I’ve heard from many writers recently that they are concerned whether it is okay to share what they create. They want to be sensitive to not come off as too “self-promotional” at a time when the world is so focused on crisis.
Today I want to explore that question so you can make that decision for yourself. Because this is a choice. And you have permission to make whatever choice feels right to you.
I want to begin with a small example of giving yourself permission to create. Several years back, Ira Glass (longtime host of the radio show This American Life), was asked about the firing of New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson. Ira’s response:
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
His answer surprised the interviewer, who said:
“It’s hard to believe that anyone in journalism or broadcasting could still not know Abramson’s name at this point, as her ousting was made very public and has been covered extensively by media outlets.”
Why didn’t Ira know who she was or the big headlines about what was going on at the Times? He put it this way:
“I live in my own little bubble. I live in my own little world and we’re putting together a show that we’re putting up at the Brooklyn Academy of Music; I was rewriting the thing here at the Peabody’s that I’m doing today and we are doing a radio show, so it has been pretty busy. I’m so sorry that was either the worst possible quote or a possibly useful quote. Am I, like, the only person in New York who hasn’t heard this?”
What Ira shared is a reminder that we get to choose where we put our attention. Where we focus our work. To me what was most surprising about his answer was that he was so comfortable in stating his ignorance of the news story.
This is what so many of us need in order to create and share the work that matters most to us. To not have to apologize for where we do — or don’t — put our attention. To not feel bad that we don’t know something that everyone else seems to.
To avoid feeling out of the loop, we may convince ourselves that we have to stay on top of everything. To know all the news, all the local gossip, all the sports scores, all of the movies and TV, all of the internet trends, and every detail of what’s going on in the lives of people you follow on social media. And each hour, each day, there is more and more to stay on top of.
A couple of weeks ago I was on the phone with the company who provides my internet service, and just before we got off the call, the guy went into a pitch to offer me more services.
Him: “Who is your cable TV provider?”
Me: “We don’t own a TV.”
Him: “What?! You don’t own a television set?”
My wife and I got rid of the one we had around 2004. I think it started as a 7-day challenge to not watch. Then 30 days. Then we simply moved it to the curb.
What that means is that:
- My attention is not constantly coping with distraction (of unending background noise of chatter and commercials.)
- My family lives in a home full of silence (and talking and music.) That gives us each space to choose our mood, our thoughts, our attention.
- My living room can be setup any way we want, not with the couch having to face some screen, thereby changing how we live to always put the most attention at a big screen.
Not having the TV is basically freedom to focus on other things. To define what we want our home to be. To create the interactions within it from a blank slate, not based on what is flickering on the screen.
(To be clear: I’m not judging anyone else who has a TV. I’m only speaking for my own personal experience — and choice — at home.)
My point is this: you get to choose where you put your attention. You get to choose what you create and how you do so. You get to choose how you share it with others.
I have spoken to a lot of people recently who worry that “now is not the time to create and share.” Or “It would be selfish of me to talk about my writing now, there are more important things going on.”
But my advice is: you get to choose. Your choice may be that you don’t want to create and share now. That you can’t create and share now. And that decision is right for you, if that is your choice.
I’ve been watching musicians choosing to release brand new work right now, even thought they can’t tour and can’t do as much traditional media to promote it:
- Fiona Apple released her first album in eight years, and she actually had to fight her record label to release it early. It was her choice to move it from a Fall 2020 release, to putting it out this week.
- Bob Dylan has been releasing the first new music in 8 years as well. The first song he surprised the world with was a 15+ minute epic. He released a second new song a couple weeks later. It’s worth noting that Dylan has been on tour since June 7, 1988. Estimates put that tour as him having played more than 3,000 shows in the 30 year period. The tour has been forced to pause, but that isn’t stopping him from creating and sharing.
- The Rolling Stones just released their first new original song in 8 years. (What is it about waiting 8 years to release new music?!) With cancelled tours, their primary way to promote it is gone, yet they felt it was important to put it out.
Too often, we think that there are these pre-requisites for how we create and share. That there needs to be this perfect setting and tools and mood and permission. But creative work can happen however — and whenever — you want it to.
I want to share an example. On my podcast I’ve interviewed author and illustrator Rebecca Green twice. She is wildly successful, and has a following of more than a quarter million people on Instagram. What do you think her creative space looks like? A big open studio? Shelves and shelves of professional tools? Amazing natural light? Nope. This is it:
To create a standing desk, she simply stacked a coffee table on top of another desk. To organize her current projects she literally just tapes them to the wall. On the floor under the desk. Lighting? A random table lamp. Her scanning station? Two inches to the right of where she paints.
When she shared this photo on Instagram, her conclusion (and advice) was: “You don’t need anything fancy to create. Throw a coffee table on a desk, hang some paintings and get to work.”
Can you create and share in a time of crisis? Only you can answer that question for yourself. But I want you to know that it is a choice that you get to make. It is not a de facto “yes” or “no.”
So much of the greatest writing and art was created in less than ideal situations. It is okay to create and share if you want to. Based on your personal mission. Your creative vision. Your personal preference. Your process. And the experiences you hope to create in the world.
Something magical happens when someone experiences writing, art, and music. A moment is created that can help them transcend the moment they are in. It can give them hope. Or a respite. It can remind them of who they are deep down. Or who they can become.
Create and share what matters most to you.