A message isn’t spoken until its heard.
I feel as if the work I do doesn’t exist until someone has seen it.
The words are on the screen in front of me, but it feels as if they’re just on loan from my mind. They don’t exist anywhere outside of my little world.
They don’t even have the opportunity to be good or bad because they aren’t being experienced by anyone else. So they might as well not exist.
They might be the children of my craft, but they aren’t being shipped, so what’s the point? Imagine if Apple made the best products in the world and then didn’t release them? They might as well not exist.
The point of communicative work, be it writing or design or programming, is that it moves someone. It either makes them laugh, or cry, or smile, or learn something new, or get angry, or get bored, or accomplish something, or move something or do something, or … something. The work just has to do something.
But when that work isn’t put in front of anyone, then who is it communicating to? We don’t communicate to ourselves, so if we’re the only ones who know that our work exists, then it simply isn’t doing anything because there’s no one listening.
When there’s nobody to look at the work, there’s nobody to be moved. When that’s the only thing our work really needs to do, and it isn’t even given the opportunity, then it holds no value.
We could hide away for a decade, honing our crafts in secret, then releasing to the world masterpieces. But … but that won’t happen for most of us. Most of us aren’t secretly producing masterpieces. Sorry. Or maybe you will, but it won’t matter unless you ship. All the best art in the world was done by people who put their work in front of others, sometimes deliberately, sometimes by mistake after they were long gone.
We can pretend that we’re hiding our work away, just for a week, for a month, for a year, so that we can get better so that once we start contributing to the cultural conversations around us, we’ll be saying something worth while.
But for what? Developing your skills in isolation mostly leads to slow growth. When people are looking at our work, not only will we have their comments, both good and bad, to guide us towards faster skill development, but we’ll start to look at our work differently.
There’s a safety net when we know our work won’t be seen by others. We aren’t as critical of it as we could be, we aren’t as careful with what we say when we know it’s only the filter of our own minds through which the work will travel.
“But I know it exists and so that gives it value.”
Yes, of course, to each of us our work holds a value whether it is one shared with anyone else or not.
But that’s not why I’m working on my craft, and I’m sure you’re the same.
I’d go as far as to say that it’d be a hobby, not a craft, to work within a communicative medium while producing work that doesn’t communicate to anyone.
So prove it to us. Prove to us how clever you are, how talented you are. No, screw that. Show us that you’re showing up. That’s all the world wants to see – that you’re showing up, getting to work, and wanting to share it with people. Do that regularly enough and we’ll all see, loud and clear, how good you are, and it’ll be a pleasure to see you turn great.
(There’s an added bonus of audience and community building – get your work out there, even bad work, gives you the potential to surround yourself with supportive people. Those people, the ones who are with you, and who stick with you, while you try to figure out your craft, are the best people you will ever show your work to.)