Let me tell you about my (literally) deepest fear.
See, I’m absolutely terrified of the deep ocean. Usually, the word “irrational” would appear somewhere in that last sentence, but I’m not being irrational, you’re being irrational mom!
Sorry, that got away from me a bit. So by “deep” ocean, I don’t mean the pretty, sparkly blue part that makes up the first couple thousand feet or so. That’s where dolphins romp and play and, I assume, press their blowholes together to make hilarious water farts when no one is watching. Ariel lives there when she’s not rearranging her entire life and everything that makes her special so that a boy will like her!
No, when I say “deep” ocean, I mean the black part at the bottom. The part closest to hell, where there’s no light and the pressure alone could crush your skull like an empty Capri Sun. The part where this lives:
This happy fellow is called a black swallower, and I’m very afraid of it because it’s called a black swallower. H.P. Lovecraft monsters think about this thing when they’re walking to their car late at night in a bad neighborhood of the Far Realm.
“Well, fine, but that’s gotta be a special case right?” I can hear you asking. “Not everything down there looks like a sketch H.R. Giger threw away because it was wigging him out.” Well to that, reader, I say SURPRISEVIPERFISH
Nature forgot to tell this thing that you’re only allowed 2 fangs per mouth. Not every tooth can be a fang, viper fish. Oh, also, they’re so huge that it literally can’t close its jaws, and its eyeball looks like a window into a purgatory full of unfulfilled souls. So there’s that.
Need more convincing? Goblin sharks are real creatures that live on the same planet as us and can smell your nightmares from thousands of miles away.
Ocean. *Snaps fingers* OCEAN. Enough.
So why am telling you about this realm of horrors that scares the shit out of me? A place that makes up MOST OF THE EARTH, I might add?
It’s because I want to talk to you about fear this week. It’s because, as creative professionals, we deal with fear constantly, and on a daily basis. Fear that we can’t do it. Fear that we aren’t good enough. That we won’t get the gig, that people will hate our work, that everyone will figure out we’re frauds, etc.
It can be crippling at it’s worst, and anyone who tells you they never deal with it is a liar.
But don’t worry; I’m going to tell you two simple ways you can deal with fear in your creative life! While I’ll be speaking from the viewpoint of a composer for games, this applies to any creative field, whether you’re in game dev or not.
1) Make a Plan
Feeling fear is one thing, but part of the reason we stay afraid is that we don’t prepare for what we’d do if that fear came to pass. Not only does planning ahead help you face your professional fears head on, but the very act of making a plan at all makes you less afraid in the first place! Neat, huh?
I’d encourage all of you to make a list of your professional fears sometime in the next week. Literally write it on paper, like an old person. Try to focus your fears into tangible events, rather than vague notions of “everything will be awful forever.” Again, this makes them less scary and helps you obliterate the shit out of them.
Then, write down one or two things you’ll do to if this fear comes to pass. I’ll give you a few examples of my own fears/contingency plans:
Fear: People will hate my next track.
Plan: Remind myself that literally every great artist who ever lived (John Williams, Walt Disney, The Rock) has made or helped create absolute garbage to get where they are (Superman Returns, Racism, Pain & Gain). See what I can learn from the track no-one liked and apply it to my next one.
Fear: I won’t get the gig I want.
Plan: Spend the night drinking and playing Metal Gear Solid V, wallowing in self pity. Then, the next day, get back up on it and start reaching out to developers I’m interested in working with, because there are a near infinite number of cool games being made right now, and they all need music.
Fear: James Cameron will try to coax me into his submarine and drag me to the bottom of the sea on one of his I’m-A-Crazy-Bajillionaire expeditions.
Plan: I will plant my feet firmly, make eye contact, and say “No, acclaimed writer-direction James Cameron. No. You get back to Hollywood and come up with more stupid names for fake minerals to appear in Avatar 2 where you belong.
See? Many or even most of the fears you write down will never even be a reality, but if they do come up, having a plan in place reminds you that you can’t control your fear, but you can control how you handle it.
2) Remember You’ve Already Won
This one’s even more important. I got the chance to chat with Auston Wintory (Journey, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate) a bit at Indiecade a few years back. When I was asking for advice on how composers like me can forward their careers, he said this cool thing (paraphrasing):
“Just by getting out of the house and being here, you’ve already done it. Even if you don’t make any new contacts or get any new gigs, you’re better off than if you just stayed at home.”
As a creative person, think about what your professional fear’s ultimate goal is. It’s to make you stop. Make you quit. Step away from your piano, put down your brush, close the novel you’re writing and never open it again.
If you’re creating the thing you love right now, or on the path to being able to so (school, internship, whatever), then you’ve already won. Whether or not you’re acclaimed yet, whether or not you can support yourself with your creative work (if that’s your goal), as long as you keep making the thing you want to make, it doesn’t matter if every fear on your list comes true. The absolute worst-case scenario for every single thing you’re afraid of is that you give up and never come back. Just by posting that blog, or starting that YouTube channel, or drawing a few more panels of that comic book, you’ve stopped your fears from doing the one thing they want to do more than anything: shut you down. And it only gets easier; the more you create, the better and more confident you get, and the more your fears shrink and fade.
Being creatively afraid is totally normal and ok. But our fear of failure is a lot less scary when you realize it has absolutely no power to make you stop doing what you do.
P.S. Bonus deep sea abomination! Blobfish!
WHAT KIND OF GOD WOULD ALLOW THIS.