Creative people have fertile imaginations, and often imagine what other people will think, say, and feel. This empathy is helpful as we imagine the characters in our fictional world, or the as we draw each little hair on a characters head. It’s not helpful when we end up fighting our imaginary friends.
Creative people imagine the reaction of other people to our drawings, fiction, photographs, films and paintings. We imagine their reactions, positive or negative, and what feelings the art we make will evoke. This is fine until it stops us from actually creating. *
Over the years I’ve met many artists who imagine the negative reactions of their peers and editors so vividly that it stops them from creating anything at all. These can be entire scenes, where they imagine specific dialogue from other people that rejects their work. Often extrapolated from offhand comments, creators imagine vivid rejection-scenarios where their hard work is dissected and rejected by people they respect.
When I was first putting together Shelter in Place, someone I respected made a comment about zombies being “over”. I couldn’t help but imagine what he would say when my zombie book came out! Would he disparage me in public? Would other people make fun of me? Would they say I should have known better? Then I remembered that regardless of if people still liked zombies or not, I was still going to write my book.
As I was writing Shelter in Place, the Walking Dead came out and dozens of zombie movies and games. Then Shelter in Place was released and won an ENnie. If I had let a casual comment from someone else bloom in my head to a conversation about how I was doing everything wrong, then I never would have released the book that won an award.
When you imagine fights with other people, you aren’t predicting the future, you are fighting imaginary friends. Stuffing words into other people’s mouths is seldom accurate, and never useful. You don’t actually know what the real-life blood and bone people are going to say until they say it. The truth is, they might not say anything at all! Or they may like what you do. Or they may not, but you won’t know until you actually do it.
I understand the temptation, it’s to keep us from the pain of rejection. We think if we can accurately predict everyone’s reactions we can avoid pain. But the truth is, when we imagine comments people might make, we aren’t having actual conversations with real people, we are having fights with imaginary friends.
To make decisions about your dreams based on what people might say is to argue with ghosts. It is to be haunted. Let’s not allow our dreams to be haunted by imagined specters of doom. Let us engage with actual people, let us have the fulfillment of being ignored, celebrated, and yes, rejected by them.
Stop fighting your imaginary friends, they cannot save you from harm. Such conversations do not help you, they only steal your dreams.
*There are some good reasons to think about our art and the reactions of others to it’s content. Is this racist? Is a good question to ask yourself. Will Brian think this is cool enough to feature on his blog? Not such a good question. Brian is going to say that I’m repeating old tropes so it’s not worth doing at all – is a fight you are having with an imaginary friend.