We can wait for the gatekeepers to give us permission to share our work, or we can ask forgiveness for doing it ourselves. Or maybe we don’t have to ask for anything at all?
When it comes to creativity, the world is full of authorities.
Everyone has an opinion about what you should (or should not) do as a creative person, how you should (or should not) share you work and what you should (or should not) strive for. Whether it’s the latest guru’s book, a TED talk or a simply a fellow neighborhood artisan, advice is not hard to come by.
The issue is whether or not that advice works.
For years as a creator, I walked through life asking for permission to do the things I wanted to do. When was I ready to publish my work? How could I get ‘credentials’ to earn an audience? What gave me the right to be a “real” creator versus “aspiring?”
I wasted years looking for this permission.
The strange thing was, everyone I talked to wanted me to wait just a little longer. Oh, and send my work to this person, or that. There was always a stipulation of some kind. “When you finally [insert busywork here], you’ll be ready to publish your book or show your art.”
Years went by.
I did every bloody thing I was told to do.
Still, no one had seen my work.
And then, one day, it dawned on me. All the things I was being told to do? They weren’t for the benefit of me or of the audience I hoped to build at all.
They only benefited those whose permission I had sought.
- The publisher, who wanted to ensure that my manuscript was tied up (exclusively with her, of course) for years in edits I did not even agree with.
- The guru, who wanted me to work with her writing system for years before publishing anything.
- The fellow artisan, who assured me it would be years yet until my three-dimensional craft work was good enough to stand up against “real” craftspeople.
Do you sense the theme here? Good, because that makes you officially smarter than I was for a very, very long time.
But something happened that changed everything about my quest for permission.
I got so fed up waiting for gatekeepers to give me what I wanted, that I decided to give it to myself.
- I edited and published my own work, the way I wanted to.
- I listened for my own inner writing rhythm and followed that.
- I shared my craft work even in its formative stages so that I could start conversations and build interest early.
In these “radical” acts, I discovered something wonderful.
I discovered that the gatekeepers weren’t necessary at all in order to make magic happen.
All I needed was my own unshakable commitment to regular artist output, my companion commitment to continual improvement, and the patience (also mine!) to go out and build my audience myself.
All this might sound a bit scary. If we get rid of the gatekeepers, or so the logic goes, who will decide whose work is good enough to be seen by whom? And won’t there be creative anarchy? Won’t the market be flooded with terrible art that no one wants?
Yes, I say. And yes.
But since when have the gatekeepers really been that good at giving us great art? And since when has the really “great work” not risen to recognition in its own time, and its own way?
Seth Godin put it more eloquently.
“Are we better off without gatekeepers? . . . I’m not sure that this is even the right question. Whether or not we’re better off, the fact is that the gatekeepers—the pickers—are reeling, losing power and fading away. What are you going to do about it?”
There’s the real question we should be asking ourselves: “The gatekeepers are fading away. What are we going to do about it?
Not ask. Not think. Not wonder. But . . . do.
I made my decision of what to do in 2013. That’s when I stepped out to share my very first fantasy novel in a serialized form, with the support of a cadre of artist who graciously shared matching illustrations for each episode. One novel, one collaborative web show, a host of friendships, a corporate job, and a full-time business later . . . I can trace nothing but good that came directly out of that “stupid,” “ill-advised” and (by gatekeeper standards) “radical” act.
The Scrappy Storyteller exists today because of the magic I experienced the very first time I chose to give myself permission. This is why I continue to choose “the scrappy way”—putting out my own work, building my audience one personal relationship at a time, piecing together my own artistic path as I go.
It’s because I realized that the only permission anyone could give me was the permission I gave myself.
So in the question between permission and forgiveness, I choose to ask forgiveness.
Actually, I take that back. I won’t ask for forgiveness, either . . . because why would I ever apologize for reclaiming my power?
Isn’t it time you reclaimed yours, too?
2016 is coming. Will you as a creator ask for permission another year, or take the most powerful step of all . . . and give it to yourself?
The key is simply getting fed up enough with a counter-weighted system to assert what’s rightfully yours.
The choice is in your hands.
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What about you? What’s your story of giving yourself permission?
Or perhaps, you’re still unsure of how you want to show up in the world.
I’d love to chat with you about your next move.