Kat Johnston - Atelodemiourgiopapyrophobia, a fear of imperfect creative activity on paper.

I know, it is rather a mouthful, isn’t it? A friend and I have looked high and low to find a proper term for a fear of ruining a blank page. We have found fear of blank paper (vacansopapurosophobia), fear of imperfection (atelophobia),  fear of ruin (atephobia) and fear of failure (atychiphobia), but none quite describes it perfectly.

What am I talking about exactly? I’m talking about the fear of ruining a beautiful, pristine, blank piece of paper. The fear that so many of us seem to face as we stare down at that first intimidating page in a brand new journal or sketch-book, sitting there so full of amazing potential of what ‘could be'; that is, until we make that first stroke of a pen, the first sweep of a brush. Not one, single mistake lies between cover and cover yet: its perfect. The things that could potentially rest on those pristine sheets are the things dreams are made of – until we actually write or draw in it and stuff it all up with a misplaced squiggle or a crossed out word.

Its easy to look at an empty sketchbook and imagine all the great things that could go on those pages. Its much harder to actually make the move to do so, and risk creating a garbled, disorganized mess; which in my case at least, is far more likely than having it turn out to be the new next best thing to Da Vinci’s journals.

All those phobias above are just fine, well and good, however they do not capture that specific fear that we artists, writers, and other creative individuals seem to face. They are general and overarching. Am I afraid of all blank paper? No, not at all. It isn’t blank paper by itself that scares me, but the ruining of said paper by creating something unworthy of it – messing it all up. Is it a fear of failure? Well, of course… but it isn’t a fear of failure overall, it is fear of failure at this one specific task of drawing something good on paper that deserves a good drawing.

Thus, I propose that we actually name this fear. No-one (so far as I can see) has made a good one yet, so it might as well be Lins and I who coin the term. Here are a few options, for those who like choices. Credit goes to Lins for coming up with the words from their various etymologies:

Atepapyrophobia – a fear of ruined paper.

  • Word origins: ‘Ate‘ from Greek Ate (goddess of rash destructive deeds). ‘Papyro‘ from Middle English / from Old French papier / from Latin papȳrus, papyrus plant, papyrus paper / from Greek papūros.

Atekanevaphobia – a fear of ruined canvas.

  • Word origins: ‘Ate‘ from Greek Ate (goddess of rash destructive deeds) ‘kaneva‘ from 1260, from Anglo-Fr. canevaz / from O.Fr. canevas / from V.L. *cannapaceus “made of hemp” / from L. cannabis / from Gk. kannabis “hemp,” a Scythian or Thracian word.

Ateloaetorrophobia – the fear of an imperfect creation.

  • Word origins: ‘Atelo‘ from Greek ateles literally ‘without end’, meaning incomplete, inchoate, imperfect. ‘aetroro‘ from the Greek aetorrous literally meaning ‘creating’.

Atelodemiourgiophobia – the fear of imperfect creative activity.

  • Word origins: ‘Atelo‘ from Greek ateles literally ‘without end’, meaning incomplete, inchoate, imperfect. ‘Demiourgio‘ from Greek ‘demiourgia’ literally workmanship, handicraft, meaning creative activity.

Atelodemiourgiopapyrophobia – the fear of imperfect creative activity on paper.

  • Word origins: ‘Atelo‘ from Greek ateles literally ‘without end’, meaning incomplete, inchoate, imperfect. ‘Demiourgio‘ from Greek ‘demiourgia’ literally workmanship, handicraft, meaning creative activity. ‘Papyro‘ from Middle English / from Old French papier / from Latin papȳrus, papyrus plant, papyrus paper / from Greek papūros.

I for one think that ‘atelodemiourgiophobia’ is the better, broader, overarching term for this fear of failing in creative endeavours. After all, I have the same problem standing back and looking at a blank canvas some days, as I do looking at that brand new bound sketchbook waiting to be drawn upon. But I don’t know… Atelodemiourgiopapyrophobia works too. And is far more impressive!

The sketch that accompanies this post? Well, perhaps it is my own little theraputic way of trying to overcome this phobia. Its drawn in a sketchbook. A good one. I’m never going to create the stuff dreams are made of between those covers unless I dare to give it a go now, am I?

Word origin credit goes to www.dictionary.com and the Greek-English Lexicon by Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, hosted online at www.perseus.tufts.edu/.