Creating for an Audience of One

Originally posted on Medium.

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As a creator, your audience is often the first thing that comes to mind when inspiration strikes. Whether it’s a short story, a musical piece, or a new app design, your mind immediately demands answers.

What will people think? 

Will they love it? 

Will they actually hate it? I even good at this creative thing?

It’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole of self-deprecation and doubt when we only look at ourselves through the eyes of spectators. In audiences large and small, there will always be critics. There will always be fans. And there will always be those on neutral ground.

But what if we took the audience out of the equation? What if we produced our creative works with no one in mind but ourselves? No end game, no performance. Just pure expression.

Sounds great, right? But, like most things in life, this is easier said than done. I’m more than guilty of “considering my audience” to the point of creative paralyzation, abandoning passion projects altogether. But I finally hit a breaking point when I made an important realization; one that’s really stuck with me. 

It’s better to fill a room with mediocre paintings than to stare at a blank wall.

So, in an effort to put on blinders to my audience and start creating for me, I’ve had to shift my perspective as well as habits. Here are a few things that have made my road to uninhibited expression a little easier.

Your Audience Isn’t That Ostentatious

For some logic-defying reason, we like to assume that 99% of the people that consume our creative output are a mix of artistic prodigies and creative masterminds who get some sort of sick pleasure out of destroying what little hope we had for our creative futures.

Forget about everything you’ve dreamed up about what a “creative audience” looks like. Forget about the frilly collars and powdered wigs and condescending, nasally guffaws. (That’s how I imagine it, anyway.) Forget about it, because it’s all in your head. These people don’t exist, and neither should your fear of their judgment.

The majority of creative audiences in the world are just normal people. A collection of regular Joes who want to experience something out of the ordinary. Something beautiful. Many of them wouldn’t even consider themselves creative, let alone prodigies or masterminds of the art. They simply want a taste of whatever it is that you’re passionate about. 

So why break a sweat over what they’ll think? If you enjoyed creating it, 9 times out of 10, they’ll enjoy consuming it just the same.

Which leads me to my second point...

Passion Over Perfection

This has always been one of my biggest downfalls as a creative. I’ll set my sights early on what I want the outcome to be. I can visualize it in my head – the target is clear, and the path to execution seems straight and narrow. So why does the journey seem arduous and often impossible?

It’s because our expectation is perfection. By focusing only on the end goal from the start, we put unnecessary strain on ourselves. We allow no room along the way for creative exploration, which snowballs into creative exploitation. We put everything we have into building up a single idea that might not even be standing on firm ground. Eventually, we’re left with a creation that’s toppled in on itself, or one that’s patched together and barely standing.

I’ve always played music, and looking back, I can see where my perfection-seeking tendencies have kept me from truly experiencing the beauty of an instrument or musical piece. I’ll want to learn a song and share it with the world as soon as possible, so I rush the learning process and completely miss the emotional and spiritual journey that is playing music. I gain nothing from it creatively, and all I have at the end is a melody that I half-heartedly am stumbling through.

By reminding myself that there’s no audience I’m rushing to perform for – no spotlight concert, no Flight of the Bumblebee, no judges with scorecards – I’ve noticed an enormous difference in my playing. I not only absorb the music more naturally, but I allow myself the time to focus on things like theory and technique, which I’d let fall to the wayside in my race to the finish line.

By taking the pressure of perfection and performance off my shoulders, I’ve been able to rediscover my passion and let that be the fuel that drives my creative endeavors.

Instagram Isn’t Your All-Inclusive Gallery

Okay. Technically, it is a gallery. A gallery of iPhone photography and bemoaned Boomerang clips, but a gallery nonetheless. However, it’s not meant to be an all-inclusive representation of your life. Similarly, it shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all embodiment of your creative work, either.

This is going to sound really sad and eccentric all at once, but I’ve caught myself in the midst of a creative idea, only to start imagining how I’ll incorporate it into my Instagram gallery. What?! Why am I this way? I can’t be the only person that’s guilty of this, though. 

In an age where your online presence is everything, it’s all too easy to let social media and other online outlets be the final resting place for our artistic ideas and creations. But with this mindset, we’re doing two things that are detrimental.

Firstly, we’re setting ourselves up for the expectation that every creative activity that we engage in must, in some sense, be post-able. Again, this creates an entirely avoidable strain on us to constantly produce perfection. Secondly, by setting the “share” button as the final step in the creative process, we subconsciously flip the off switch. The project is over, and we move on to the next thing. This keeps us near-sighted in our work and inhibits us from discovering our true creative potential.

By realizing that we can (and should) be creating without sharing online, there’s a newfound sense of freedom waiting there. The freedom to explore, to try new things, to make mistakes, to learn. And that is how we better ourselves and master our craft.

So the next time you have a stroke of creative genius and a crowd of faceless critics flood your mind, just remember...the only audience you should be creating for is an audience of one: you.

Hannah Pike