When I was in college, I had a professor repeatedly refer to me by a superhero name in class (and I wish I could remember exactly what it was because it was gloriously cheesy. It started with Captain, I remember that much. Captain Marvelous, maybe?). This whole strange routine started because I was never one of the most visible people in the class (it was a massive lecture and at 8 AM so I spent most if it half asleep) so it was apparently a surprise to him when my part of a big group project was really good. From his perspective, I had spent the whole class invisible and then had busted out this whole amazing final product out of nowhere.
Now, obviously, I’d been working that whole time in the background, I just hadn’t been in everyone’s face about it, but, as he repeatedly singled me out in that big class in such a positive way, I realized I liked that feeling of having just poof-ed something amazing seemingly out of nowhere, of hiding the work I did so it looked like I’d magicked the final product into existence. Unconsciously, I started to talk less about the work I was doing in all aspects of my life, to stay quiet and hide my big projects so that, when they were ready for the world, it seemed like I’d miraculously birthed them fully formed from my head like little Athenas.
I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to be like a duck and I’m finally realizing that it’s not a great idea for a variety of reasons. Most of all, it means working in a vacuum. If you don’t show anyone anything until it’s completely done, there’s no feedback until it’s almost too late to change anything. Sometimes, particularly with creative work, you want to get your ideas out before they’re contaminated by outside sources but almost every other aspect of the process of creation benefits from perspectives other than your own.
I know this now and yet I’m finding this habit incredibly hard to break. I’ve never had trouble being transparent about HOW I work, it’s just talking openly about WHAT I’m working on I’m struggling with. What I have noticed, though, is that the more I make an effort to let the unfinished product out for some air, the more it’s benefited me on several levels.
Here’s two simple examples that happened in the last few weeks alone.
In the past, when I was working on an e-commerce book that’s pretty much all I would say on it. “I’m working on my next e-commerce book.” That’s it. With eBay Marketing Makeover, while I did wait to reveal the official title and cover, you readers knew from the start that I was working on a book on marketing. And when I knew it was going to be specifically about marketing on eBay, I started telling people that too. Just that simple change, telling people exactly what I was working on instead of being mysterious, but it led to not only multiple opportunities for me to promote the book it also seems to have increased hype for the title because pre-orders are better than expected. My guess is simply that, by talking about it earlier, I gave myself more chances for luck to happen and, by talking about it during the creation process, potential readers became more invested in the project than they would have if I’d just presented it whole and finished at the end.
On the fiction side of my life, I’ve been thinking about adapting Carlo Gozzi’s, The Green Bird since 2002. That play is a sequel to the other play I adapted, The Love of Three Oranges, and many people have asked me if/when I’d be doing a version of it. As soon as I started doing it in earnest, I stepped out of my comfort and started talking about it. On my blog, on Twitter and Facebook, anywhere I am online. I’ve been talking about exactly what stage I’m in, what scene I’m writing, the problems I’m running into, etc. I’ve never done this with anything before, especially not to this extent. Even when I do talk about my works in progress, I usually use nicknames and working titles. Now I’m talking about a specific play, by the real name, that anyone could follow along my progress with at home, and it feels very, very weird.
But there’s no denying it’s the right thing to do. People are interacting with these posts and the feedback is clear: They’re excited. They’re eager for me to finish this play so that they can read/perform it and that, in turn, makes me more excited to work on it, more driven to finish it. It’s also lead to networking experiences I wouldn’t have otherwise have had access to. It’s building hype on both sides of the creation process.
All this time, I was worried about presenting the perfected final product and never letting them see me sweat without realizing that letting people into the process can be not only beneficial to you as you do the work, but get your fans and customers more invested in what it is you’re doing before it’s even finished. With all due respect to Michael Cain, maybe you shouldn’t be like a duck. Maybe you should be like a canoe.
Sure, the duck looks pretty cool sliding along the water like magic and everyone can see the person in the boat doing the work to move the craft forward, end over end, paddling from side to side.
But you know what? Seeing that work is pretty darn mesmerizing too. And because it’s a sight we see less often, we’re much more likely to pay attention to the person doing the paddling than the one who’s making it look easy.