Show Your Work – Or Don’t

I mentioned in my last post that I was taking Sarah Selecky’s Story is a State of Mind online writing course.  In the very first lesson she asks her students to find a way of working the course into their schedules, essentially to be accountable to themselves to complete each assignment, in order to derive the full benefit of the course.  Among the examples she gives of ways to register this commitment is to start a blog and post the completed assignments to it.  Makes sense, I thought.

At roughly the same time I began reading Austin Kleon’s newest book, called Show Your Work.  In it he extols the benefits of sharing your work as a way of joining a community of like-minded creative people and even possibly getting “discovered.”  One of his chapter headings is “Think Process, Not Product.”  He urges artists to take people behind the scenes, to show them how they go about creating whatever it is they create.  (And for fans of visual artists, filmmakers, musicians, I can see how seductive this insight could be.)

And I thought about it.  I did.  I even got as far as creating a new page on this here blog to publish some of my responses to Sarah Selecky’s daily writing prompts.  Only the good ones, of course.  Only the ones I thought wouldn’t embarrass me later.  Basically I would share my notebook with the internet.

But if I did that, I realized, then the nature of my notebook would change.  It would no longer be the safe space for me to play, doodle, and experiment in.  I would be committed to sharing its contents.  And I know what the result of that would be: my pen-hand would seize up.

I can certainly see the benefits in making oneself accountable to others in the creative work one does as a spur to motivation (especially since for most of us, creative work is something we squeeze in between day jobs, family life, housework and sleep).  And I can see the benefits of what Kleon calls taking advantage of the network, rather than networking.  But there has to be a private place too, where the dreaming, the attempting and the failing happens, away from prying eyes.

Sometimes the internet is too much with us.  And process doesn’t mean much without the product to illuminate it.