploration of creativity eventually has to deal with fear. When I ask writers why they haven’t started a project they long to do—and when I keep asking why, past their easy first answers about not finding time or not knowing how to start—it usually comes down to one word:


Of what? Of failure. That someone will ridicule it (usually some specific critical voice they carry with them from the past). That it will be a waste of time. That it won’t be any good.

No, it won’t be any good. So what?

I’ve never met a creative person who loved the first efforts—even those with life-long creative practices, those who’ve enjoyed success, been celebrated. It’s never good at first—so what?

In my own creative work, I came to realize that fear wasn’t something to overcome but something to work with, to appreciate. After all, if I’m not doing something that’s important enough to me that it scares me a little, why should a reader care about it? Like the butterflies before I get on a stage to speak, if I’m not a little afraid, I’m not attempting anything worthwhile.

Harness that adrenaline, that spark. Understand its purpose, use it to challenge yourself, to bring out the best you have to offer. You’ll make it better later—but you can’t rewrite a blank page. Start with what scares you a little. The creative process starts there.