As a creativity instigator, my first objective is simply to get people creating, but there’s another key element to living a creative life, which I believe is equally important: sharing your work.
If we feel resistance to creating in the first place, for most of us the resistance to sharing what we create is about a zillion times stronger.
After all, it’s scary to share! No matter how skilled we are, the final product never matches up to the vision we had for it at the start, and the very thought of subjecting our efforts to the criticism of others makes our tender egos just want to crumble.
So we hide. We stay safely in the shadows — “just until we’re good enough,” we tell ourselves.
The problem is, your gremlins will do everything they can to convince you that you’re never good enough. So the temporary hiding turns into permanent hiding.
“But I’m not ready yet,” you protest.
I submit that the time to share your work is before you feel ready. The truth is, the scary never goes away, so if you wait until you’re no longer afraid, you’ll never share at all.
Now, I want to be quick to note that there are times when incubation is necessary and healthy. There are periods, especially during our tentative first steps, when external input is not useful, when we need to keep our focus inward. There is nothing wrong with this.
The problem is that so many creators stay there perpetually.
What started as incubation turns into hiding and avoiding, and where incubation nourishes, hiding and avoiding stifles.
Staying hidden in the shadows feels safe, but if you think you won’t get hurt by hiding there, you’re kidding yourself.
We do get hurt in the shadows; it’s just a different kind of hurt. It’s the long, drawn-out hurt of never achieving our biggest dreams for ourselves. The persistent ache of keeping ourselves tied in a little knot, instead of allowing ourselves to fly free.
So how do you tell the difference between hiding and incubating? For me, it’s at the gut level. I can feel it in my body when I’m using “I’m not ready” as an excuse to hide, rather than incubate — tension in my belly; a sense of defensiveness and even mild guilt; a flush on my face.
Part of me always knows I’m using the “I’m just incubating because I’m not ready yet” line as an excuse. Sometimes it takes the rest of me a long time to catch up, but if I’m honest with myself, I know when I’m hiding instead of incubating.
It’s still scary to step out into the light, but there are lots of good reasons to push past your fear and do it anyway — before you feel ready! Here are six of them.
1. Sharing can help you create better work
We might fear critical feedback, but the truth is, we need feedback in order to do our best, richest, most deeply meaningful work.
The wrong kind of feedback from the wrong sources can be devastating, but the right kind of feedback from the right sources — supportive, constructive feedback, focused on how to make our work better — will help us learn what we need to do just that.
2. Sharing can help you figure out what’s sellable
If you want to sell your work, the only way to figure out what your audience likes is by sharing it!
When you see what your audience likes, and will happily pay for, it can seriously help your bottom line. Rather than casting about in the dark, you can steer your focus towards the kinds of work that will bring in revenue.
WARNING! This does not mean that your job as a creator is just to please other people!!!
Your job as a business person is to figure out what people will buy, but your job as a creator is purely to nourish your creative spirit. In an ideal world, there will be some overlap — ideally a lot of overlap — between what feeds you and what your audience will buy, but sometimes it doesn’t work that way.
Maybe what feeds you simply isn’t marketable. Or maybe you start out with a lovely overlap, but then something changes. You get bored and want to move in a new direction, for example, but your audience only wants more of the same, and is even angry with you for changing on them.
This is where it gets really tricky for creative entrepreneurs!
What I’ve learned, from painful experience, is that focusing solely on pleasing your clients and customers will burn you out, and badly.
Even if you choose to seek out income opportunities from your creative efforts, it is critical that you also put energy into sussing out the separate hungers of your creative spirit, and feeding them well. Trust me on this one.
3. Sharing can help you to see value in your work
Martha Graham said, “No artist is ever pleased.” No matter how skilled you get, there is always a gap between your ideal vision of what you want to create, and what your physical self is actually capable of. As a result, we tend to notice only what is lacking in our work.
As it says in my Imperfectionist Manifesto (hat tip to Peter Thornton): Other people see your work for what it is. You see your work for what it isn’t. (Click to tweet!)
When I share my work with others, opening myself up to their feedback can allow me to see it from their point of view. It’s as if I’m able to take off my own, hyper-critical glasses, and look at what I’ve created through their glasses.
Note that this is different from sharing in order to gain validation.
I still create work to please myself, not in an attempt to impress others. But when I get a positive reaction, it can help me see the value in what I might have previously dismissed as crap or just not good enough.
