It’s a very bold, and probably ill-advised, statement to say “2019 is my year!”. However, I’m trying to keep that ballpark sentiment in my head. I have to be careful – I don’t make resolutions or a list of things I must achieve when each new year rolls around, but I do try to have a nice little picture in my head of which direction I’d like to be moving in. Sometimes I even dare to set a few goals. This might seem like bad business to you, but I’ve found in the past that the pressure I put on myself through the very act of listing What I Need To Do This Year leaves me in a paralysed ball of fear. Parallel to that is also the sense of shame and failure when I get towards the end of any given arbitrary time period, with less to show for it than I’d like. So, no checklists. But I do have goals.
I was going to describe some of those here, but as coincidence would have it, my morning routine of watching at least two random TED Talks before brushing my teeth unearthed this very short video.
If you can’t spare a few minutes to watch it (and to be honest it’s not that thrilling) let me sum up in the speaker’s own words:
“The repeated psychology tests have proven that telling someone your goal makes it less likely to happen… ideally you would not be satisfied until you'd actually done the work. But when you tell someone your goal... the mind is kind of tricked into feeling that it's already done. And then because you've felt that satisfaction, you're less motivated to do the actual hard work necessary.”
It was an eye-opener for me. Looking back over the times I’ve taken to social media with my epic plans, I have to be honest with myself and admit it’s mostly been because I wanted some form approval straight away. I wanted the payoff of having people gasp and applaud and admire my spinning brain cogs. But what Derek Sivers says is bang on. Once I’ve made my grand announcements, it feels like I’ve achieved something already. In reality, I have achieved absolutely nothing other than making a personal press-release. Surely it would be better to sit on all that stuff and have the urge to share bubble so ferociously beneath my surface that I cannot help but act with purpose, efficiency, and fire in order to be able to come to that point in time when – instead of shouting “this is what I’m going to do” – I climb up to my own personal mountain top and yodel “this is what I’ve done”. At the very least, I’ll probably get a bigger reaction. Actually no – that’s bollocks. At the very least I will have achieved something. Probably far more effectively than if I’d wasted three months resting on the laurels of my own self-satisfaction.
In light of this – no – you get none of my goals. Live with it. What I can give you is a little glimpse into some of the things I’m going to be getting up to in order to achieve my super-secret, “if I told you I’d have to kill you” targets.
Doesn’t that all sound so very exciting? Aren’t you all just pulling your hair out with anticipation? Actually, probably not – I haven’t told you jack. But hopefully by taking this approach, I might start pulling my hair out with excitement.
As for last year, because it would be remiss of me not to reflect a little, I’ll leave you with this. I like it.
PS - No word of a lie, as I was finishing up this post I received an email to inform me that "Out of House and Home" has been shortlisted for the H E Bates Short Story Competition. So that's... a huge freaking deal, I guess.
8am. I’m not even out of bed yet. In fact, I haven’t even been awake for five minutes, and yet I’m lying there pondering the nature of my creative outlets in such introspective detail that every couple of minutes my brain is interrupting my musings with the grumpy statement, “It’s too early for this shit”.
Why was I doing this? Upon waking, I’d picked up my phone from the nightstand and started having a casual scroll through social media. I’d spied the notification of a friend responding to a comment I’d left on a post of theirs from the previous day. They’d originally asked the question “How important is it to you that what you're doing has a feedback mechanism to tell you how you're doing? What feedback forms give you the greatest satisfaction?”. When I’d first seen it, my response had been somewhat melancholic due to yet another of my frequent (or possibly constant) crises of confidence:
“Considering most of my work is in the creative field, the most important method of feedback is engagement. Especially because I don’t get paid for any of it. With no figure attached, the only thing that really matters (aside from my own enjoyment) is people’s expressed appreciation of what I do. It’s very difficult to get, and sometimes I do think I’d rather ditch my dreams to do something more easily measured...”
Their response, which I was reading from bed, asked me if I do things for the pleasure of doing them, like writing a poem which I have no wish to share. It was at that point my brain kicked in with some serious questioning. It really was too early for that shit.
I’ve been cataloguing all the thoughts I’ve had throughout the day, and some of my conclusions definitely feel significant enough to record for posterity. Would I carry on creating, if no one were to ever see the results? It’s a massive question which, somehow, I’d never really asked myself.
