June 7, 2020

How to Keep Creating When Nobody’s Watching

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creator looking up at a steep hill

He loved the warm glow of sunshine, but often felt gloomy.

There was one thing that kept him going through the dark periods of his life, and that was his love of art. Paintings and drawings in particular.

Vincent van Gogh spent hours on his craft, creating piece, after piece. In ten years he'd painted just under 900 paintings.

Van Gogh only ever sold one of his masterpieces when he was alive, and for a measly sum at that. To him, it didn't matter whether anyone bought his work. What mattered was that he got to do the work he loved.

It was only when he died in 1890 that he became the famous artist we know now. Try buying an original Van Gogh today and expect to drop at least $100 mil.

One of the hardest things about doing creative work is surviving the tumbleweed phase. You know, that phase when no one is paying attention. When no one's sharing your work online or giving you likes or comments. When no one's buying your stuff, or signing up for your newsletter. It's demoralising. 

A couple of months ago, I replied to a thread in one of my community groups. It was about the challenges new creators face when building an audience. 

Here's what I wrote:

In the beginning no one cares who you are, or what you have to say, or what you're attempting to build. Everyone who has ever built a large audience went through the tumbleweed phase, at some point.

The business [and people] we think of as overnight successes weren’t. We just didn’t notice them until they were well baked Seth Godin 

The best way to keep going until you become 'well baked' is to get comfortable with being unknown. There's a lot of noise out there. People's time and attention are valuable commodities. Learn to have patience.

Obscurity is your friend.

Whether we realise it or not the land of obscurity isn't such a bad place. Obscurity gives us the freedom to find our unique voice and figure out our style. Being an unknown entity in the early days grants you the space to:

  1. get good at your craft... really good.
  2. develop a level of consistency that has you showing up everyday.
  3. make your most embarrassing mistakes in relative anonymity before sharing your work to the whole world.
  4. create something because you genuinely want to create it (bonus if what you're creating solves a problem for the masses).

Does that mean ignoring the task of building an audience when you're just starting out? Nah. It means not worrying about things happening slower than you anticipated.

Take pleasure in the process. Don't sweat the outcome. 

If you're not enjoying the climb up that hill with all it's twists and turns, that's a sign something's off. It's time to have an honest conversation with yourself - is what you're working on what you want?

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