On Sharing & Supporting Creative Works

I was having dinner recently with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while, and she asked how my art was going. I was delighted! I am always delighted when someone asks about my creative pursuits. Not only that, but this was shortly after I’d finished two pornographic pinups – something I’d never drawn before – using new techniques and a style that was pretty new for me, too, so I was super excited to talk about them.

I said, “Great, actually!”

She said, “Have you sold anything?”

“Uh…  No..?” I said, and she laughed.  My shred of excitement vanished.

“Ha! But it’s still going great?”

We moved on to a different topic.  Needless to say, I was bummed.  I know that everyone values work/time differently, and that some people (like my friend) only see value in something if it leads to a financial gain.  And that’s all good, I guess – but damn!  It cut!

And all the while I found myself thinking, Good thing she didn’t ask about my novel!!

(Lengthy) Preamble

As evidenced by the fact that my blog posts have been almost entirely fiction this summer, I’ve been doing a lot of writing – but it was only a few weeks ago that I (finally) started rewriting the first act of Half a Man.  It’s been difficult to motivate myself to (re)start, so I’m stoked to finally start turning things around.  I’m also pretty pleased with the writing I have done this summer.

Had my friend asked about my writing, I’d have said: “Things are good; I’ve been practicing Voice and writing casually in a new genre that’s been really helpful in establishing that. And I’m getting ready to rewrite the whole first act of my novel, which is terrifying, but also really exciting.”

And, honestly, I feel great about that work!  I had a lot of fun writing those stories; I feel like I’ve learned stuff/grown as a writer, and I’m really excited (and, yes, terrified) about rewriting my first act.  But the stories I’ve been writing aren’t inherently “valuable”, nor are they a “product”, and they haven’t ultimately helped me to progress my novel.  Does that mean they’re worthless?

More darkly, does that mean I’m worthless?

I’ve seen a few comments recently about how creatives (and people in general) shouldn’t talk about their goals or unfinished projects; how we shouldn’t post our wordcounts; how we’d do better to “actually write than to sit around talking about writing” – and that can be decent advice.  Many productivity guides warn that sharing a goal can give us a sense of accomplishment – even if we haven’t done anything – which leads to a lack of motivation when it comes to actually doing the thing.

Like I said, decent advice – it would certainly keep people from laughing in your face.  But it ignores the fact that, for many creatives, the only “value” we derive from our work is a moment’s acknowledgement.  Without that Twitter heart, without that Facebook Like, we are relying entirely on our own motivation to finish something that might never be (financially or otherwise) “successful”.

So if you’re trying to decide whether to tweet about your latest 200 words… here are five reasons to share:

1. Inspiration, Passion & Excitement

People like to talk about their passions, their interests and – in general – how they spend their lives.  We talk about our families and friends; about our favourite sports teams and TV shows; about our vacations.  Usually, things get more exciting when everyone has something in common: imagine talking to a fellow fan about the latest Game of Thrones episode, or to a fellow student about the drama that erupted at your shared yoga class.

Now imagine that that “shared topic” is a passion for writing, art, music or another creative pursuit.  Isn’t it just fun to talk about?  Doesn’t it give you ideas?  Doesn’t it get you excited to work and to see your friends’ work?

2. External Motivation

While some people might be great self-motivators, others might prefer some external motivation, and that’s where sharing can really shine.  Whether you’ve promised to send chapters to your alpha reader or announced your intent to complete NaNoWriMo, telling people your goals can give you that extra boost you need to get them done – others are depending on you and your work!

For example, when I make these blog entries, I assume I’ve got like 5,000 avid readers who will be super disappointed if I miss a post.*

Obviously, external pressure doesn’t work for everyone all the time – breaking promises or failing to meet public goals can lead to disappointment – but chatting to friends should always feel safe, and it’s totally possible to cultivate a group of supportive fellows who can both understand your struggles/failures and encourage you to keep going.

*Actually I’m pretty sure there are like five of you.  Thanks for reading! <3 <3

3. Awesome Advice

One of the reasons some people advise not to share your works-in-progress is because you (and your project) might be influenced by the public response.  But being “influenced” isn’t always, or even often, a bad thing – even if the response you get is mostly negative!

