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.