Creativity And Doubt

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Image from Isabella Price

“The only people who feel good about their writing are liars, egomaniacs or psychopaths. Everyone is scared. Everyone feels like a fraud…No one knows what the hell they are doing until, suddenly, they do.”

— Paisley Rekdal


With different values, the arts are its primary mode of inquiry — a psychology of images that are not reduced to something other. Derived from attending to the sensory and psychic aspects of images, it lets them illuminate consciousness with their inherent meaning.

Hillman follows the ancients in insisting that the heart is the organ that perceives and feels the aesthetic impact of an encounter with an image — first the heart, then the mind. He further states: “psyche is image,” and to propose that we ourselves are images among images. [“An Inquiry into Image,” in Spring 1977]

…if you can literalize a meaning, “interpret” a dream, we are off track, we lost our koan (The dream is the thing, not what it means).”

— James Hillman

Whatever stirs
us to put together the few things we find,
it is we who flower from giving away
the nectar of our being.

- Mark Nepo

The creative process threads its way through stages of doubt, along with flashes of inspiration and certainly. How it all comes together is a mystery, especially if you exceed the limits of what you thought you knew. You have to work out ways of encouraging yourself. How you schedule your time to how patient you are with your creative energies determine the quality of your work. You can’t be too strict or too lenient with yourself or you’ll shut the process down.

You would do well to hold to a regular practice time, a discipline that prepares your mind to create at a certain time every day. Self criticism has to be held in check until you’ve made something worth correcting. You learn to respect your inner voices and impulses and to work with them. They are only half tamed anyway. You have to treat them kindly or they’ll refuse to show up.

I think creativity is our birthright. It’s viewed as the province of those mysterious people called artists, but it’s inherent in being alive. In our segmented and categorized world, we are not encouraged to be eccentric or to maintain a state of mind that can create. After childhood we are expected to put all that aside.

Doubt is an integral part of the creative process but crippling doubt is something else. Our social norms cover over our natural selves to such a degree that we can’t help but doubt ourselves. We’re not quite sure who we really are. That state of mind exacerbates doubt as a creator, leading us to think it’s too grand an ambition. We hesitate to finish our work and show it to the world.

Self doubt and creative doubt get mixed and amplified, discouraging a lot of beginners. You somehow have to keep the childlike feeling of inspiration you had before you knew about rules and standards. It takes a certain amount of nerve to be yourself in a world that wants you to be a pre approved copy of a template.

Finding your natural creativity is like finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Whether it’s cooking, gardening, painting or writing it connects you to something deeper in yourself. It’s close to meditation or prayer. It makes you more true, more yourself, regardless whether the world likes it or not.

Doubt serves a purpose in the creative process. It makes you more receptive, more sensitive to possibilities. Doubting whether you measure up to the world’s standards is something else, though. That kind of doubt muddies the waters of creativity.

You have to be willing to make what you need to make.

I occasionally write fiction and also about creativity, loving, language learning and travel. I’m a longtime painter and reader.

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