What separates artists from ex-artists is that those who challenge their fears, continue; those who don't, quit. Each step in the artmaking process puts that issue to the test.
When you are afraid to publish your work, to release your art into the world, then you know it's time. Time to give up. Time to let go and have faith in what you've created. It may be great, or it may be terrible. But it's time. Time to ship — to move on, forge ahead, and explore new endeavors.
Learning to let go
I'm working on a project that I know is important, but I'm at the point where I'm sick of it. I want to give up, to throw in the towel and just cancel it. But I know this feeling; I've felt it before.
This desire to quit means I'm close to something great. So I push forward and persevere. I stick with it for a few more painful iterations; I want it to be just right. I feel the urgency increase; I can sense the need to get this project out and allow it to touch people's lives. So I review it a few more times (like a good, creative perfectionist).
Then, with all the courage I can muster, I condemn the voices of self-doubt. I reject the temptation to wait.
And I go.
What happens next is not up to me. I've done my work. I've created the best thing I can. Now comes the mystery. Will this touch thousands, maybe millions, of lives? Or will it flop and utterly fail? Will I regret making it, or will it be the best thing since sliced bread?
Only time (and luck) will tell.
But for now, I'm content. Because I've created. I've shown up long enough to actually produce something. What more can I ask?
Here's the alternative
We all battle this struggle between our desire to move people and our fear of what they might think. We all want to do our best work and at the same time question what we have to offer.
It's a difficult, convoluted mess, this creative life, but it's ours and ours alone. We can either embrace it or not. We can submit to the process and learn to trust it. Or we can keep questioning ourselves, slowly going crazy.
You know what happens when you don't do this? When you don't ship? That's right. Nothing. Your art stays on the shelf, in the garage, or on the computer. Safe and quiet. No one is moved. Nothing is changed. And the world remains the same.
On top of that, you never get better. You can't become the artist you want to be without practicing in public. If you're okay with this, then by all means, keep at it.
As for me, I choose to move through the fear and release my work into the world. It won't be perfect, but it will be published. And I will learn something in the process.
What about you? How do you face your fears and hit publish? Share in the comments.