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The Poseur Test

Have you ever felt like a total fraud with your creative work? Like a poseur who wants to be known as a writer or artist or for their ideas, but worries that you don’t live up to that identity?

If you have, boy are you not alone. I grew up as an artist, my friends were always the artsy kids, and in my work, all I do is work with writers and creative professional. I can tell you, feelings of being a poseur or fraud are common.

Even just this week, I received emails from a two different writers who shared with me their biggest challenges:

  • “[My biggest challenge?] That my manuscript is not good enough to share.”
  • “I am trying to get past my insecurities that no one really cares or wants to support me.”

While neither may use the term “poseur” or “fraud,” they suffer from similar issues. But I want to make a very clear distinction between these two stated challenges above:

  1. One is about the work itself. Is the work worthy?
  2. The other is about the person. Is the person worthy?

What I find stops many people is the second of these. Not just that their manuscript or painting or song isn’t good enough, but that they aren’t good enough.

Today I want to talk about how to navigate your creative vision while not losing your mind to insecurities that can so easily stop you. Because after working with thousands of creative professionals in the trenches, I have found this:

The biggest barriers that threaten to kill your creative work will come from inside of you.

Yet, very often, we worry about things external to us:

  • A critic or review.
  • A gatekeeper.
  • A trend that you missed.
  • A launch.
  • A cold-hearted “industry.”

Are these things challenging? Sure. But they are not what will stop you. What will stop you will be if you ignore the following two steps to achieve your creative vision:

  1. Craft comes first.
  2. Meaningfully connecting your work to another human being comes second.

Double-down on these.

These are foundational, and if you can take these two actions again and again, everything else will be easier. If you can only do one, do the first one. I’d rather see you paint alone in an attic and get better and better at painting, than to not paint at all.

But if you also have the desire and energy, then focus on connecting that painting to another human being too. Sure, it can be a gallery show or an Etsy shop, but it doesn’t need to be that formal. In our lives, we have been moved — CHANGED — by works of art in the most nondescript moments. Share your art with one person in a way that is small, but meaningful.

Boom. You just changed the world.

Both of these are actions — your craft and sharing — are skills. Both are simple to start doing, and complex to dedicate yourself to in the long-term. Why? Because so much inner judgement hampers us.

Which brings us to the poseur test. Are you nervous? Me too. No one likes tests. But I want you to take this test, not for me, but for yourself.

It’s simple:

  1. Write down your goal as a writer or artist or other creative pursuit. If you don’t like the term “goal,” then instead write down the “practice” that you want to establish in your life. For instance, perhaps you are a chef — perhaps you don’t have a specific goal, but you want to establish a practice of cooking a different meal for a group of 10 people from your community each month. You want a practice of improving your cooking skills, and bringing people together over food.
  2. Write down the smallest action you have to take in order to attend to that goal. For instance, if your goal is to become a bestselling author, don’t write down that you are trying to figure out Facebook Ads because you watched this fascinating webinar about how Facebook sells books. Instead: write down that you want to become a better storyteller; or you want to get better at finishing and sharing; or something similar. Keep it simple — goals that would be as applicable in 1957, 1987, or 2017.
  3. Write down your schedule for doing this smallest action. How often do you do it each week? For how long?

So how do we grade this test? Well, I’m not one to judge, so I’m going to encourage you to grade the test very simply: how do you feel about your answer to each of these questions?

Did you struggle to think of your goal or practice?

Did your “smallest action” turn into a list of 1,000 things you have read heard are all “essential steps,” and you can’t figure out where to begin? For instance, if your goal was “I want to write and publish my first novel,” was your “smallest action” list filled with things such as “build a website, launch a podcast and figure out Pinterest” because you read an engrossing story of how another author launched her first novel with them? But, of course, you feel scattered and overwhelmed because none of these things have anything to do with writing a novel?

Can you not remember the last time you took these minimum actions, and couldn’t even imagine how you could work them into your life?

If this is how you reacted to any of the questions above, then no that doesn’t make you a poseur. Again, my goal here is not to judge, and I don’t want you to feel bad about yourself. If you weren’t happy with any of the answers above, I would encourage you to go to your calendar, and block out a single hour each week for the next four weeks to invest in something:

Clarity.

During each of those hours, explore these questions:

  1. What do I hope for with my creative work?
  2. What is the smallest action I can take?
  3. How can I develop this practice in my already busy life?

I suggest that you ponder these questions in a place that inspires you, or where you can feel alone in your thoughts. Go to the park and sit on a bench by the lake, go to a cafe and order a hot cup of coffee and pastry, or find a quiet corner of the library.

This is time to invest in yourself and your creative vision, and instilling clarity in each.

Once you have taken these four hours over the month, create a schedule where you can take your “smallest action” every day. Don’t worry about results, worry about taking small actions towards improving your craft and connecting your work to others.

Because if you do these things, you can never be a poseur — never be a fraud with your creative work. You are a doer… one who shows up and creates.

Be someone who creates every day.

-Dan

  • Great article, Dan! I’ve shared it on FB and Twitter. http://dawnlaurenanderson.com

  • Very interesting. I do often feel like a poseur. A few days ago I had a conversation with a very successful author/self-publish coach As one who is just starting out in this niche I voiced my concern that wow! I first began on this journey a year ago and suddenly (or so it seems to me), everyone is in that space including some really big, iconic name type gurus in the online space. How can I possibly compete hope to make a success of my efforts? Her reply went something like this: “I don’t pay much attention to who I’m up against, I pay attention to what I offer and work on it every day. At the end of the day I want to be further along on my journey than when I woke up that day.”

    Thank you for the post, for bringing the “one small thing” to my consciousness and reinforcing in my mind that the smallest action taken every day brings me closer and closer to my goal … and that that doing so makes me a doer, not a poseur.

  • Susan Davenport

    Thanks. This was exactly what I needed to hear today. Now I’m off to accomplish one small thing today, and doing it with a smile.