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Woe Is Me! “I Want To Go Public With My Creative Work, But I’m Scared of Failure”

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Jun 7, 2020

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Image credit: Umrao Jaan (1981)

Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.


I’d like to showcase my creative talent on a social media platform to gain recognition. I’m scared because if no one engages with my work, it might mean I’m bad at what I love doing. How do I stop fearing what others think ?”

— A Bashful Botticelli

RD: First, congratulations on your creative talent. The fact that you’re creating during this time is a feat in itself, which you should appreciate. Second, just because people don’t engage with your work on social media doesn’t mean it’s not good. Plenty of artists don’t find a following on social media for years before they suddenly make it, so to speak. Eventually, everybody finds an audience that understands and appreciates their work.

Social media algorithms are fickle and constantly changing — if it doesn’t work at first, don’t be disheartened. Don’t let it be a value judgment of your work — the important thing is that you’re able to create, and have the resources to share your work with people. As long as you enjoy the work, keep doing it. One way or another, people will flock to work that’s done with love. Everybody needs validation, so I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing that you care what other people think. I’d just say don’t let other people’s opinions dictate how you spend your time — some will love your work, some might not. The most important thing is you love what you do. Appreciation and rejection will follow, just keep at it.

AM: Have you heard this line from a song — ‘Kuch toh log kahenge, logon ka kaam hai kehna?’ It loosely translates into: it is people’s job to talk and gossip. As a creator who has decided to take it to the next level, it means you are proud and confident about your work and want people to see it. And as someone who has never done it, it is normal to feel the way you are, but what’s important is to prepare yourself for both, good and bad reviews.

Criticism, if taken well, will only help you create better. Let me offer you some trivia —  Amitabh Bachchan’s first 13 movies were a flop and he was criticized heavily, RD Burman, who is still considered the best Indian music director, has only been recently given his due with regards to respect and recognition. If awards mean recognition, he was conferred with only one Filmfare in his career and no National award, even posthumously. No recognition or little criticism should never mean that you doubt your own talent. Continue to showcase it the way they did. Your purpose is to create because it makes you happy, not because you want to make people happy.

SM: It is crazy, because I literally just had this conversation with a friend. And there’s only one answer — JUST DO IT! There is a possibility that you may not be great at the particular creative talent you want to showcase, but just your engagement with the medium in this way can be so helpful, to help you get to know your creative self better, to express yourself better for a public audience, and most importantly, to help understand what it might mean to create art that you like, even when you’re putting it out for public consumption.

If there’s one thing that all artists struggle with I think, it’s their relationship with public validation and evaluating their work alongside it, so better to build that relationship in a healthy way early on. The important thing to ensure before and through doing this is that you have a strong support system that you can talk to and touch base with, to ensure that you actually manage your relationship with the public response in a healthy way. Other than that, you have no reason to be afraid. You should go do your thing!

KB: Failure? What’s that? I mean this question rhetorically — in that, I am completely opposed to the notion of failure, especially in the context of professional or personal achievements. But I also mean it in earnest: what would you consider to be a failure in this instance? This is a very important question to ask yourself as you think about how to proceed. I have never been concerned with external definitions of success; rather, I think you have to always evaluate for yourself what you will be proud of, and what will make you feel you have pushed yourself to the outer reaches of your talent.

Let’s unpack your question a little further because there’s a lot there. Phrase by phrase: I’m hugely supportive of taking steps to further develop or showcase your creative talent. That seems like a courageous and exciting move. But why do you assume social media is the best place to showcase these talents? Social media is perhaps a great place to get attention, but it can also be reductive, simplistic, and binary. The things that travel far and wide on social media are the things that are either reviled or instantly understood and beloved — usually, either instantly provocative or easily palatable are what sells. Social media is also the land of instant reactions: black or white, love, or hate. No wonder it’s a scary place to put work you care about. Why not consider another medium for sharing your work, that requires people to engage with it more deeply, and consider their words carefully before giving you feedback? Maybe there’s a gallery setting or another digital platform geared towards artists, that might be a better place to dip your toe in the public visibility waters? Let’s move on to the next statement: whether or not people engage with your work has little to do with whether it’s good or not. If they don’t engage, you may not be able to make a living off it, but that’s a separate concern. Plenty of great work doesn’t get noticed right away. You need to develop far more persistence, resilience, and confidence about your own work if you’re going to pursue this work long term.

Which brings me to the last part of your question. No one ever created great work by caring about what others think. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the only way to create great work is to be guided by your own unshakeable sense of what is good. If you build a body of work that reflects what you think others want to see, it will always be inauthentic, flimsy, and trite. But work that stems from a strong point of view, and the confidence that only comes when you like the work — that is what will convince others of its value.

DR: Social media can be really helpful in helping you understand how to package and present your talent better. So, instead of looking at it as the ultimate platform for fame and recognition, look at it as college-practicals or something that will provide you with a learning curve, if that helps. Even the most talented people start small and learn from their initial experiences. Just in case not-enough-people engage with your work, that doesn’t mean your talent isn’t worth engaging with.

Social media is tricky territory. You need to learn what times of the day to post on your feed to get maximum engagement, which hashtags to use to reach out to a wider audience, and so on. You’ll be able to find a lot of sources online providing a ready reckoner on how to be a social media pro! But, also keep in mind that you can’t stop others from thinking whatever they want to think of your work. They may perceive it negatively too, but, perhaps, there may be a way to have it bother you less: instead of looking at criticism as a complete rejection of your talent, why don’t you look at it more constructively?

LG: Who cares if you’re bad, if you love doing it? Easier said than believed, I know. It’s the lot of a creative person to be chronically self-doubting and concerned with how their art is received – I 100% relate. If you find a way to overcome your fear of what people think of your art, please let me know. For what it’s worth, I’d suggest embracing that fear and letting it motivate you. If people hate your work, cull through the feedback, ignore what’s trolling, and use what’s helpful to get better – that may sound effortful, but think of it this way: it really just means doing more of what you love doing! And getting better in the process. Best of luck, you creative cumquat. I see big things in your future, or at least a lot of likes.

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Written By The Swaddle Team

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