Between you and me and this little internet thing, I gotta say, I really can’t stand the advice to “create for your audience.”
That’s a fine and rather dangerous line to dance down. I get the premise: We want to make stuff others love, because if we do, the good stuff happens for us, our careers, and our businesses. But here’s the thing: We can’t create purely for others. Try as we might, we’re incapable of removing ourselves from the work. Everything we do flows through everything we are.
When people do succeed in removing (most of) themselves from the work, we wind up with generic work. Clickbait headlines. Spam. Crap.
So what can we do? Do we create for ourselves, or do we create for them?
Why not the Venn diagram overlap? That feels right, doesn’t it? If we found the overlap between what we love to make and what others love to receive, well, then maybe we’ll have a thriving creative career.
But I’m not sold.
I dunno about you, but whenever I feel like I’m truly thriving, I’m putting stuff out purely for myself — and yet, somehow, at the very same time, it’s also for the audience.
As creators, I think we have to balance a lot of dualities in one mind. We have to possess an irrational confidence that we’re capable of doing something unique that can astound, bewitch, and delight people, yet at the very same time, we have to be humble enough to constantly improve, to never assume we know best, and never feel like we’ve finished our personal journeys.
We have to remain highly sensitive to the world around us, taking in everything as potential inspiration, maintaining a healthy wonder at things, yet at the very same time, we have to be skeptical, critical, and question everything we receive at face value.
We know there’s merit to those who came before us, yet we also know there’s merit in doing things our way, in not getting stuck relying on the convention.
We make things that belong to us. They make up our body of work and no one else’s. Yet at the very same time, we put them out into the world, where they become the property of others — others who can now judge them with equal merit to how we judged them when they were merely ideas.
Creators are these living embodiments of conflicting ideas, these dualities that have somehow been bundled together and wrapped into people.
So why, then, should I embrace that pithy notion to “create for the audience”? Because I don’t. Also? I do.
It’s not one or the other. It’s also not the occasional overlap of the two.
Strange though it may seem, there’s another hidden truth. Do we create for ourselves? Do we create for others? Which is it?
The answer is … yes.
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