Turning a microscope on my brain, I honestly couldn’t imagine having the drive to create if I knew I would be the only one to enjoy the fruits of my labour. Simply couldn’t picture what that would look or feel like. Somehow, that answer felt wrong. Surely a true creator – one whose passion has always been to birth the ideas in their brain into the world – would carry on doing so for the pure love of it, even with no one to see or acknowledge. If I can’t see that being the case for me, does it mean I’m somehow a fraud? In it for the wrong reasons? Kidding myself that it’s my calling?
Sure, I write things which no one will ever see, but they're usually stream of consciousness stuff to partially leash the demons of my spotty mental health. I most definitely don’t do that for the pleasure of it! It’s purely functional – the best way I know of putting my scrambled emotions in some semblance of order, or at least taking some of the sting out of unmanageable feelings. Do I feel better afterwards? Usually – but that clearly has nothing to do with enjoyment. When I was much, much younger, I would write poetry for myself and myself alone, but once again that was only to purge some seriously messed up shit from my system. Stark light of day admission – I don’t recall a single time I’ve written anything with the intention of having some fun, reading it through, then putting it away.
So then, why do I create? Please don’t assume it’s because I think it’ll make me rich and famous. Money and renown are the kind of aspirations people have when they’re blessed with self confidence, a healthy ego or, at the very least, arrogance. It goes without saying that being paid for my work would be nice because I’m broke most of the time, but it’s certainly not why I do it.
Do I do it for outside approval and validation? Do I write in order to have people tell me how awesome I am, in the hope it might make me feel better about myself? Though slaving away on something for months and then hearing people tell you how good it is feels amazing, I don’t think that’s why I do it either.
So why? As my friend originally asked, what feedback form gives me the greatest satisfaction? What data set do I value most for assessing a job well done? Once I got to that particular carriage on my train of thought, the answer was crystal clear.
Engagement. Knowing something I’ve created is out there. Being seen. Getting into people’s heads – a cat-burglar sneaking into your brain and leaving one single, solitary fingerprint on your rubbery, grey matter. Whether it’s my writing, or my newer venture of animation, there is nothing as crushing to me as silence. The idea that I’m spinning physically or emotionally tangible matter into the universe, only for it to be sucked into a black hole, is more than I can tolerate. It’s the process of making an impact on someone, good or bad, that keeps me plugging away.
Even if friends hated them, I’d consider it a win if they could recall any pieces of my fiction by name. For the record, I can probably count on one hand the total number of people who could do this if put on the spot. Fewer if I asked them for the titles of more than one story. Hence the melancholic answer to my friend’s question yesterday. Hence why the few people who have engaged with my work to the point they can summarise the content, or even quote parts, are so dearly treasured in my heart.
And I guess that is my answer to all the soul-searching I’ve done since I woke up. Would I carry on creating without any chance of an audience? Probably not. It’d be like a brain surgeon trying to find enjoyment in their art with no patients or hospital. My feedback form is the ripples my work makes in the world, the minds it touches, and the thoughts and reactions it inspires. Without anyone to operate on, all the lustre disappears from the process.
There’s no right answer here. Not having the desire to create only for my own entertainment and satisfaction doesn’t make me less of a writer or animator, just as only wanting to create for your own enjoyment is equally as valid an approach. I guess all this means is simply that my particular passion is for sparking reactions in others, rather than just myself.
If you got a kick out of this post, please do consider buying me a coffee to show your appreciation.
Note from the author: I have included this ancient blog post from my archives because I think it's really important in relation to my overall personal narrative. I still feel like this a lot of the time, and I guess I'll continue feeling this way until I publish. And probably after I publish too, from what I've been told by writers far more experienced and successful than me. For the record, I do still have that Patreon, but it's sat neglected for the majority of its existence, mainly due to the internal struggle described below. I told all my backers to withdraw their support, seeing as they weren't getting anything for their money - though there is one kind soul who still sends me a dollar every month! No, I will not provide a link to that Patreon page, and I'll eventually delete it altogether. I just need to pull some content from it first - but that's not a huge priority right now.
