Anxiety In The Arts

It’s so hard for me to create sometimes, and it just comes down to being afraid of my full potential. I know that if I keep writing, if I keep performing, if I keep pursuing anything involved in the arts, expectations will arise. Mostly, these expectations are internal—the rest of the world does not see your stress and anxiety. 

I am someone who has been very heavily involved in the arts since a young age.  I am still quite involved with writing, dance, piano, art, singing. The arts feel like both my escape and home. I always wanted to pursue a career in one of these branches of art, but I never thought I was good enough to make a living. I was always told that these were great hobbies. I’m sure every child of immigrant parents can relate. 

However, what I was really afraid of, and still am, is the mental work and preparation  it takes to pursue the arts as a career. I’m talking about what happens AFTER you’ve made the decision to commit to a career in the arts. There doesn’t seem to be much discussion on it—or maybe I’m just searching the wrong things on Google.  

At first, it’s easy. You’re creating, your content is flowing, you feel motivated. You don’t care what other people say. You write about anything and everything: you affirm your choice and feel confident. Then, people will start to praise you. People randomly say, “Hey! I know you. I’ve seen your picture in the top left corner of some article I read,” and “Hey! You performed at this event right?” You feel accomplished. Recognition feels good. Then, you want to keep having an impact on your audience, so you try to produce the best quality content. You can’t settle, so instead of creating, you find yourself occupied with all the other important demands of life. Procrastination seeps in. Over analyzing seeps in. In a nutshell, the fear of failure starts to overpower creativity. 

When I first decided to pursue writing as a career, I wrote all the time without any expectation or judgment. It’s progressively gotten harder since then, but let’s talk about a specific scenario—a scenario that repeats in different forms pretty much every day for me. 

As anyone who is familiar with my work would know, I had received the opportunity to write a book earlier this year. It’s been a slow, yet rewarding process. I’m not even close to finishing it, and it’s supposed to be published in July. There were times where I would literally write 10,000 words in a week. Two MONTHS would pass, and there were no new pages to be sent to my editor. If my writing conditions were not perfect, I would tell myself that I wouldn’t be able to write anything noteworthy. Other times, I would write a bunch of scenes and then just never look at it again because I was too afraid that I would be unsatisfied with my work. Whenever someone asked me about what I like to write about, I would get quiet or feel judged. In reality, I was judging myself and thinking that a writer can only be someone who writes about crazily detailed fantasy stories. Nonetheless, writing a book is damn mentally stressful. 

Most of the time, people think the challenging part is committing to writing a book, but it’s really what happens during the process. It’s not even the writing that’s difficult; it’s everything that happens before and after! I’ve been so caught up with stressing out about whether this book will be marketable, whether I’m telling too much and not showing enough, whether I’m even the right person to write a fiction book when I’ve never been a super metaphorical writer, if my plot is strong or my facts are viable. I honestly could keep going forever. After spending so much energy and NOT finding any answers to these questions, I end up just calling it a day, close my documents, and open up 123movies (because I’m too broke for Netflix) to binge watch Empire instead. 

It’s incredibly difficult to deal with these anxieties and fears alone. I love my roommates and they always try their best to support me, but it’s still hard to relate to the artistic process if you personally haven’t been through it. It’s an interesting feeling when I look at a blank document and I actually feel intimidated. I have this fear that every time I write that it won’t be satisfying or worthy enough to publish. At first, I thought this was only the case with writing because I had decided to make it my career. But then, even the stress that is released with playing piano, making art and dancing started to affect me in a similar manner. I suddenly started performing more, and I felt those familiar expectations and judgments again. That’s when I realized this will always happen, and the best way to move forward is to remember why I love the arts in the first place. I remind myself of this a lot because most of my fears really do stem from not being able to financially sustain myself as a writer or journalist, but I realize I wouldn’t have even chosen this path if being rich was my primary goal. Now, I just accept this as a fact and natural effect of the decision to choose this path. I reassure myself that it’s worth it, allowing myself to enjoy the moment of creating. So, when I write, I write. When I play piano, I play piano. It’s not when I write, I market myself or when I play piano, I entertain. Those are definitely effects, but that is not the actual act of creating because creating comes from the heart. 

The act of creating is personal. It’s emotional, and that’s why I love it. As I’ve slowly been learning how to cope with stress and anxiety of creating, the main thing that has helped is to allow myself to create. This means to create without the pressure of a certain outcome.

In other words, every time you create, it does not have to be perfect. You will make mistakes. You will fail. A general rule of thumb is that it is important to take meaningful risks in life. However, this doesn’t mean whatever you create is not worthy or you’re wasting time. It’s about being fully present and appreciating your craft; to accept that you won’t always be successful and that’s completely okay, because everything is always worth creating. 

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