“It isn’t art if you aren’t sharing it.”
I had a semi-recent conversation with a fellow writer friend about art, life, the universe, and everything (including why we should vacation in Svalbard and get hired as polar bear spotters). And when we were discussing promotion, being traditionally vs. indie published, and all of the things in between, she kept telling me: “You have to share. You can’t keep it to yourself.”
For some reason, these words hit me hard. I’ve been collecting gigabytes of stories, novels, and notes for years. And until a couple of years ago, I’d never shared them with anyone. Not with friends, not with critique partners, not with people bound to me by the ties of blood whose only response I feared would be umm, that’s nice. I was madly scribbling away at the keyboard, bleeding my brain, and heart, and soul (if I so possess one in whatever form you prescribe to) onto the page. Trying desperately to find my voice, to write from the deepest parts of me, consigning myself never to share it with the world because I’m not good enough this sucks everyone will hate it I’m not ready it’s too dark too scary too weird too experimental not experimental enough too literary not literary enough too unclassifiable too genre too shallow too serious no one will publish me is this like [famous author’s work]?
I’m currently reading with relish Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help.
In it she has a name for these thoughts. “The Fraud Police.” Because “when you’re an artist nobody ever tells you or hits you with the magical wand of legitimacy.” In fact, “you’re an artist when you say you are. And you’re a good artist when you make somebody else experience or feel something deep or unexpected.”
That’s what I wanted to do. But I couldn’t do that if I kept it to myself. So, while I still dream of being traditionally published in all of the professional SF magazines, and I’m working hard at mining my inner self for the real, the deep, the sacrificial, some part of me wanted to share. To split wide the doors to something I’d worked on. I started posting bits on my blog and connected to Facebook and finally let people see some of my work shown the light for the first time.
And it was the most freeing thing I’ve ever done artistically. It was like staring at a cliff with warm, sweet, calm oceans below and I’d finally grown the cajones to leap. I didn’t expect responses. Part of me didn’t want responses. Didn’t want the rejection it would bring. I didn’t want the umm, it’s, uh, good? responses from those who thought they owed me something.
The internet didn’t give me tons of responses.
But people did in person.
I was surprised to find such support. And it didn’t go to my head. It wasn’t the I’m awesome and great and I shit out gold onto the page. It was more about connecting with people without knowing I had connected with people. It was about sharing some part of myself, my art, and revealing that there were people reading and listening.
Amanda Palmer says that the artist, in whatever medium, does three things: “Collecting the dots. Then connecting them. Then sharing the connections with those around you.”
I’d been doing a decade of collecting, of viewing my experiences, of mentally observing the world with an eye for recounting it on the page. So too was the connecting. Of taking that ride on the Tube an connecting it to my inner fear of the proximity of strangers in enclosed spaces. But I hadn’t done the third. I’d been stuck on the third. I’d been zealously throwing reams and reams of paper into a box with all of the hard copies of my stories, there to stay in such a lightless abyssal plain. (Many of them are still there).
Lately, I’ve been attempting to throw those stories to editors in the hope that someone somewhere might want to give me money in exchange for my work. And I know that many of them won’t. And that’s okay. I realize it’s a business. I also realize that I can’t connect with everyone. And that’s okay too.
But I also realize I should share more.