On sharing creative work

Afterthoughts: Siddartha by Hermann Hesse

Signature Strengths: A source for satisfaction in your work

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There seems to be an almost universal feeling of anxiety when it comes to sharing your work to a public audience. This could be a video, a piece of writing, a piece of visual art, a post on LinkedIn or something else entirely. In sharing it with the world, it is open to criticism and judgment; our ego’s have no where to hide, or at least that is what we imagine. I want to offer a layer of nuance to this belief, namely why the act of creating and producing something has inherent value.

This is a sentiment echoed by Neil Gaiman in his viral commencement speech encouraging everyone to make good art. If we lose our jobs: make good art. Did you just get a promotion? Make good art. Broke your leg skiing? Make good art. Granted his audience were arts graduates, I believe it applies to everyone. In careers where creativity plays a large role, we have the opportunity to make and share good art.

Austin Kleon, in his book Show Your Work, argues that it is self-limiting to create only for ourselves. We should, therefore, be sharing far and wide at every opportunity. For reasons I will delve into, sharing creative work is always beneficial for you and your audience – it is a no-brainer.

But … but … somebody else has already done it

Shakespeare pretty much invented the tragedy in drama. Does that mean it prevented playwrights who came after him to write their own tragedies? No, of course not. If you see a popular piece of work that overlaps with what you want to create yourself, there are three reasons why you should still go ahead and create what you had in mind. There are inequalities in distribution, and the other is contributing to an idea’s critical mass, and adding nuance to ingrained beliefs.

Inequality in distribution

In many people’s minds, Shakespeare holds the position as history’s pre-eminent playwright. I would argue, this position is untenable when you consider the world is larger than the Anglo-centric bias inherent in popular media. Colonialism has a lot to do with that, but that is besides the point. To the non-english speaking world, Shakespeare is but another playwright. Our (or more appropriately my) perspectives are biased and incomplete. While Shakespeare my have pervaded the cultural zeitgeist where I grew up, there are whole continents that have their own ideas about who is pre-eminent playwright of history is. In France and her colonies, it would be Molière; in the Spanish-speaking world, it would be Lope de Vega.

Just because a work is popular, it does not mean it has a monopoly in the idea it is sharing. If anything, it should empower you to put your own work out there as a point of reference. Your audience will include people unfamiliar with the popular work that made you hesitant to share in the first place. There is an inequality in the distribution of work; it is impossible to guarantee everyone who wants to see it will. This is where it plays to the creator’s advantage.

This happens everyday on the internet. If you read an article, there is an almost 100% probability that the ideas shared are not original. They were probably inspired by consuming other works. Case in point, I read this article describing what a mimetic trap is. It wasn’t until weeks later when I came to write about my experiences of mimetic traps that I realised it wasn’t an original theory. I came to research mimetic traps and stumbled upon René Girard’s work on mimetic theory. In the article, it made no reference to Girard. I’m sure it wasn’t on purpose, perhaps the author hadn’t made the explicit connection to mimetic theory. Regardless, without their writing, I would have never discovered Girard.

A neat way to frame this is to focus on how many people it could be positively affected by your work. If you produce something for entertainment, so long as it entertains at least person, then you have an obligation to continue sharing your work. If you produce content to teach a skill, if it helps even one student improve in that skill, then you should continue to share that work. Your work will likely reach people that were otherwise unaware of its popular contemporaries.

Ideas require a critical mass to sink in

With any piece of work, you share an idea. It could be an explicit idea like the teaching of a skill; it could be an abstract idea like those found in postmodern art. We can think of the ‘work’ product that contains our expressions of ideas as artefacts. An artefact can be a written essay, sculpture, video of spoken-word poetry, comic, or podcast. Crucially, it is durable and shareable. The market for producing such artefacts is larger than we could ever imagine. The reason for this is because an idea is almost never black-and-white, there will always be a new way of expressing or engaging with it. Just because you hear something once, it doesn’t mean you will engage with it.

You have something inside of you that no one else has if you don’t create that, the world will never get it again in any form. Your JOB is not to judge the work – it’s to create the work.

Martha Graham

Growing up, I frequently encountered the adage about eating 5+ fruits and / or vegetables a day to stay healthy. 13 years at school hearing that message didn’t change my eating habits. I saw countless documentaries about climate changed the proposed the idea of changing your diet as a way to fight it. Friends of mine turned vegetarian or plant-based, but my habits still had not changed.

The breakthrough came after discovering the Pick Up Limes YouTube channel. For whatever reason, I resonated with the tone of her channel and the message she was preaching: healthy eating can be delicious, easy, and fit within a minimalist lifestyle. Had I just watched her videos without having been previously exposed to these ideas, I probably wouldn’t have changed my diet. What I am saying is it all adds up. The more you are exposed to an idea, the closer you are to a critical mass. A critical mass is require for any action to then be taken.

Our interpretation of ideas are slightly different … and that is a good thing

A beautiful property of our experiences is that they are uniquely ours. If you put two people under the same conditions, the way they describe their experience will never be exactly the same. It might be 95% the same, but there will always be at least 5% of divergence in how they describe what they went through. This is because our experience is dependent on the set of previous experiences we have had.

Everyone has a unique set of experiences, this has been proven in the multitude of studies looking at twins. So that means, when we share our work (ideas), it will be a variant to others’ expression of the same idea. There is value at the margin where this difference lies. You can describe the novelty in each of our expressions of an idea as originality, inventiveness, or simply cleverness. It has inherent value, because that 5% difference could lead someone in your audience to make a breakthrough in thinking.

A popular example of this is in the genre of romantic comedies in film. More often than not, you know what you are getting with a rom-com before you watch even its trailer. It doesn’t stop the hoards from watching it. Their memory of the film will be of the 5% of it that is different from other rom-coms, the 95% that overlaps will just go in one ear and out the other.

The impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.

Annie Dillard

Sharing is caring

For me, the initial wave of anxiety dissipated after putting up a handful of writing on this site. A few friends that I had shared it with offered their feedback along with kind words of encouragement. The judgement from friends was the source of my anxiety; I realise now that anxiety was unwarranted. I spent four months building myself up to writing a blog and sharing personal writings. Four months that ultimately proved ludicrous in hindsight; I didn’t die, the world kept spinning, my friends didn’t desert me.

Having said that, it is easier said than done. I hope that you may take some solace from my journey. I had thought of myself as someone who lacked the experience, the qualifications to write; my life was ordinary, who would want to hear what I have to say? But that was far from reality. We all have something to valuable to say. We, therefore, can contribute to the social discourse of whatever field your work pertains to.


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