Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Creative Stage Fright

This is a quote from my Speak Up: The Public Speaking Primer that will be published this fall:

Performance is a creative activity. When we perform, we are creating something that has never happened before in exactly the same way. Even if we have given the same speech many times, the audience will be different each time. Because each performance is new, there is no way to foresee every detail that could affect it negatively.

During any creative process we are likely to encounter a different type of anxiety that may be a normal, perhaps even a necessary aspect of creativity.

Partway into the process, usually after we’ve made some progress toward our goal, we hit a spot where nothing goes right. We reread what we’ve written and find it horrible, or we have a rehearsal or practice session filled with disasters, and we go into a funk: “What I’ve written is trash.” “I can’t sing.” Why did I ever think I could act/practice law/market this product?” If we have the pressure of a deadline to meet, we add several despairing, panic-filled thoughts: “I’ll quit my job tomorrow,” “I’ll run away,” or worse.

Painful as it is, this type of anxiety-ridden depression is often the turning point in the creative process. I believe that the courage to work through this type of anxiety is the defining characteristic of the successful creator.

Anxiety is a natural part of the creative process because we are creating something new, something that’s never been said or written or interpreted quite this way before.

If we are truly creating something that is new, something that we’ve not previously known, experienced, invented, or understood, we literally won’t know what we’re creating until we’ve created it. We had to start from an old or known perspective; there’s no other possible starting place. The reason you hate what you’ve written or how you interpreted that song is that during your work on the project you lost your old, familiar perspective and are now in new, uncharted territory. You’ve crossed the boundary from old to new, and in doing so you’ve changed and the original goal must now be changed. Anxiety floods in when you recognize at some level of consciousness that what you are doing is completely different from what you had thought you were doing.

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