I was climbing with some friends last week and we got on the topic of publishing your creative work. I was thinking out loud about the spectrum between publishing everything and publishing nothing; on one hand, you can publish so frequently that your publishing muscle becomes quite strong, yet that very frequency could belie a level of polish you can only yet wish to present. Conversely, you can never publish, and just polish over and over, never sending your thing out into the world.
Between these two ends of a field, there seems to be no shortage of whirlpools of self-doubt, criticism, praise, ego, and annoyance with ourselves.
Something changed in the fall of last year, and I started writing and publishing more. The majority of what I write on this little notepad got published on this site. This feels like a hot streak like I have never had before; a collusion of various secret forces got together to flip a switch in my brain that makes publishing okay. How did this happen?
No big secret. I just picked something easier to publish.
What are you working on?
For years, I’ve been working on various projects and experiments. Some creative, some technical. Most of them — too big to finish. When I abandoned them, I had no desire to publish a half-finished comic, novel, game, etc. Nothing about that felt good.
In the fall of 2023, I started writing to document a trip. I forgot that I enjoyed writing. Some kind of landslide happened in my brain and as a result, writing about my day, a passing thought, a new experience—all became not just valid but equally (if not more) important as a published portfolio of grand ideas, skillfully executed.
Publishing my thoughts—even just four or five hundred words on a passing idea—is not easy. But it’s easier than nearly every other project I’ve taken on that I’ve wanted to be seen as the creator of.
I’m going to keep daydreaming about making grandiose creative projects, and it’s likely I’ll keep striving for things just a bit out of reach. But when the day comes that I’ve done something that took a long time, I’m hoping that the muscles I’ve built from publishing these small thoughts will help me get that one big thing out the door.
Quantity vs Quality
Publishing vs polishing makes me think of quantity vs quality, although in these loose thoughts, they aren’t quite related. Regardless, these days I’m leaning much more toward quantity and correspondingly, publishing that quantity. Yes, quality comes from the quantity of deliberate work and practice—but do you need to publish your quantity to get quality? Not at all. You can practice, rehearse, redo your thing until its quality is to a standard you accept, and then publish it (if you wish). I feel that this is the norm; to pull this off is usually what carries the most heft and allure, culturally, I think.
People see an artifact of your capacities, they do not see what it took to get there, and these suppositions can fuel a certain creative identity (for better or worse). Commonly, I notice creatives who wish to be seen as refined, capable, and skilled. You and your artifact have appeared in the world, it may have been effortless, for all people know.
Conversely, if you publish most of what you do, including unfinished works, you may create a deluge of content. You might overwhelm people. I feel a set of negative connotations loitering around publishing your process, your unfinished works, your unpolished pieces. You may appear as someone who is striving, experimental, curious, scattered, and exploratory. Some of these things are good, some are quote, bad unquote.
It all depends on what you want; even the word publishing in all it’s meaning/meaninglessness must be decided upon.
Where do you want to be on that spectrum, creative reader?
For myself, I’d like to see more publishing. The more I acclimatize to it, the more I learn. The muscle gets stronger, and when the time comes to publish something more high-stakes, there is a better chance that I’ll be more confident, more open to feedback, and simply, more ready to do it. No one is going to give me the confidence I need. It must be built.
Next, is the desire to connect with people. The more I write, publish, and share, the wider the common ground between you and I. Opportunities, large or small, might come from it.
Finally, the things that I publish (and the many things that I do not) — all wish to be published. Why not grant that wish? If I open the door for these little creatures, they can finally leave my house, quit making a racket in the rooms of my mind, and be gone! I will clean up after them, and make room for my next guest.