The SXSW Interactive conference has a section of the conference dedicated to the concept of mentorships. It works like this: As a mentor, you meet with attendees who sign up for seven-minute meetings. These meetings are free form and the attendees can ask whatever they want of their mentor. My mentorship sessions tend to revolve around three tent-pole areas of my career: writing, being a software developer, and being an independent consultant/business owner. It's an honor and privilege to be a mentor. In my 20+ years as an independent software developer I‘ve been a mentor to many of my colleagues and friends and I take the job seriously.

I've been a mentor at SXSW for a few years now and for the first few years, no-one showed up for their scheduled session. Admittedly, this was a bit of a disappointment. Some of my friends asked why I continued to participate in the program. My answer was simple: If someone shows up, the seven minutes I give him or her could be life-changing. Not to be egotistical, but I firmly believe that seven minutes of good advice, or encouragement, can make all the difference in a person's life.

This year, I might have had that affect. My last appointment of the day was a software developer from Boston, who, with some other software developers, was about to quit the world of W2 employment and “hang a shingle.” This software team is putting together a set of tools for building customized chat bots. It was an interesting concept and looked to be well-architected. I gave him the same advice I've given other colleagues over the years: get a CPA, set up an LLC or corporation with the help of a lawyer, make sure the ownership of the intellectual property is properly documented, etc.

After having a rich conversation about his business and architecture, we chit chatted for a while and I told him something that set him back a bit. I told him that he's way ahead of so many other people. The simple act of showing up for our mentor session set him apart from 75% of the other people who failed to show up. That commitment to making himself better, accompanied by the leap it takes to start a new endeavor said much more about the person than the business idea. It takes guts to set out on your own and it takes smarts to ask for advice about starting out. He had both of these elements, guts and smarts. I hope he succeeds in his endeavors.

This leads me to the subject I want to really talk about: Getting over fear in the creative process. Being creative can be exhilarating and scary at the same time.

I had a great conversation with Melanie Spiller (the person who makes our authors, including me sound so good) about the aspect of fear in creative endeavors. Melanie and I both have interests outside of the software development/technology realm. Melanie's an accomplished singer as well as a great writer, and I have a passion for film, especially the creative process surrounding film's creation. There's another trait that we both share as well: The fear of turning artistic fantasy into reality. In my case, I'm kind of scared witless to create my own film. Numerous cautionary tales and random trepidations creep into my mind: What if I don't like creating my own movie? What if I can't find people to help me? What if I make a movie and it sucks? And Melanie tells me that she's revised her book 11 times (that's right, the whole shebang, rewritten from start to finish 11 times!) over numerous years and with the help/advice of various writing groups and agents, and despite more than one agent saying “yes,” she's expressed similar fears to me and describes her current status as “blocked.”

How do you get over these creative fears? Here are a few ideas.

Ask for Help

This is exactly like the software developer in my mentorship story. Seek out the advice of other people who've done it before. Consider their advice and leverage their knowledge as you pursue your endeavors. It's not a sign of weakness - it's a sign of strength to know what you need and how to get it.

Form a Circle of Trust

In any creative endeavor, you need to have people that you can send your work to who will set you straight when something works and, better yet, when something doesn't work. One of my friends in Austin is a professional screenwriter/author and I'm part of his “Circle of Trust.” He relies on me to give honest advice and I'm always happy to do that. For one of his scripts, my advice was something like this: “These sections sound like bad episodes of Law and Order and you should drop or trim them as they do nothing for the story.” If all he wanted was praise for his lovely prose, I bet I'd be out of the circle quickly. The point is to find people who'll give you honest and constructive criticism. You don't necessarily have to be told how to fix it, but knowing that something doesn't work puts you closer to the right path.

Just Do It

Sometimes you just need to put one foot in front of the other and go for it. Write that script, get that camera and shoot that photo, break out the journal and start that book - just go for it. What do you have to lose?