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Welcome to the online presence of KaBooM, a writing group that has sustained the creative lives of a diverse group of women for over a decade. We hope that getting to know us will inspire you, too!Welcome to the online presence of KaBooM, a writing group that has sustained the creative lives of a diverse group of women for over a decade. We hope that getting to know us will inspire you, too!

Welcome to the online presence of KaBooM, a writing group that has sustained the creative lives of a diverse group of women for over a decade. We hope that getting to know us will inspire you, too!

The KaBooM Writers Notebook: Our Blog

The Heebie Jeebies

My three quilts framed and hanging in the hospital hallway.

The following is an email conversation that I had in January with my friends from KaBoom. I was working on three quilts to be hung in a new hospital and about halfway through the project, I was plagued by a severe case of self doubt. The responses I received from Normandi Ellis, Susan Brown, Leatha Kendrick, and Jan Isenhour were thoughtful, encouraging, and warm and allowed me to relax and successfully complete my work.


MA: Help! I’ve got a bad case of the heebie jeebies. That’s what I call the feeling that comes when I’m halfway through a project and suddenly paralysis sets in. I’ve been trying to work all week and it’s not going well. Self-doubt is plaguing me and interfering with my sleep. I’m beginning to wonder if I will be able to complete this quilting project by the deadline. Have I bitten off more than I can chew? Or am I setting myself up to fail with this extreme anxiety?

I’m panicked that I won’t have enough material of the right colors to give cohesion to the project. I’ve spent hours at quilt shops and on line looking at material and yet everything I’ve bought has turned out to be wrong somehow. I’ve put on pieces (I work on a design wall first before sewing pieces together)only to take them down. I put up another color only to take that down too. I had hoped to work out most of my problems with fabric choice on this first quilt and that the other two will be faster. My goal was to finish this first one by the end of December and yet here it hangs, about half done.

Today is my daughter’s birthday and I don’t think my labor to bring her into life was as painful as the process I’m going through now. At least during that labor, I knew that it was going to end one way or another before the day was through. I had wonderful nurses, an adequate doctor, and a terrified husband to deal with, but I knew that at the end of it all, I wouldn’t be pregnant anymore. What can I say, I was only 19! Not being pregnant seemed the height of desirability. Looking back, I can see that giving birth was the beginning of a long journey that is not ended yet.

Maybe if I can tell myself that creating these works of art is only a beginning then it won’t seem so terrifying. This is not a live or die situation. Yes, there is the possibility of failure, but it’s only one possibility of several. Maybe the hospital people will love the quilts. Maybe the company that commissioned them will commission others. Maybe they won’t be in love with my work, but will deem it acceptable and still hang them. Maybe they’ll hate them, but I have a contract and it doesn’t say anything about whether or not they LIKE the work. 🙂 And I’ve already deposited my check for half the commission!

Thank you dear friends for your patience with my whining. I find, as always, that writing down my deepest fears takes some of the bite out of them. I can only hope that the heebie jeebies will come to an end and my time will be more productive. I will try to be grateful for this opportunity and not paralyzed by it.

NE: All is well and you will get through the other side. The hardest part is the doubt, but as you say, you just have to keep going. I think some of the best things I ever did in terms of stories or books were those that I was ready to ditch at one point because they just weren’t want I thought they were supposed to be. You know, of course, that the art itself will teach you what it needs and wants. I have seen you work and I have every confidence that you are listening closely to it! In fact, I can even see you bent over the work with your ear to the fabric practically. We’re all there with you, cheering you on. It’ll be wonderful when it’s finished, and you will have learned something of your own process through it.

SCB: Oh, Mary. Normandi is right, of course. This work will teach you what it needs and what it will take to finish it, and you have all the skills and intuition you need to see it through. You’ve done so much beautiful work, and you’re up to finishing this project.

Maybe you could set aside thoughts of the audience and the people who will see it for a while, and just be with the quilt. Eventually the audience will have a role, but they don’t belong in your studio with you while you’re doing your work. Too many crowds, too much noise. You’re the one who knows what needs to be done, and what your audience needs is for you to do what only you can do.

Interesting question, whether the Magi had their doubts about that journey. They probably did– how could you not? But they had enough faith to keep going. And your friends who know you and know your work have enough faith for you, even if your own has its moments of wavering.

All will be well.

LK: Mary, I am so glad that you wrote out your doubts and allowed us to hear them. Doubt and fear have paralyzed me and continue to — especially lately — but I have not thought to reach out. What I know is that these emotions (as Susan wisely points out) have to do with letting others’ judgment hover over the work itself. When I simply am with the work, it takes the lead — the problem here for you is the deadline also hovering. And your self-imposed schedule. Let go of what you thought would happen and be with what is unfolding. Trust that once the first quilt falls into place, the others will come more quickly. Most deadlines are more flexible than we imagine — even our own.

Of course, we are all talking to ourselves, you know. And you have given us a chance to remind ourselves of what matters — which is the process, as frustrating and terrifying as it is sometimes.

JI: It sounds as if each of us sees herself in the situation you describe, Mary. I had always thought of myself as being a procrastinator–and then of course someone pointed out to me that procrastination is classic behavior for a perfectionist, who allows so many things to interfere with the work she wants to accomplish. A useful piece of advice for me was Anne Lamott’s exhortation to work “bird by bird”: forgetting about the finished, beautiful, and well-received end product and instead making my slow way through tiny steps that lead eventually to the end, allowing myself to feel graced by surprises along the way rather than threatened. Good advice. Wish I could learn to accept it more often.

MA: Thank you all for your wonderful encouragement! I’ve read your responses over and over and feel myself taking heart already. Each of you had a fresh take on my problem and each new view has helped me look at my work in a new light. I will keep plugging along and hope that I will have a better report when we meet again. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I am once again reminded of how important you all are to me.


I did finish the quilts in time, but I know that the words from my friends played a key role. How many times do we sabotage our own efforts with doubt and negativity? By acknowledging my difficulties and reaching out to my committed group of like minded artists, I brought the heebie jeebies out of the dark and in the light of clear thinking, I vanquished them and completed my project. The words, “All will be well!” became my slogan and self fulfilling prophecy.

Do you have people in your life as an artist that you can reach for when the heebie jeebies attack?

One response to “The Heebie Jeebies”

  1. lynn says:

    What a wonderful conversation. About process, doubts, encouragement, the value of doubts, and the affirmations of other artists and writers who have been there. This network of creative women is a great resource. Thank you for sharing honestly.

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