Feel the fear
Writer, illustrator and educator Alice Stevenson is no stranger to fear. She advises how to channel that inner panic and use it for the good
Fearless is not an adjective I would use to describe myself. I have worked as a freelance illustrator and, more recently, as a writer for close to 12 years now and fear remains my constant companion: fear that I’ll stop getting commissions; fear that my work won’t be good enough; fear that a new creative endeavour will fail. The list goes on.
But something that the years have taught me is that being brave is not a case of living without fear but of accepting it as an inevitable part of life, acknowledging its uses (an entirely caution-free life would probably end in disaster) and ultimately, not letting it stop you.
There have been plenty of times in my career when I’ve been terrified of what could go wrong but have carried on regardless. Most of these situations have ended happily. For example, when I was commissioned to write my first book, Ways to Walk in London, I was terrified to the point of paralysis that I wasn’t up to the task, not considering myself a writer. However, I persevered and I’m so glad I did; the book and its sequel are two of the things I’ve done in my life that I’m proudest of.
Nothing is more inspiring than the courage of others and I have no better evidence or constant reiteration of this than in my work as a teacher in adult education. I am continually amazed by the bravery of my students. As friendly and inclusive as the courses are, there is no escaping the fact that starting a beginners’ course in a new creative skill means putting oneself in a vulnerable situation. The older we get, the harder it is to be a beginner and to learn and develop new skills, especially those that can be so deeply personal as drawing and visual art. Nothing is more rewarding than seeing a student, with very little confidence in drawing, persevere and improve over the weeks and finally begin to really enjoy and take pride in their work, overcoming their inner saboteur and exploring their fullest potential.
So when my old friend fear tries to talk me out of a new creative venture, or self-doubt wants to persuade me not to bother getting out of bed to tackle a problematic illustration or chapter, I think of my wonderful students who turn up, week after week, and persist in developing their illustration skills in spite of their doubts and I feel humbled. And then I sit down at my desk, pick up a pen and begin.
Try something new this year by signing up to one of Alice’s illustration short courses at The Cass, London Metropolitan University; londonmet.ac.uk/courses/short
Alice’s book is available from alicestevenson.com