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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

How To Let Go of What Others Think to Create Better Art: Guest Post by Joel D Canfield

people pleasing 2 writers blockAuthor and musician Joel D Canfield made such an intriguing comment on my last post on how people-pleasing interferes with writing that I invited him to expand that comment into this guest post. Joel is the author of eleven books and the Someday Box blog for those who want to get a book out of the someday box and into the world. You can find more of Joel’s insights at www.somedaybox.com

Once we achieve a minimum level of competence in our craft, the quality of our art depends greatly on our ability to get out of our own way. And that depends largely on our ability to stop worrying about what others think.

Before my current focus on fiction, I wrote nine business books. Writing non-fiction was easy. I took all the stuff I knew about running a small business, put it in logical order, stated it clearly, and printed it. Sharing knowledge wasn’t risky. I knew what I knew, and detractors could be argued into submission with my superior knowledge of the subject matter.

Then one day I realized I wanted to write a song. And I wanted it to mean something.

I was terrified.

My father was an accomplished musician. I’d quite naturally be compared with him, and frankly, I don’t compare.

The song was painful and angry, like my life at that time. What would my friends think? What would my family, the neighbors, whoever you want to name, think?

I was paralyzed.

Immovable object, meet irresistible force. Art will out. That, or it’ll kill you trying.

The song came out. And I learned that creating art raises fears that teaching doesn’t.

people pleasing writers blockIn the years since then, I’ve adopted fear as my compass. After living in fear of what others thought my whole life, I finally chose to run toward what I was afraid of, to attack rather than retreat.

My songwriting showed me that nobody was out to bash my work. Was I an instant hit? You’ll note the distinct lack of my songs on your local country station. But I’m still at it. Now I write a few songs every few months. I have a concert in my living room every month and folks love my songs. I stand three feet from someone I care about and look them in the eye as I sing something straight from my heart.

It’s still not easy. Writing music or fiction, creating art of any kind raises the fear of rejection and judgment. But eleven years of constant effort taught me that I won’t die from being laughed at. In fact, nobody’s even laughing.

Still, I worry. Like alcohol addiction, there’s no cure for this fear that rises from our natural concern for what others think of us and our art.

The only treatment is strict avoidance: when you’re writing, open your heart and close your mind to what anyone might possibly think. You can edit later. Hey, you can toss it in the fire later, if you really can’t bear it.

Don’t let imagined future disappointments prevent you from pouring your heart and soul out, wheat and chaff together.

It’s the only way great art gets made.

Joel D Canfield is the author of nine business books (including Getting Your Book Out of the Someday Box) and two Chandleresque cozies. The newest is called A Long, Hard Look and he didn’t care what anyone thought as he was writing it. http://www.SomedayBox.com

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10 Comments on “How To Let Go of What Others Think to Create Better Art: Guest Post by Joel D Canfield”

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  3. Joel D Canfield May 26, 2014 at 11:46 am #

    Just found this appropriate quote from Bob Dylan:

    It’s not to anybody’s best interest to think about how they will be perceived tomorrow. It hurts you in the long run.

    (from http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2014/05/21/bob-dylan-songwriters-on-songwriting-interview/)


  4. Alisha Rohde May 23, 2014 at 1:13 pm #

    Brilliant, and perfect timing, thank you! Gearing up to resume a rough draft, and this is what I needed to hear today. 🙂


    • rosannebane May 24, 2014 at 2:54 pm #

      Alisha, I’m glad to hear this post helped you today! Best of luck with the resume!


    • Joel D Canfield May 26, 2014 at 11:45 am #

      Hulloo, Alisha! Somehow I missed your comment until now.

      Thank you for the kind words. Tell us about your book. I love hearing about what folks are writing.


      • Alisha Rohde May 27, 2014 at 2:29 pm #

        Hi Joel! I’m writing a novel about two women: a scientist in the 1950s and an academic in the present who rediscovers the scientist.


        • Joel D Canfield November 6, 2014 at 6:04 pm #

          I really wish I’d seen this before 9 months passed.

          That sounds like an interesting twist. Love to hear more about it, Alisha.



  1. Guest Post at ‘Bane of Your Resistance’ | Someday Box - May 22, 2014

    […] I did, and it’s live over at Bane of Your Resistance. […]


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