Fear and Judgment: The Deadly Creative Blocks

So for about a year, I’ve had this idea of doing a photo poetry book. It’s a piece that combines both my own writing and photography. I love the idea of telling a story with visuals and words.

Now, months later, I have a rough draft. Some of the pieces I love, some need some work. I want to get it done this year. And yet, I keep avoiding the edits. I keep telling myself this will be the month I send it out to get feedback from friends/creative advisors that will tell me their honest opinion in a kind way.

So what’s the hiccup? What’s my block? I’m afraid. I’m afraid of what people will think. This book will have at least one photo where I’m obviously nude. It’s got darkness in it. The pieces aren’t all funny. Some are sweet. Some are kind, but there’s a longing to the book, a wanting inside of it. For some people I love and care about, that’s not easy to take.

This book opens me up to judgment and criticism. It opens me up to things I don’t want to face.

Defying expectations: The hard part of honest creativity

some stains can't be washed away

As a perfectionist, recovering anyways, I want to please everyone. I want to bask in an audience that loves it all. I want something that is impossible: I want to be perfect. Yet, honest creativity doesn’t provide that. It means showing up as myself.

That self can be dark and sad. It speaks to an emotional truth that won’t always make you feel good.

This natural challenge makes me want to put it away. It makes me want to hide. When people you love respond with “well it’s just so sad” and “are you okay?”, it’s easy to follow through and never show these pieces at all.

It’s hard to acknowledge a more nuanced truth: those you love may just not be your audience.

The limits of honesty

sheets test

A lot of people know the rise of Truman Capote with the true crime novel In Cold Blood. A month ago, I read about his fall: the short story called “La Côte Basque”. This piece is a thinly veiled character assassination of his friends, the high society women of New York.

Why do I bring this up? There are limits to honest creativity. There are limits to what we can be honest about. I feel the right to be honest about my life. I feel the right to be honest about my experiences. However, what is entrusted to me in secret is something that is very different.

For instance, I’m working on an essay about benevolent sexism. Some friends of mine were willing to share their stories. However, I made sure to tell their stories in a way without using any identifiers. Part of this was that their stories revealed a lot about sexism in general, but also to preserve their privacy.

Before pitching the piece to potential publishers, I made sure to let my sources read it first. I wanted them to be comfortable with it. Why? The piece is made from their stories, not mine. I wanted it to be true to their experiences as much as possible. Otherwise, the piece wouldn’t have the strength it needed. It would’ve meant I wasn’t hitting the right place.

Is the line between honest and respectful tenuous and ambiguous? Yes, always. There are relationships and pieces that aren’t as easy. There will be pieces that are true to me, but may not be to those on the other side of the story. I wish it could always be clear cut, but it’s not. It’s something I continually wrangle with.

When is a piece creatively honest?

parking lot test

As an INFJ, creative honesty is a feeling, as far as I understand it. It can be a few things, including:

  • It makes you feel vulnerable/raw: This is generally a sign that you are showing something that’s hard for you. It’s terrifying because it’s real. This is hard, but generally one of the best signs something is honest.
  • It doesn’t fit easily into a category: honesty is messy. Rarely does it follow a usual narrative. If you’re unsure if something is a comedy or tragedy, if it’s a happy or sad piece, then it’s probably honest.
  • It feels pulled from someplace deep inside you: You know these pieces. The song that hits you deep in the gut. The painting that feels almost like a primal self portrait. It feels like something that isn’t glossy or made perfect. It can even be a bit wild.

Creative honesty isn’t always this difficult. But if you’re committed to honest creativity, you will face this. It will show up, whether you like it or not. It will challenge you. It’s hard and I don’t always do it right. But in the end, it pushes me to be a better writer and hopefully give you better work.

May it do the same for you.

Do you struggle with being honest in your creativity? I’d love to hear your experiences in a comment below. 

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