Thursday, March 8, 2018

Loving Your Work

Earlier today I tweeted about a tweet by John Harper on the subject of loving your work and how it impacts others. For ease of access, I'm going to include the thread here, and then write the rest of the post. This is... a long post.

John's post: 
Hey, creative friends. No matter what you feel inside, go ahead and tell everyone that you love your work and you're excited to share it. Lie if you have to. Your enthusiasm will shine though and others will pick it up. Don't do the bs self-effacing shit. It's kind of awful.
My responses:
I don't think that it's best to lie about how you feel about your work. My suggestion, to meet some of this ask, is "I'm working on something that I want to love and be proud of, but I'm struggling with that. Can you help me find good things in it?"
I'm not great at this yet!
As someone with mental health disorders, it's really freaking hard to not speak negatively of my own work, especially when my work rarely succeeds or gets recognition and ESPECIALLY when I try to speak well of it and instead it gets trashed or I lose followers because of that. 
It is far more encouraged for men, typically cis men, to praise their own work. The rest of us can get called egotistical, or have people say we're over promoting/praising work more than it deserves.
I want to speak well of my work but I struggle with it constantly. 
I get what John is saying here and I appreciate the intent, but I also know that lying about your feelings can hurt you so you should work on how you express them more than how to hide them, & that being positive about your work doesn't always bring good returns and that hurts. 
John's method can work for many people, probably. But for me, that would be painful & harmful to me,  with my past luck as example, & would not be successful as an exercise. 
Just saying: nothing bad about John's words for many people, but it's okay if it's not right for you.💜
So, let me get the hard parts of this out of the way:

  • I'm not mad at John. I think he's great and he's been kind and honest with me in the few bits of time we've had together talking. We just don't always agree, which he has always seemed to be cool about. I'm not arguing with him over this because I don't see a point, it's not like he's bad or something.
  • I don't personally think lying about your feelings is healthy. Some people can fake it to make it, and that's great! But not all of us can, so I suggest if you do John's method (which is totally fine!), be careful and respect your own needs. Performing self-love publicly sometimes needs to take a backseat to living and functioning, and I know that's not a popular thing to say. It's still true.
  • I know not all men benefit from the things I'm talking about here. I have many men I care a lot about who have struggled intensely with receiving recognition with their work, who struggle for people to value their work, and who have received negative responses to their promotion of their work. I know and love them, and I am not trying to belittle their experiences. Please understand that.

There we go. On to the meat of this post!

Description: Debbie Reynolds saying "Chins up! Boobs out!"
It's okay to not love your work. 

It's okay, even though it sucks. It's hard to look at your hard drive at your projects, or down at your drawing tablet, or whatever your work happens to be, and feel that sinking disappointment in yourself. It can be related to success, or completely unrelated. It can be in spite of the love of your fans and friends, or it might be related to trying to meet their standards. It's okay.

I'm going to say something that you've probably heard before, and I'm sorry to be repetitive. But let me try.

Your work is not what gives you value. There is no amount of work you can do that will make you valuable. You don't deserve things based on what you've made, and it's not about deserving in any case. You are valuable because you are. You are part of all of this world and your work may never be recognized but you mean something, you matter, and you are bigger in the scheme of things than your work ever could be.

Van Gogh could not have made Starry Night if he did not exist in the first place. You must be for any of your work to be, and you make your legacy, not the approval of other people.

Description: Freddie Mercury saying "Fuck everybody else!"
That being said.

I get it. I do. I look at my work sometimes and I scream inside (or sometimes outside) about its inadequacies. It's failure. I lament loudly on Twitter that no one wants to interview me. I whine that I haven't sold much of my work, and that no one posts about my work on social media or reviews it. I hurt. I hurt so much. I pour hours into my work and I hurt, and my work is no good. Nope. I hate it.

I bet you think that too, sometimes. And that's okay.

The idea that you have to love your work for others to love it is probably not entirely what John was referring to, but I bet some people took it that way. Loving your work is not the only way to succeed and to make others love your work. It's not! But there are things you should do. You know I love questions, so I'm going to give you some questions to ask yourself to make hating your work useful. (click thru for more!)


Sorry, this is my favorite quote and is appropriate. Description: Andy Samberg as Jake Peralta saying "Eyes closed, head first, can't lose." 
This is an exercise to try to find out what you can do to solve your negative feelings about your work, or at least move past them. This is something I've actually done, and I found it helpful, so I'm not just bullshitting you. You'll need at least 5 minutes per piece of work, potentially more like 10.

Go to look at a few pieces of your work that right now, you feel bad about. Yeah, it'll suck. Just go. Take something to record your thoughts. Ready? Ask these questions about each piece of work, briefly. You can go back with details later.