4. Sharing helps you have more compassion for your work and yourself
I regularly post paintings in progress, and messy, spontaneous music loops. I spent a year filling a 3×5 card every day to a one-word prompt and posting it here, whether I thought it was crap or not. More often than not, when I click publish on a blog post (including this one!), my gremlins whisper that it’s not nearly good enough, but I publish anyway.
You know what’s funny about this? It’s often the work that I like the least that will elicit the most positive responses from others!
Surprisingly often, those are the works that people will email me about to say they touched them powerfully, or the paintings-in-progress they’ll ask if they can buy.
Who am I to think that my opinion of my work is more valid than theirs? And if they like something I made enough to tell me about it, or even want to buy it, it makes it so much easier for me to have compassion for the crappy piece, and for myself for creating it.
5. Sharing offers a deeper sense of purpose
Creating in the privacy of your own home can feed you, and I’m the first person to say that joy in creating is purpose enough.
That said, something is missing from the equation if you’re the only one who ever sees what you create.
Humans are creatures of connection — we need community, it’s hard wired into our brains. Sharing your work helps to locate you in the web of humanity.
You may never know how you touch someone else, but knowing that your work probably is touching someone else adds a deeper layer of meaning to what you do.
6. Sharing is how you will change the world!
Ultimately, creating your work, and sharing it, is how you will touch people. You never know whom you will touch, or how you will touch them, but there’s one thing you do know: only by sharing will you make any impact at all.
That painting you look at with disdain may move someone to tears, make them find hope again.
That piece of writing you want to trash may give them the insight they need to realize they’re not alone, or to take the next step.
That song you’re ashamed of might offer someone else the courage to write their own song.
The truth is, when you create your art, whatever it is, you’re not just a painter, or a writer, or a musician, or a dancer or whatever, you are a Creative World-Changer. Even if you never share your work, you change the world for the better by creating your art, because creating makes you feel alive, and you bring that aliveness with you everywhere you go.
But if you share your work, you touch people with it, and your world-changing is exponentially multiplied.
So go forth, create, and share your work — before you feel ready.
I challenge you to try it sharing your work before you feel ready as an experiment. Start with a small circle first, where you know you’ll be treated gently, then when you start to get used to that, expand the circle. Pretty soon sharing will become the new normal, and you’ll marvel that you ever stayed hidden.
PS — Pssst! Know someone who might benefit from seeing this today? Pass it on!
vivian edelson says
Hi Melissa – I continue to be grateful for your generous work/writings/path.
The above blog posting, “6 reasons to share your work” cleaves closely to the experience I’ve had from setting up website to share my work with people just a month ago.
Having people respond (to be sure, the group to whom I announced my site were all already sympathetic to me and/or my work in general) has made the world of difference in sitting down in my studio to create as well as feeling more confident in pursuing dreams in general.
I pinned the above, as well as your “Keys to Creative Flow” poster to two of my Pinterest boards; last week, iposting, I listed you as one of three artists whose work/websites have kept me grounded as I walk my creative path. The other two were Austin Kleon’s newsletter, and Grace Bonney’s Design*Sponge.
Take care –
Melissa Dinwiddie says
Thanks so much for your comment, Vivian, and kudos on setting up your website! That’s such a huge thing.
Thank you for pinning my work! It makes me so happy to know that my work is making a difference. 🙂 And I am beyond honored to be included in such august company!
Thank you for sharing *your* work and insights with the world! You are definitely changing my world. 😀 I’ve been sharing my artwork since before I think I would’ve considered myself an artist, so at this point my online community feels like a natural habitat for my creative conversations. Many of them have seen me through days as a struggling blogger (um, still such) and struggling songwriter (fun but went nowhere), and now not-exactly-flailing artist. It’s wild, really. I feel like I can be little ol’ me online because soooo many of my people knew me before I returned to paint and canvas. Their understanding and witnessing gives me permission, I think? Maybe because of our preexisting relationship, they are a safe but honest place for me to receive feedback. It’s the newcomers that make me nervous! 😉
Melissa Dinwiddie says
You are so welcome, Mandy! I’m glad my offerings are making a difference. 🙂
My online community feels like a natural habitat for me, too. This is the beauty of sharing!!! Do something enough and it becomes the new normal. And YES, other people understanding and witnessing has SUCH profound power!