How do you know when a piece of work is finished? When should you make it public? Do you have to make everything public?

I wrote this blog because we have a tendency to hoard our work. It is hard to release and let people pass their opinions on it. What if they like it? What if they don’t? What if they say – is that it?

Once you release your work it is no longer yours. It is in the eye of the beholder. You can’t control their reaction. You can only control what you put into the piece.

Dispatched is the new black

This means that it is better to get work finished and out in the world than leave it languishing in a state of non-achievable perfection on your computer or in your studio. Best-selling author, Elizabeth Gilbert, says that perfectionism is just fear in high heels.

The people whose work you admire – they keep making it and they keep releasing it. You can do the same.

Yes, it is scary. But remember, this fear is just resistance. It is your inner gremlin, a dastardly servant of your small ego, who wants to protect you from any pain or rejection. In order to do that the gremlin would love to shut down all your creative pursuits, which in the end, is going to cause a lot more pain than any embarrassment over a piece of art.

Entrepreneurs say that you should be embarrassed by your first efforts. They should be rough and ready, and in need of improvement. Again, it is better to ship these fledgling efforts, and then improve on them, than never complete anything and have nothing to show the world.

It doesn’t have to be a perfect masterpiece

Sometimes shooting for perfection, by continually working on a piece, is resistance. You’re just finding an excuse not to release it.

Quantity can be better than quality. If you do enough quantity, the quality increases.

Over twenty years ago I remember going to a piano recital by Daniel Barenboim at the Royal Festival Hall in London. I knew the repertoire that he was playing, and even though he is a professional pianist, he played a lot of wrong notes. Some of them were very obvious but the emotion that went into the music made it one of the best concerts I had ever attended. He hit the spot where it mattered, even though some of the details might have lacked in rehearsal and practice time.

My experience

Last year I decided that I wanted to self-publish my novel. I bought a course to learn how to do that and hired an editor to get the manuscript into the best possible shape. For months it has felt like the book is dying to be released.

It’s daunting. There are some good reasons to hang on to it. I could wait until I’ve nearly finished the sequel so I have something else to release quickly. I could do more to build my mailing list. I could do more publicity work up front (though in fairness I was going to do that until Coronavirus changed my plans). I’m in mourning for my Dad who passed away recently and am worried that grief could make it hard to function properly.

These are all good reasons not to publish now but the book still feels that it is screaming to get out. It just HAS to be released. It’s like giving birth. You can’t tell the baby, no, not yet. When the baby is ready to come, it lets you know.

That’s how it feels. I feel blocked and unproductive until it is OUT. I know that it is resistance urging me to wait. Part of me wants to run away and hide and never do it. The rest of me knows that it is time.

Is it fear or wisdom telling you to hang on for a while?

Sometimes it is hard to decide whether it is the inner gremlin telling you to keep your work under wraps or whether it is a wise decision to wait. The gremlin is very clever and will cloak itself in what appear to be sensible suggestions.

To tell the difference between fear and wisdom, ask yourself this question: if fear and being afraid did not exist, would you want to go ahead and release your work anyway?

If the answer to that is yes, then buckle-up, tell the gremlin where to go and take the steps to make your work public. If it is no, then heed the reasons that came with that answer, but still prepare to release the work at a future date.

It will never be comfortable

It will never be totally comfortable to release your work. Super-successful life-coach, Marie Forleo, always advocates to act before you feel ready. The key is to live with the discomfort but move ahead anyway. Fear is a constant companion in the creative life and no matter how experienced you are, how many books you have written or how many plays you’ve performed in, your version of fear will always surface.

How can you quieten down fear and listen to what your soul really wants? I do this by journaling. Pre-coronavirus I used to do this by going to my favourite coffee shop and writing about my fears and then asking questions of my inner wisdom. This gave me a game plan and a way forward for the next few weeks. Initially, in lockdown, I have struggled to do this but recently I have discovered that if I go for a walk and then sit somewhere quiet at home with my notebook, I can access the same wisdom.

Other tips

  • If you are new to creative work or the project is a fledgling effort, then only show people who will be kind. At this stage you don’t need someone in your audience who prides themselves on giving you the blunt truth.
  • Can you create an exhibition with other artists who are a similar level to you? It’s easier to do something scary with other people who are in the same boat. Even in the time of covid-19, you might be able to do something online together. Alternatively, planning an exhibition for next year will give you focus.
  • Nothing is permanent. You can always unpublish a blog, or remove a self-published book from Amazon if you change your mind. Alternatively, you could create something new, that is based on existing work, but where your skill has increased and you can improve on the original.

To release your work, you have to have made it in the first place. Keep producing as often as you can. Some of your efforts will be good, some won’t. I have lots of blog fragments on my computer where my great idea didn’t pan out to a meaningful article. That’s OK. But by writing regularly I also have articles that have turned out much better and were useful to an audience.

It feels great to see your work out in public. It isn’t what vindicates you as a “proper” artist but it does feel like a wonderful achievement.

Next Steps

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Every month I also share the ups and downs of my own creative journey – but only email subscribers get that insider view. Sign up now.