The idea for this challenge came to me several months ago when I was struggling to get back into my photography. I wanted to find a way to overcome my creative fears and start again without overwhelming myself.
Even though photography has always been my preferred medium for creative expression, I knew I didn’t need to use my camera to find the way back into my art.
It felt so terrifying even to think that I can make time to take pictures without an end goal or a specific project in mind. Instead of focusing on the “greater purpose” I wanted to simply engage in the activity just because I find it enjoyable.
The more I thought about it, the more resistance I felt, but giving up on the idea just wasn’t an option.
I knew I needed to find a small creative task that is super-easy and doesn’t take much effort to set up. And I thought of a collage.
Because I think in images, assembling a visual equivalent of a journal entry sounded inviting and very much aligned with the way I process the world. Also, I’ve already had everything I needed to make it: scraps of paper, magazine cutouts, glue, a piece of card. And most importantly, I had the desire to make something just for fun.
I broke it down into smaller doable steps, which I describe in detail below. But first, I want to dive a little deeper into the reasons why it can take so long from thinking about a creative activity to doing it.
How do creative fears manifest themselves?
We often tell ourselves some (or all!) of these, when we experience creative fears:
I’m not creative enough
I don’t have enough time
I’m not talented enough
I don’t have my own workspace
I don’t know where to start
It’s too difficult
It’s too complicated
I don’t have the right tools
I don’t know the right techniques
It’s too much hassle
It will not be good enough
It will not look the way I imagined
It’s not going to work
No one will like it
No one will see it
Everyone will see it
People will judge my work
People will analyse and read into my work
Who am I to indulge in such frivolous activities?
Who am I to think that I deserve praise and success?
I will be poor and underappreciated forever
These fears can be completely debilitating and we often go through them in our heads over and over again. As a result, it can take weeks, months or even years before we find that tiny string of hope that will enable us to get out of this vicious loop.
But most importantly, the presence of these thoughts tells us that whatever we are trying to create, is important to us. Steven Pressfield, the author of the bestselling book The War of Art, says that the more resistance you feel, the more certain you can be that there’s a big dream behind it. Therefore, it’s a good sign when you feel it because it means that there is something there worth exploring.
Why is the gentle approach so important?
When the relationship with our art feels extremely fragile, even the tiniest cue and most innocent remark can cause fear to resurface, so we often end up tiptoeing around our creativity.
That’s why starting very slowly, and focusing on the smallest possible step, gives us a greater chance of engaging in our chosen activity, without the overwhelm that often comes with a new project that we haven’t quite prepared for.
How can this challenge help you overcome your creative fears?
The very act of making a collage doesn’t require creating from scratch, as you can start with available elements that someone else created, and therefore you are more likely to avoid the blank canvas paralysis.
When limiting the time, you have less of it to overthink and more to create. And it’s not about rushing yourself, but about minimising the time in which you may encounter negative thoughts, especially when you feel fragile about your creativity.
You can break it down into smaller steps. For instance, rather than trying to find 30 minutes in your busy schedule, you can decide to create the collage over 3 days, as each part will only take 10 minutes. This challenge focuses on finding a way to start, not on creating a masterpiece.
And most importantly, you can decide that the outcome of this challenge will be seen by no one else but you. This will take away the pressure of trying to make it look “perfect”.
What will you need to create the collage?
Scraps of paper or magazine cutouts.
A larger piece of paper, card or a page from a magazine to use as a base.
An adhesive (glue or double-sided tape).
- Start by collecting your materials and select one little item every day for a few days.
- Pick up a free copy or buy a magazine or a newspaper.
- Look through your recycling bin and grab some pieces of paper or packaging.
- Look for any loose papers or notes that you may want to use.
- Pick a larger piece of card or copy paper. Alternatively, choose a page from an old book, a magazine or a newspaper. You will use it as a base for your collage. I’d recommend staying away from notebooks if you’re doing this challenge for the first time, because you may find yourself procrastinating by searching for a “perfect one” for this task. I’ve been there myself many times!
30-minute collage challenge to help you overcome your creative fears:
- Set a timer for 10 minutes and take a slow deep breath.
- Look through all the assembled pieces of paper, card and magazine pages.
- Tear or cut out anything that speaks to you, anything that feels interesting, meaningful, or simply looks pretty and inviting.
- If you catch yourself overthinking this process, take a deep breath again and return your focus to your hands and the motion of cutting and tearing. Let your intuition choose the pieces.
- When the timer is up, put all the selected cutouts on one pile.
TIP: Try not to overthink this part. Just grab whatever is there, anything that you are happy to tear apart and glue together.
- Restart the timer so it gives you another 10 minutes. Take a slow deep breath.
- This time roughly arrange the pieces on the pre-selected piece of paper or card.
- Choose what’s going to go in the centre, what will go around the edges, which pieces will overlap, which ones will sit side by side.
- If 10 minutes feels too long then go to the next step.
- Restart the timer, take a deep breath and start glueing all the pieces together.
- You will most likely rearrange some of the cutouts, but try not to change or discard any of them. Earlier, you decided to use them, so just go with it. They spoke to you then, so trust your instinct. This exercise isn’t about making the collage “perfect”, it’s about making it, whatever the outcome.
- When the timer is up, take another slow deep breath, put the glue away and tidy up.
TIP: Hang the result somewhere you can see it often. It will remind you that you can do it and that you have it in you.
Overcoming creative fears is an ongoing journey. There will be times, when everything will fall into place effortlessly and other times when things will feel like you’re climbing a very steep mountain. But what you need to remember, is that it is possible to tap into your curiosity, move the fears aside and create without limitations.
So today, I invite you to try the challenge and take note of any negative thoughts that you may encounter, especially before you start. See which ones are the easiest to move aside and which ones keep coming back as you go through the steps.
And finally, don’t forget to be kind to yourself as you continue searching for the easiest way of getting back to your art.
If it’s important to you, it’s worth pursuing.