When I started writing in 2020, I shared next to nothing for a year because I was afraid my work was not good enough.
Then I changed my mind about creativity and opened the door to my digital garage. This shift allowed me to:
- Start sharing imperfect work
- Improve faster as a creator
- Find fans and customers who enjoy your work
This article is about how to make the shift that will help you overcome the fear of being judged and reap the benefits of sharing your work.
Embrace the work-in-progress mindset
Sharing what we made is scary. It feels like we’re naked in front of strangers, saying: “This is me: my ideas, skills, and taste. Judge me.”
One way to overcome the fear is to see your work as always in progress.
Think about the work you share as public prototypes.
These prototypes are finished to the best of your ability at the moment of sharing, and that is enough. That’s literally the best you could do. Nobody can expect of you more than doing the best you can right now.
Anything you create is a snapshot of your current skills, which will change soon anyway.
Public prototypes are your practice, not your product. Although some prototypes might end up accidentally brilliant, their primary purpose is to help you improve faster by finishing things more often.
Your products come later as a culmination of your skills practiced through prototypes.
Prototypes is how you get better. Product is how you make a living.
- Writer: Articles are your prototypes. Book is your product.
- Developer: Beta builds are your prototypes. Launch version is your product.
- Painter: Sketches are your prototypes. Paintings are your product.
Do your best but dare to suck
The number one trap for starting creators is sharing your work only if you think it’s a masterpiece.
There is nothing wrong with trying to make your work as good as possible. That’s exactly what you should be doing.
But if you only share what you consider a masterpiece, you freeze your progress, or worse: you get stuck.
I call this trap the Self-criticism black hole.
It works like this:
If your ability to recognize good work is better than your ability to create good work, you will struggle to finish anything.
The hardest thing is sharing your work when you know it could be better but you don’t have the skills to make it better (yet).
Most people who want to create but don’t are stuck here. They are not willing to suck even for a moment. So they choose not to create anything at all.
Embracing the work-in-progress mindset will help you get unstuck from the Self-criticism black hole because you change your thinking from “Anything I make has to be a masterpiece.” to “Let’s do the best I can right now and learn.”
Let’s look at the reasons why you should share your work even if you think it could be better:
- Your perception of what’s good might be off: If you are close to the Self-criticism black hole, you are too critical. Your work is actually better than you think. Share your best attempt and let other people decide what is good.
- You will soon think your earlier work sucks anyway: When you look back at your work in a year, you might be horrified. That’s okay. It means your skills improved a lot. It’s a reason to celebrate. Actually, the sooner your current work seems bad to you, the more you’ve improved. So you should wish you hate your work as soon as possible.
- Your current work might be perfect for somebody right now: There is no such thing as perfect work. Perfect work is just work that is imperfect in a way some people enjoy. So don’t keep your imperfect work for yourself. It might be perfect for somebody who’s out there, and they will love you for sharing it.
So if you are trying your best but remain slightly disappointed with your work, don’t stop. You are doing well, and it will get better.
Show the person behind your work
The person (you) in the garage is arguably the most interesting object in close proximity. Don’t act like it (you) is not there.
After all, it’s you who made all this. How did you do that? Why did you do that? What will you do next?
Context is important. Why and how somebody makes something can change its value enormously. So tell people why you do what you do. Create an About page.
Your story might feel boring to you because you know it so well. But it’s new to others, and they might learn a lot from your experiences.
Your subjective perception of reality is your most precious material. Nobody else has the same blend of experiences as you do. Be honest and find your voice by telling your story through your work.
But you don’t have to actually articulate your story if you don’t want to. Your work will do it for you if you share it with the work-in-progress mindset.
Create, share, and keep your early work online. When people can watch your work evolve, it creates depth. Your work breathes the story of the person behind it.
More often than not, I follow people’s work for the people, not the work.
Important note: Maybe you don’t want to create under your real name. That’s okay. Share your work under a pseudonym. The name is just a signature uniting the work and its creator into one story.
That is how I work.
You can do this or find your own way. Whatever works for you is the right way.
But I see many creators struggle with this, plus I lived through the brutal beginnings myself, and this is my best advice for anyone who wants to create things and share them with other people to make a difference in the world.
I have this to say to anyone who creates anything:
Throw your best work at me. It might not be for me. I might not even like it. But I will always respect you for having the balls to share your best effort.
And I’m telling you: There’s somebody who will love your work, and you for being brave and generous enough to share.
- I realized I wanted to write this after talking to a friend. Thanks, Matej.
- I first saw the idea of working with your garage door open in the public notes of Andy Matushak, and I’ve stolen the phrase shamelessly for this article.