(Don’t) Show Your Work: How To Become A Confident Creator

I’ve kept a personal diary ever since I was eight years old (the first entry in my little blue 1985 diary reads, “if I was a ghost, I wouldn’t just haunt people to scare them, I’d only haunt horrible people so I could try to make them good”).   

Back then, I didn’t write new diary entries in the hope that anybody else would read them – in fact, with two snooping little sisters around, keeping them secret was a challenge! 

My diary simply represented a ‘safe’ place to scribble bare thoughts and feelings, without worrying about what other people might think of me.

I still keep a diary.  But recently I’ve caught myself wondering if I’m wasting my time, writing something that nobody will read.

Partly, I blame social media (well, that’s the scapegoat for everything these days, isn’t it?).  When every meal is an Instagram post, every pithy comment is a Tweet, and every trip to the gym is a Facebook check-in, it’s easy to feel that if your life isn’t being played out online, then you’re not really living it.

Not to mention the fact that if you run any kind of business, you’re constantly being told to tell compelling stories about yourself, so potential customers can understand what you’re all about.

(It’s hard to keep coming up with interesting stories from your own boring life, when you’ve got followers to keep entertained.  I can understand why Jesus resorted to tall tales about turning water into wine). 

But then I had a phone conversation with someone who wants to do what I do, which is freelance writing.

“I’m particularly interested in knowing how you went straight from HR to writing,” he said. 

I started to explain all the uncertain mechanics that went into setting up my business… the web design process, the leaflet-canvassing, the cajoling friends and colleagues for useful connections.

“Yes, but the writing…” my call-ee said, patiently.  “How did you know you could actually write?”

“Because I’d already been writing for years,” I said, and as those words tumbled out of my mouth, I realised that I hadn’t gone “straight from HR to writing” at all.

While I went to work every day, I’d been silently building a new career behind the scenes, without really knowing it.

Being a ‘creative’ does mean going scarily out on a limb at times.  You need feedback to get better at whatever it is you’ve decided to create. 

For example, I used to be a member of a writing website, posting stories and articles for fun and comments, and I wrote a novel that I sent out for reader insights (ten-odd years later, I’m still working on it.  Fun).  I also kept up a ‘hidden’ weekly blog for over a decade, which you can now read as a handy book.

But being a creative also means putting in hours of unseen, unsung work; toiling away on new, rambling, maybe a little bit crazy, ideas in your own sweet time, with no idea where it’s all going to lead…

…and not particularly caring, actually, because you’ve finally found an ally to help you brighten life’s mundanities, and deal with all of its quakes.

My diaries, I realised, have been instrumental in helping me find my writer’s voice over the years.  They’ve shaped my thoughts, articulated my feelings, and carved out a little pathway towards making words a paid way of life.

Combined with all the feedback I received from people who were kind enough to read my early scribblings, I could feel confident about one thing as I started my business.

I could write.

The moral of this tale?  If you’re itching to create something, but you’re not sure what – or if you know, but you don’t want anybody seeing it – get on and do it anyway. 

You don’t have to post the results on social media.  But maybe one day, you’ll end up posting something you’re genuinely proud of.

Something that began with that itch.

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