Appreciating obscurity

“93% say that being a creator has introduced stresses that have ‘negatively impacted their lives,’ with 45% saying they’ve experienced ‘big emotional lows,’” report the authors of this paper which surveyed 1,624 respondents.

There’s no surprise to me here. As I’d covered in Marker before, making money as a creator is tough. The creator economy is thriving, and definitely intriguing more people appreciating the value of their own creativity, and considering spending more time on their creative process

Unfortunately, these expectations also come with an intense pressure to monetize, or to build an audience, with our creativity. Tara McMullin suggests a better way to rethink the creator economy, and Nadia Asparouhova warns of the publish or perish mentality that the creator economy incentivizes. 

Bill Bryson writes in A Short History of Nearly Everything (via a code to joy):

As a student, frustrated by the limitations of conventional mathematics, [Isaac Newton] invented an entirely new form, the calculus, but then told no one about it for twenty-seven years. In like manner, he did work in optics that transformed our understanding of light and laid the foundation for the science of spectroscopy, and again chose not to share the results for three decades.

Obscurity isn’t just a necessary evil that every artist or creator faces at some point (zero views, zero likes, zero comments, zero interest). 

Rather, obscurity actually has its own benefits. As I’d written before, guessing what the audience expects, or seeking external validation, can slowly (or quickly) suck the joy out of the creative process. When you’re actually in the process of doing the work, it’s best to focus on the process and keep expectations of the outcomes small

When I was writing Creative Doing, I interviewed author Michelle Kuo about creativity, and she shared this piece of advice:

The most important thing I can tell you is to relish writing in obscurity. I feel that I was the happiest as a writer when I was in hiding, when I was invisible, when I was secretly writing, stealing away portions of time at work, or writing on scraps of paper, or forming sentences in my head on the commute. That was a time before I had published really anything and before I even thought my writing would become a book, I was just trying to organize or to create order in my emotional life.

Kuo’s insights really helped me understand how the expectations I’d held onto in my head were getting in my way. It was something of a paradox; I’d wanted to write more so I could produce more content and build a bigger audience, but in letting go of the need to write complete pieces more, and instead to see writing as a starting point, I finally put together the philosophy I needed to start writing every day

I eventually expanded Kuo’s insight into the prompt, Ignore the stats. One of my favorite other prompts is related: Make something you won’t ever show anyone else!

I’ve found these prompts most useful for creators facing the need to constantly publish. They suggest the complete opposite of what the creator economy incentivizes; it’s all about not shipping, holding your work back from the crowds, and not caring about what you think other people think. It sounds foolish until you start doing it, and you notice the possibilities that emerge. It’s a great feeling. (This is a different feeling from one like you can’t release—then you might be in the midst of a creative block.)

This sense of lightness, ease, and consistency is essential to longevity in the very competitive creator economy. Even more importantly, it’s the foundation to experience a richer creative life and to creative wellness.

If you liked this piece, you may also appreciate the other pieces I wrote related to the creator economy:

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