  • How am I feeling while I look at this work? 
    • Do I feel disgust? 
    • Do I feel sad? 
    • Do I feel angry?
  • Do other people tell me they feel this way about them?
    • How do other people feel about them?
    • If you haven't shown them to anyone, show them to someone after the exercise.
  • Why do these pieces make me feel this way? 
    • Is it because of their structure? 
      • How should they be structured? 
      • Can I change their structure? 
      • How? 
    • Do they look bad? 
      • How do I want them to look? 
      • Can I make them look that way? 
      • How?
    • Do they not function? 
      • Can I make them work? 
      • How? 
      • What tools do I need?
    • Do they relate to something negative in my life? 
      • Can I talk to someone about that? 
      • Can I change it to ease that connection? 
      • How?
    • Has someone said something bad about them? 
      • Were their complaints valid? 
      • Can I solve any valid issues the person presented? 
      • How?
    • Are they unfinished? 
      • Can I finish this? 
      • Do I need to? 
      • Can I set it aside officially and return sometime?
    • Are they not what I planned for them to be? 
      • What did I plan for them to be? 
      • Can I make changes to make them that? 
      • How?
    • Did they not give me the success I wanted?
      • What was the success I wanted? 
      • Do I need to rely on that success? 
      • Can I ask for help to find it?
    • Have I been too busy to work on them?
      • Do I want to make time to work on them? 
      • Can I make time to work on them? 
      • How?

Look back at your "how?" responses. Which of these is 1) something you want to do, 2) something you can do (by yourself or with the help of others), and 3) something you think will make any difference in the way you feel about those pieces of work? If you have multiple things for one piece of work, put them as a bundle together.

Description: Taraji P. Hensen taking a picture with a phone camera captioned "you're doing amazing, sweetie."
Once you've figured a few out, look at your calendar and your current to-do list. Set aside a half hour in three days and then another half hour in a week to look at one of the items you think you can address, focusing on one set of questions and responses at each of these scheduled times. So maybe you think, "this drawing sketch doesn't function the way I want, it doesn't convey the emotion I'm looking for, but if I take it into Illustrator maybe I can strip out this section and draw in a new one." You work on that.

Even if you just think about it for a while and write some notes, that's okay! Keep setting aside just brief 15-30 minute appointments to address these questions, and work forward on execute the "how?" If you reach a hiccup or feel frustrated, seek support. Choose one or two people - only one or two - whose opinions on this project would be valid and you would trust. Tell them, "I'm struggling with solving this problem. Can you talk with me about it and tell me your positive and constructive thoughts?" Work from there to see if you can complete what you said you could do.

If you find that a piece of work doesn't answer yes on any of those "something you want," etc. questions, set it aside. Unless it is paid work, step away.

With other people's projects, remember you're satisfying them, not you. Contact the person you're working with, and explain some of what you're seeing, ask if they feel the same way. If they do, ask what options there are to address it ("someone said the draft of this NPC sounds like nonsense, can we look at it together and consider rewrites?"). If they don't, just finish the project to what they ask. It might be hard or frustrating, but sometimes, we do paid work for no satisfaction. But, don't hate that work - it's over when it's over. Archive the files, put it away, whatever you need to do: put it out of your mind. You're done.

Description: Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple saying "Okay, I'm done."
Here's the thing: you might not love the work after you've worked on this. Make an effort to execute your "how?" and ask for help when you need it. After that, you might feel better. But, you might find out it's not what you wanted. You can return to the questions, or with your own projects, you can set it aside until you want to jump back on that boat. Or you can toss it out. You are in control of it.

Now you know why you feel bad about it, and can try to do something about it. Just disliking your work and not knowing the reason can burn you up inside. And the best part is, sometimes, figuring out the why and whether you can fix it and how is the path to liking something, or for getting rid of something. Asking these questions and thinking about it practically puts more power in your hands to either do something or not do something, and neither decision is morally or ethically wrong.


You might hate that exercise more than you hate your work, so that's something. But really, friends, think about why you make things. Creation is power. Creation is beauty. When we make something, we put something into the world that otherwise wouldn't exist. It's amazing! So why wouldn't we work? Why wouldn't we make?

And we are the biggest part of that. We control the work, as much as is realistic. We control how we market it, we control how we consume it, we control how we engage with our work. This is a choice we make.

I just wanted to use this. Description: Pink text reading "baby bok CHOICE"

Speak up when you feel dissatisfied with your work if you want, but try to do it with purpose. I felt upset with Turn because people kept on calling it Powered by the Apocalypse, so I thought it through, and I made the changes I needed to do to make myself stop being angry and disappointed with it. A few word changes and it bloomed. I felt frustrated with Shoot to Kill, but after I realized it was because I felt ethically strained about it, so I am making changes to fix it. It sucks to think about why you dislike your work, why you're frustrated, but it makes it possible to change it and feel better about it!

People will see your enthusiasm over your work, or even your constructive discussions and growth, and want to enjoy your product with you. It will encourage them and it will benefit you. It is hard to do, but I think it is a challenge any of you are up for.

Hating your work won't make work better, and yeah, it might not make it worse either. But couldn't loving it make it great?

Description: Terry Crews saying "You know Terry loves love."

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