First Hand — Animator Katy Wang’s rules for overcoming creative anxiety

Posted 07 August 2018 Written by Katy Wang

Whatever your practice or discipline, we’re all familiar with the fear of facing an empty page. Creative anxiety can affect anyone, and our increasingly social-media obsessed world is enough to make anyone feel insecure. Earlier this year, animator Katy Wang posted about just this on Instagram, writing about her own anxiety while working on her graduation film. We caught up with Katy to find out more about her experiences and the list of ‘rules’ she devised to combat her worries.

We live in a culture that idolises youth and being successful whilst young. The attitude seems to be: the younger you are having achieved something, the more worthwhile it is to be speaking about it. Even at university, it’s made out to be like a race and that you’re already falling behind; whether that’s not landing an internship or feeling guilty about not being productive during your holidays. In reality, life is both short and also very, very long; there’s so much time to figure things out and try different things. 

Life and work should be separate
Since leaving uni, I’ve learnt that my work should be separate from my life. Your confidence can take a big hit when you derive all of your satisfaction and pleasure solely from your work. There are so many great things to be learning about and enjoying that are unrelated to your practice. This has been an especially good thing to learn while working on commercial jobs; it means I can take a step back when I feel myself getting too emotionally invested by reminding myself that I’m offering a service for someone. Separating these sorts of jobs from personal projects has become a major revelation for me. Almost all the commissioned projects I’ve done have also had very tight deadlines which forced me to make decisions faster and trust my gut more.

“We live in a culture that idolises youth and being successful whilst young.”

Comparison is the thief of joy
I always feel pretty anxious in the early stages of every project. But a lot of my insecurity and anxiety actually comes from frequent use of platforms like Instagram. There’s no divide between work and your life when the app that you go on to take a break reminds you of how unproductive you’re being.

Comparison is the thief of joy; almost everyone I follow is an illustrator or animator, which means I’m always looking at other people’s work. I’d start drawing for myself but I’d have all these references of how other people drew that thing; it’s impossible to feel relaxed and enjoy drawing when you feel like you’re just copying what you’ve seen other people do. For a while, I felt like I didn’t even know what I enjoyed drawing and what I got out of my practice anymore. I’ve now stopped looking at other people’s work as much, and am learning to slowly clear out all these images that have built up in my brain in order to make space for my own ideas to grow and play. 

It’s become a bit of a joke how much bad press social media gets, (for example, on Black Mirror) but I think it’s a very modern kind of drug. That sounds dramatic, but if something you’re using every day makes you feel bad about yourself, yet you can’t help but use it, there’s definitely a problem to be taken seriously there. I’d always feel demotivated and flat after scrolling for a long time, comparing myself to others and feeling bad about where I was in my career. Anyone would feel insecure. 

“If something makes you feel bad about yourself, but you can’t help but use it, that’s a problem to be taken seriously.”

Contact – Katy's graduation film

Set some rules for yourself 
The making of my graduation film was a difficult time for me. It was my first time undertaking such a big personal project, and I was super-insecure about my ideas. I was making this film in a class of so many other talented people, which was both amazing and stressful; an underlying competitive feeling pushed everyone to work super-hard – but also led me to become overly concerned about everyone else’s progress with their films, instead of focusing on my own. 

I was in such a bad head space. I constantly questioned every decision, which made the process more nerve-wracking than enjoyable. I undermined my abilities and built up so much stress in my head that the attitude towards the project became very ‘end-of-the-world-y.’

That’s when I wrote these ‘rules’ for myself and taped them to my wall, within sight of my desk. They were reminders to be more confident. When repeated, they helped to reassure me, and take me back to a more rational, level-headed place: 

1. This is my film
2. I am not owned by the environment I am in
3. Nobody can make me feel inferior without my consent
4. Feeling like I can’t do it is not the same as not being able to do it
5. I will make a great and beautiful film

Make work that makes you happy 
Nowadays, creating stuff and choosing not to share it online has actually helped me build a more reliable, stronger sense of self-confidence. Not the kind of fragile confidence that comes from getting external validation. Discovering Adam J Kurtz’s work has really helped, too. I love his mantra ‘Nothing Matters’ which I often think about when I feel myself getting too stressed or frustrated over work. A lot of day-to-day anxieties and frustrations won’t matter five years from now, so don’t worry! We’re all alive and well.

I don’t feel like I have solved or ‘gotten over’ all my confidence issues, but I do feel like a very different person compared to only a year ago. Which is reassuring when you think about how long life is and how long your career can be – there’s no rush to do anything! So if I had to go back and add another rule to the list, it would be: Don’t look at what everybody else is doing!

Nobody is going to look at what you post on Instagram for more than a few seconds before scrolling past. Don’t overthink it, remember that it’s all pretty ephemeral anyway.

It’s pretty crazy how bad your own mind can make you feel when all you’re doing is making a short film. But I think going through that experience was super-valuable, especially if the biggest lesson I got from it was to try and have more perspective and enjoy it more. After all, what’s the point of a personal project if it doesn’t feel nourishing and fulfilling?

Posted 07 August 2018 Written by Katy Wang
Illustration: Katy Wang
Collection: First Hand
Disciplines: Animation
Mentions: Adam J. Kurtz
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