I post a lot of art and writing online, and while I’m not exactly an internet celebrity, people do see and respond.  I get questions, comments, advice and ‘votes’, and they’re not always good.  I’ve had unfinished work shot dead at a live slush event; I’ve been told to “write something else;” I’ve been downvoted “to oblivion,” as they say.

But here’s the thing – a relevant thing you’ve probably seen before:

“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”
— Neil Gaiman

If someone tells you your work is terrible, maybe it just isn’t for them, or maybe you’ve got something to think about.  And that’s it – something to think about!  Maybe your work needs improvements or changes, but that’s up to you to decide, and isn’t it kinda cool to get that advice – to have an opportunity to update your work – before you push it out (often to the same audience that might criticize you early on)?

As with previous points, early criticism isn’t for everyone, but I think there’s merit in finding trouble now – before I write and publish a whole novel filled with incorrect there / their / they’re!

Additionally, maybe your work, your methods and your thoughts on a creative subject can serve as advice or direction for others!  It helps me as a writer to see what others are struggling with – to help them brainstorm possible solutions and/or to think about their struggles in the context of my own work.  If someone else is worried they’re writing boring characters, that makes me double-check my characters too!

4. Community

Remember what I said about “cultivating a group of supportive fellows”?  This is how!  If you’re struggling (or successing!) alone, it’s nice to have people to share that with – and others can enjoy your journey, too.

We live in a time where people share everything online – vacations, recipes, selfies, advice, complaints, dog photos – and it’s easier than ever to find people who like to share and consume the same things as you.  It’s also easier to find people working on the same things as you, and we can all help each other!  Being part of relevant communities can help you find friends, support, events, classes and other helpful resources – it’s like having a big family, but everyone in your family likes to do the same thing.

5. Support & Acknowledgement

“Finding your tribe” is brand-speak for finding people who love you – who love your product or that thing you do.  These awesome people can give you all kinds of support, and may even include/evolve into your financially-invested fans.  Just as importantly, they can give you that magical acknowledgement we’re all looking for – and that comes free!

Sometimes it can take a while to find the right ear, but the more you share, the more you’ll find people who are interested in your work.  Be bold; show off the things that make you proud and that are truest to your heart, because the people who fall in love with those things will fall in love with everything else you make, too.

And in addition to that: keep listening and supporting others.  Ultimately, most creatives want a following of fans – not necessarily fellow creatives – but in the meantime, can’t we support one another?  Can’t we be fans for and of each other..?

Postamble & Call to Action

For a while now I’ve been meaning to talk about the concept of creatives supporting creatives.  It’s tough and there are a lot of hurdles: creative folks are often pursuing works of passion (not necessarily works of money), so it can be hard to show (financial) support for the projects and fellow creatives we love.  Sometimes, we look for support/encouragement in the wrong places, and come away disappointed by our (creative) heroes.  And, of course, it can be hard to give time to others when we need that time for our own pursuits.

But in the moments – or decades – before we’ve “made it”, all we have is each other.  All we have to show for our efforts are reams of half-finished drawings, hard drives full of terrible first drafts, dropped cameras, pulled stitches, lost lyrics.  We’re all looking for an adoring public, but it could be years before we have something “of value” to show for efforts.

In the meantime, let’s support, encourage, inspire and adore each other.

Offline, I don’t have a lot of writing friends, but I do have friends who make music, who draw, who take photos.  I have friends who woodwork; I have friends who sculpt and friends who cross-stitch, and they’re all amazing and they don’t get enough acknowledgement for their awesome work.  So lemme just take this opportunity to say that I love all those things you make.

Keep showing me your works-in-progress; keep telling me about your characters; keep sending me your Soundcloud links, your drawings and your photos.  Show me your products, your blogs, your WIPs, your galleries, and let me be your fan – before you’re famous!

your turn scrollYour turn: Seriously, leave a link to your work in the comments, and I’ll check it out.

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