I suppose it's normal, and even expected, to be absolutely terrified about starting a Patreon, unless you've been successfully producing work for years and already have a huge fan base who will rally to your cause. I am definitely not one of those fortunate individuals! Though I have been writing consistently since age five, the work I put out there to the general population is very rare. I just dug up a few old pieces from my long-abandoned DeviantArt account, and a couple were worth keeping, but most had to be shit-canned immediately BECAUSE OH GODS THE 20-SOMETHING ANGST FEST.
I had a crushing moment of doubt yesterday, when I let my brain run rough-shod over my self-esteem, and it went something like this:
Brain: "So, you've set up a Patreon creator page then?"
Zoff: "Yep! I'm really proud of it, and honestly think that it will be useful to my work and progress, as well as being interesting for my friends, and the odd stranger that stumbles across it!"
Brain: "So what... you're going to send letters to people, and write a private journal for them, and let them see your first drafts?"
Zoff: "Totally! It will be a great way to keep me writing, and on track."
Brain: "For... money? You're expecting people to pay you a monthly pledge for this?"
Zoff: "I... err... well... I'll offer more shiny things when I think of them. And... it's not like I'm... terrible... at... writing..."
[Zoff tails off, chewing her lip]
Brain: "For the love of the gods. What the hell do you think you're doing, you waste of space? I know when you get a plan in your head, you steam forwards with enthusiasm and purpose, but this is beyond the pale! You seriously think that you can get more than a handful of dollars for short-stories and blog posts? You really think people will believe you when you say you're going to write a novel? Patreon visitors only care about things they can see and feel - artists, sculptors, photographers, documentary-makers, game designers - that's where it's at. That's all people care about. Promising to write for people isn't just a con, but it's plain embarrassing. You're no Dean Koontz... you're not even E L James, for pity's sake. Look at your friends, go on, the ones who already have Patreon pages! They are amazing artists, who have huge portfolios of previous work, and you are basically taking a big metaphorical dump on their achievements by even trying to equate yourself with them. Stop this now, you're making an ass of yourself. And go die in a fire whilst you're at it."
I love these talks I have with myself. If you haven't already noticed, my brain is kind of a dick. Needless to say, this resulted in me vomiting a very long, self-pitying post on to one of my Facebook filters. The responses I got were mixed: some friends told me I should ignore the bad voices, that I deserved to be a success, that it was brave of me to venture on to Patreon, and I should soldier on. Some (very helpfully) suggested that maybe I should try putting some of my previous and current work out there before expecting people to back me - a bit of cerebral on-top-of-the-clothes stuff before we get buck-naked. On the lower end of the scale, a few concerned mates pointed out that maybe I was setting myself up to fail, that a lot of Patreon writers find themselves largely overlooked, and even amazingly talented artists frequently fail to get any kind of significant patronage. Basically, I'm not Amanda Palmer, and to go down a route that may wind up with me judging my overall self-worth against how many dollars are in my account would be hugely damaging to any hopes of me achieving "published author" status. Maybe I should go without Patreon completely? No one outright said I should stop, take down my page, and give back the money already pledged to me, but my asshole brain simply leapt on to anything remotely negative, mooshed it all together, and smeared it all over my face.
I shut off my computer and walked away for the rest of the day.
I expected to feel like hammered shit today but instead, I'm already thinking about how I can address these issues and garner some support in other ways, before running around in circles, shouting my Patreon URL from the rooftops of Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr and probably falling flat on my face before the first real hurdle. So back to those few bits and pieces on DeviantArt... I have taken the ones with any kind of promise and printed them out, to be read and edited/re-written as necessary. I also dragged up the memory of an awesome short story I wrote in college, the one I was most proud of, and even though I don't have a copy anymore I can remember enough that writing it from scratch shouldn't be too daunting. And this time it'll be even better!
I also have another concept for an original short work written up in note form already. I was going to save that for Patreon and my ***FIRST DRAFT FUNTIMES*** backers, but I think at this stage, getting work out there to the masses is more important. It will be a great opportunity to show people what I am capable of, and also tack "If you enjoyed this, please consider backing me on Patreon" on to the end.
So, I got down, but I am by no means out. I may have to take things a little slower that I first intended, but that in no way means I'll be neglecting my existing backers. Regular updates, and these journals will keep coming!