Have you ever walked down a street, seen a certain color in the sky, heard a certain note in a song, or just watched a moment in time pass by so deliberately that you are struck violently by an inspiration so deep it cracks open your day-to-day self and throws down a mountain of ideas, thoughts, and feelings into the crater that is left behind?
You feel ready. Your time to write that piece of literature that could possibly change — if not THE world, then your world — has finally come. To paint that picture that could bring new light to all eyes. To compose that song that will be the battle cry of a new generation.
You feel your hands start to shake as you open up your laptop, your journal, your sketchbook, the cover of your piano. But then —
You just stop. In the place of all that beautiful, lush imagination and motivation…
Real, honest-to-goodness, gut-wrenching horror at the thought of even putting down a single nuance of an idea.
In science, what just happened can be easily explained as a plausible psychological reaction to a metaphorical kinetic energy. Starting up something takes more force than continuing it, which is why some things never start at all.
But in literary terms, it is this:
A swirling cyclone erupts inside your mind and soul. You: the lone figure in the eye of your hurricane. You need only throw your tools — whether they be brushes, pencils or fingers — into the air and all will fix itself.
But the weight of your arms is insurmountable. You choose to glue your hands to the ground and slid your tools back into your belt instead of throw your only possessions into that rich, intoxicating air, freeing them and freeing you.
I cannot stress how heavy the weight, the one that spreads from your arms to deep inside the cavity of your chest, is. How, while you spend your time clutching your tools of creativity, your soul sinks deeper into an abyss of doubt and malnourished imagination.
I feel the weight of my terror every time I choose to not start a piece of writing, but I feel the resolve of my terror grow triple-fold every time I start and stop pieces. I think of how on the rare occasions I’ve given that cyclone a chance, the wind has died out and my tools have come crashing, hard, on my head.
But I’m coming to learn (and what every artist says but no one every truly understands) is that the inspiration really is only the first step.
Everyone thinks of masterpieces…everyone dreams them…but it is those people who bring them to fruition who are the real masters.
There is real, mind-bending hard work behind art. It is not the telltale fantasy, the light and refreshing exercise that the mainstream media sees it as. It is beautiful, it is freeing, but it is also heartbreaking and tiring.
When I write or when you paint or when they dance, we reach inside and do our best to yank out the intangible to make it tangible. When we express, we are hacking against the membrane of our minds to fully free our thoughts and feelings. We who are artists are not relaxing; we are not at ease.
We are fighting a battle against a terror so great it’s the only thing I cannot put into words.
The terror consists of a lot of things you can probably guess: fear of failure, fear of exposing ourselves, fear of not being liked or accepted after aforementioned exposure, et cetera. But the greatest factor in the equation of this terror is the fear that you will not feel what I have meant for you to feel.
That what is inside me will not survive the journey from my brain to yours.
This is understandably horrifying as our sole task as artists; our battle is to bring what is inside of us outside. To translate the intangible emotions and thoughts of humanity into tangible things: sound, language, paint, movement.
But perfection, which is all we want but nothing we condone, is taxing. Perfect expression: what an oxymoron…what a terribly outdated concept.
But it haunts. It lurks.
Most importantly, it keeps us away from our masterpieces. From our Mona Lisas, our Davids, our I Know Why the Caged Bird Singses.
It builds a wall between who we are and who we have the potential to be.
I’ll end this now by making you a promise.
The next time my inspiration strikes, I will grab it with both hands and I will devour it with an inch of my own sanity. I will tear down that wall, brick by stupid brick. I will claim my new piece and win my war against my pessimism.
I will rip and tear and claw at that terror that deems itself greater than my art, and I will conquer it.
I can only hope this piece, which I claim as my first victory, inspires any other artists to do the same.