There are limits on what you can do by playing safely. The person who does not want to expose themselves to risks doesn’t get much done. Any undertaking to do a thing, courts disaster. It gives us opportunities to fail, to be knocked back, humiliated, and made miserable.
I’ve been submitting works to publishers on and off for about fifteen years now. It doesn’t get easier. Granted, I now have more ‘yes’ letters than I did, but I still get a lot of rejections (mostly around short stories). Every time I send a piece in, even if it’s to a publisher I’ve worked with before, I’m acutely aware that ‘no’ is an option. It doesn’t stop there. Books get published, only for readers to hate them, and with the internet it’s really easy to take that hate to the author.
Putting things out in public invites criticism, and I’ve had some harsh ones over the years. One reviewer called an early piece of mine ‘repellent’ and that stayed with me. I don’t have a thick skin.
Bardic work means standing up in public and exposing your work, your inspiration, your soul, to scrutiny. Sometimes it goes wrong. The voice breaks. Words are forgotten. A string snaps. Someone in the audience undertakes to be rude. And again, it only gets slightly easier with practice, and performing always brings you into situations where people can really, seriously hate what you do.
Creativity is a very personal thing. A lot of self and soul goes into it, and not having that recognised and honoured can be agony. The cake that nobody liked and the epic cleaning job nobody noticed. The flowers that barely got a word of recognition, the ritual no one thanked you for… creativity is not just about obvious arty stuff, it’s about the making and the inspiration in all aspects of our lives. Sharing it makes you vulnerable. Not sharing isn’t an answer, because you remain untested, never confident you’re good enough, afraid of being knocked back, or of holding too high an opinion of yourself. We fantasies about the praise and applause, but it’s never enough. Imagining we could be good if only we dared becomes soul destroying itself after a while, just another delusion to cart about. No one respects the book you know you could write or the career you would have had if only…
So this week I answered some questions for OBOD about why I’d like to be a tutor for their course. I’ve exposed myself to being looked at, tested, considered by whatever means seems necessary or appropriate. Last time I did that (an editing job) I didn’t even hear back, not so much as a rejection letter. Well, I know the OBOD folk can and will do better than that.
The day I stop asking if I’m doing a good enough job, if I could do better, is probably going to be the day I stop breathing. The idea of resting on your laurels never made any sense to me. I always have to be pushing to do more, and better, on whatever terms I can. I don’t enjoy being tested, but it’s inevitable. The alternative is to create a little reality bubble in which I am the only person who judges what I do. Sure, that way I would never have to believe that anything I did needed work, but I wouldn’t improve much. I care more about doing things well than about being able to pretend to myself that I’m there already.
In the meantime, never under estimate the power of saying encouraging things and praising the stuff you love – the cake and the craft item, the story and the song.