Creativity, Vulnerability & Giving A Fuck

Creativity makes you vulnerable.

It pulls out aspects of yourself which you might prefer to hide. It drains and strains every resource you have.  It devours your time, your money, your energy, maybe even your relationships and health. You can find ways to manage it, to channel it, to turn it into your most valuable asset. 

Putting what you create out into the world takes a lot of guts. That is why so many people hide their ideas in their heads and their creations in notebooks, hard drives, or cupboards. It is easier that way, much less scary.

That is one of the main things I have realized during my time as someone who writes stuff on the internet.

Pressing the publish button is always unnerving for me. There is the fear of offending someone or having someone disagree with me on a topic. Or hearing I should not bother writing, nothing is original anymore and I'm not special. There are those who misread an essay on purpose, just to be able to criticise it. There is the fear of feeling too much of a disconnect between my online and offline self. This is something which is always pronounced when I go to an event or am recognized by someone in the street (it's happened a few times and its strange.)  I wonder if I have wasted my time and energy - I slept for 2 hours last night in order to have time to write this post before classes. This is a common occurrence at the moment.

That vulnerability is inherent to producing original work. You dig around inside yourself, extract something, shape it into an appealing form and then release. Once it is out, it no longer belongs to you. It belongs to those who experience it and their reactions add new dimensions and angles. 

I view people's responses to creative work as on a spectrum which looks a bit like this: 

Most people will tell you not to give a fuck about criticism, especially the non-constructive kind.

I disagree.

The absolute worst sort of reaction is the kind which doesn't exist. This is the art exhibition no one attends. The song everyone goes outside to smoke during. The book which gets no reviews. 

After all, indifference stings. It makes creativity seem pointless. People do all sorts of things to try and ensure a reaction to their work, any reaction. Click bait titles, misogynistic music videos, crazy publicity stunts. Whatever it takes.  

I say that you should care about negative reactions to your creative work. You should care deeply - at first. You should be vulnerable, cry your eyes out, call your mum, eat a pint of ice cream, whatever. Then you should get over it.

Why?

Because it will make your work better. Much, much, much better. Negative reactions are vital. If you are willing to deal it, then get up the next morning and keep on creating, it is a sure sign that your work matters to you. You will grow a thicker skin over time and be possessed by the drive to get better.  Get that part over with early by being extra sensitive. Then you can move on to the stage of ignoring the non-constructive responses. You'll have learned to be self-motivated and self-aware.

Here is a study which showed that a negative reaction can actually increase creativity. There are many similar ones if you are interested. When someone hates your work, there are two options; give up on it, or make it better. Bad reactions push you out of your comfort zone and force you to get serious. They may be a valuable catalyst for improvement, or a sign that you are doing something new.

There will always be sad losers with nothing better to do than pick apart your work. They are almost without exception those who lack the capacity to create anything themselves. So they whine on Reddit about how some thing they have seen does not meet their personal tastes.

This is, perhaps, a more realistic representation of this spectrum:

Here is an even more rough graph showing how I view the role of vulnerability in creating amazing work.

On one end is total invulnerability. People who just do not care and therefore cannot improve. On the other end is extreme vulnerability. People who quit at the slightest discouragement. They too cannot get any better. I have journeyed to both ends and neither were productive.

It is that midpoint where the magic happens. Where you can take advice without crumbling, produce work which people appreciate, challenge yourself and enjoy the process. 

It's not about not giving a fuck. It's about giving a few fucks, just not too many.

Rosie Leizrowice