You cannot be an artist in a vacuum, only someone who paints, writes, or talks to themselves. Until you show your work to someone, that work is not yet finished. So it’s part of your job as a creative person to find a way to get what you’ve made out into the world for other people to experience. Luckily for those of us alive today, it’s easy to publish your work, whether in print or online.
The hard part for a lot of people (i.e., me) is getting up the courage to stop laboring in private, open the kimono, and show the world what you’ve got hidden in there. Why is it so hard to show your poetry, drawings or stories? Because you’re exposing a vulnerable side of yourself. It’s always easier to destroy than it is to create. You could get hurt. It’s a nasty world out there, full of people who are willing and quite eager to spew hurtful comments in your direction. It sucks, but it’s the truth. But that’s only one drawback, albeit a very large drawback. And despite the fact that there are so many upsides to putting your stuff out there, that one negative often overshadows everything else.
So I find that it helps to remind yourself about what the good parts of publishing are (a large reason why I’m bothering to write this post).
Nothing motivates like a deadline. You learned this in school, at work, at tax time…nothing lights a fire under someone like saying “That thing needs to be done by this date or it’s your ass”. You suddenly have an all-consuming purpose. Something to focus on and work toward.
I believe waiting for inspiration is more a cop-out than it is a noble, artistly way to spend your time. It’s an excuse for not working. Kick yourself in the butt a little, make a deadline, and then get out there and work.
A blog is a great way to implement an artificial deadline. Personally, I try to publish 5 times a week, and I’ve made Sunday night my deadline to have the next week’s posts queued up.
And blogs aren’t just for writers. There are tons of artists’ sketch journals and webcomics out there that you can use to create your own deadlines. Pick a reasonable publication schedule, and then start working toward your deadline.
Suddenly, you have a reason to do your work.
A side benefit of making deadlines for yourself is that you’re suddenly producing more work! A common pitfall of artists is to work too long on a project, constantly revising and reworking something and never finishing. Everyone’s heard the old adage that art is never finished, only abandoned. And it’s true.
When you’re publishing on a deadline, you’ll be forced to abandon work, and you’ll be more prolific because of it. And when you’re producing more work, the better you’ll get at it.
Get good. And then get better
As I said, when you’re doing more work, you’ll be. But in putting your stuff out there, you’ll also have a chance to improve in another way. When you publish your work, you expose it to outside opinion (that’s the exposed nerve that we’re pressing on here), but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
When you’re working on your masterpiece, you’re often too close to it. You lose perspective and may make some bad choices. When you show your work to others, you stand to gain from the objectivity of the audience. You can hear what they’re thinking. And, whether or not you agree with what they say, you are at the very least forced to think about your piece in a new way.
This is a good thing. You may discover you’ve been going at it from the wrong direction, or (as is most common in my personal experience) that you’ve been right all along. Either way, you’ll benefit from the experience.
There’s no guarantee that you’ll ever be discovered and become a superstar if you publish your work. But if you keep your novel in a trunk in the attic, I can guarantee that you’ll never be discovered.
You don’t want to be 93 years old when you find out that you could have had a lucrative career as a novelist.
Become an artist; publish your work
So why even take the risk? Why put your precious manuscript or poems or paintings out into the world for everyone to see if people are out there just waiting to tear it to pieces and your heart along with it?
Because you have to. Love them or hate them, your audience is part of what and who you are. You’re not truly an artist until you put your work in front of them.