Question: How do I get over the anxiety of sharing my work with other people?
Editor’s note: This Ask TCI is part of a series on creative anxiety.
FROM : Anonymous (via Ask TCI on our homepage)
Q: How do I get over the anxiety of sharing my work with other people?
A: The short answer is you don’t. Sorry. I know. That’s probably not what you wanted to hear. The long answer follows:
I am not sure what kind of work the work you’re sharing is; I’m going to assume it’s creative in nature, an art of some kind. And, for sure, there’s a kind of artist that bests the anxiety of making good work, or doesn’t submit to the fear of an audience’s reaction. Or was never plagued by either in the first place. But I don’t know many of that kind of artist, and *looks over shoulder, turns back around, leans in and speaks quietly* their work is usually less interesting?
In my work, and that of others, I find the better things are often paired with some fear, or at least a less than total confidence. If you’re afraid people won’t like what you’ve done, that’s often a good sign: it means you care, and it means there are stakes. Creating things isn’t necessarily about pain and sacrifice as people tend to claim, but it is often about risk, intimacy and vulnerability. If you are gung-ho confident about your creative endeavors, it is likely you are not risking anything. For me, at least, this is often a mark of boring work.
As difficult as it can be, it is also important to interrogate your anxieties. Where do they arise from? Often I find myself needing to figure out the source of my fear of publishing. Is it because I am afraid people won’t find what meaning I have put into the thing? Is it because I am afraid it will be too challenging or off putting or boring? Am I afraid the craft is not up to snuff? These are good, and I think normal, fears.
The fears I pause in front of are more like frustrations. Am I frustrated with the pacing of a piece of writing? Or its editing? Am I frustrated by some creative decision? I want to be proud of my work, but scared of it in the way I am scared of things I respect; or really, I want my work to remind me how much I respect my audience, and want to justify their mutual respect of me. Our relationship, built through my work, is an ongoing negotiation.
I don’t want to be frustrated by my work, and scared of it in the way I am scared of things that are dangerous. You have to be wary of a fear that warns you from publishing something that will hurt you, hurt someone else, hurt your audience or hurt that mutual respect (unless you’re in an antagonistic relationship with them, but that’s another answer, to another question, for another day).
The line between fear and frustration is blurry sometimes–and can even be the point of your work. I’ve made the mistake of pulling back on something I should have published. And, more often, published something I should have pulled back on. But in both cases, you learn good lessons. Then comes the work of showing that you learned those lessons in future work.
In no case, though, should you be without fear. Your work is good. You should be proud of it—and also a little intimidated by it.
I definitely don’t think anyone likes writing. No one likes writing. At least, I don’t think any great writer likes writing. It’s the worst. To live in anxiety, it’s the worst. I do a lot of therapy. I have always done therapy a lot, but it really helped me moving out here. I’m just a huge fan of therapy.
If you’ve been given the opportunity to make something, it probably means that you deserve it on some level. If you got yourself there, it’s because someone saw something in you that either showed potential or a skill or ability.
It is also beneficial as a form of practice for writing in general. Paying attention to how people respond to a tweet feels like a kind of workshop that helps me get a better idea of what people are into. Not that I’m necessarily trying to create work to pander to other people, but I think a big part of my process is about overcoming this social anxiety/inability to connect and communicate with other people in a normal way. So when I’m thinking about it like that, I’m considering how people are responding to my words. I’m seeing it as a way of me being able to communicate with people, maybe in a way that isn’t normally possible for me.
A lot of the time, my most talented students feel a lot of anxiety about their first release. I’m always saying to them what was said to me when I was starting out: Nobody is waiting for your first release. Nobody is expecting it to be good.
I’m easily freaked out. I’m super anxious. I’ve always been that way. I’m a very fearful and anxiety-ridden person. I feel like part of my life project has been walking up to things that freak me the fuck out and just doing them because otherwise I’d be mad at myself. That’s really important to me.
I feel like any good thing that’s ever happened to me in my life has been a result of making and sharing a zine and just letting it travel where it goes.
My primary means of self-expression and creating always involved things that were really personal and involved really low numbers—like making zines or writing graffiti. This makes sharing my music feel very complicated. I spent a lot of time making this thing—I kind of love it, kind of hate it sometimes, love some parts of it more than others sometimes—and now I’m supposed to share it with thousands of people and always appear like I feel great about it and that I think it’s the best thing on earth, when sometimes I do feel that way and sometimes I don’t.
The biggest challenge for me with sharing my work with other people initially, was a lot of the messages in it were lost on the audiences I was showing it to.
It’s funny that sharing things has become kind of a weird and essential part of both my creative practice and my relationship building, through this “I send you this thing, you send me that thing.”
Maybe you’re able to get your ideas on paper or canvas or on an album or whatever in a much clearer way after you feel like you’ve kind of mastered something, but there’s also something truly magical about starting something new, about not knowing what the fuck you’re doing. I’m always kind of chasing that. I’ll be honest with you, I still hear that goddamn critic go, “You don’t know what you’re doing!” I hear it and I’m like, “Where did you come from?” It’s just fear.
The thing that works best is having an ambitious deadline, because then there’s fear in my heart and I’m like, “Okay, I really have to do this.” There’s a kind of stress or anxiety that motivates.
Often we’re the ones limiting ourselves through fear of failure or fear that we’re not going to fit other people’s expectations. But that’s in our heads.
Mike Rugnetta is a Brooklyn based composer, programmer and host. He’s the creator of Reasonably Sound, a podcast about the science, theory and culture of all things audio. He is a host for Crash Course, an educational YouTube series based on various AP curricula. He was the co-creator, writer and host of the award winning YouTube series Idea Channel, produced by PBS Digital Studios. He is also currently one of Kickstarter’s Spring/Summer 2018 Creators-in-residence.
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