On Creativity & Self-Promotion

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When I first sat down to write this post, it was after spending a Sunday afternoon browsing A Beautiful Mess‘s blog and coming across an article about why it’s okay to promote ourselves. That article struck something in me. It was like a light bulb went off when Emma said:

You have to give yourself permission to talk about the things you work hard on.”

One of the very hardest things for me, as a blogger, a published writer, a creative, is to promote the work that I’m doing. It’s almost near impossible. Writing a post and publishing it on my little ole corner of the web for my supportive friends to read at their leisure? That’s one thing. But telling anyone outside that circle that they should maybe, kindly, stop what they are doing for two seconds and read my words? Nope.

That little nagging voice magically appears and reminds me, who am I to talk about myself? Who am I to think that my work is superior to anyone else doing their own damn thing? And while we’re at it, obviously their thing is better and smarter and cooler so it makes sense that they would promote the hell out of themselves. But me? Nah.

That attitude may have been okay while I was writing at home, in my journals. My scripts and poems and observations could stay secret. I wasn’t really losing anything by keeping my work hidden, was I? Well, at least at that point, I had no idea what I could possibly be missing out on.

But almost 6 months ago I started this here little website. I wanted a place for what I’ll call, at-home creatives, the ones who keep their work hidden, like I did. I wanted to offer up my own experience and help friends, old and new, to start taking those baby steps towards letting their work out there. I want to create a space to feel supported and encouraged.

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To me one of the scariest things was, once I put my work out there, you then have to wait for all the bad stuff to happen, right? Judgement, insults, loss of friendship, everyone calling you a weirdo…wait. None of those things happened.

What really happened when I put myself out there was that I got opportunities, I grew my own mind by challenging myself and I opened new avenues in old friendships because I was sharing a bit more of myself and that allowed others in my circle to feel comfortable sharing more of themselves with me. I became more me.

But back to self-promotion…in creating this space of support and creativity, it’s become my job to promote the work of the people who share. Can I brag about all the cool things my friends are working on? Absolutely. But the double edged sword is that while I am talking them up, I’m also promoting myself and this site, at the same time. And that feels…sleazy? Obnoxious? Cringey? You name it.

I somehow, in all my excitement, did not account for how difficult it would be to promote something I believe in when that thing was in fact, created by me.

I feel awkward, I feel like I am bothering people…I’m just not that great at self-promotion. That’s the truth. Maybe I am just an old lady in a bizarre selfie culture, but I think it’s weird to constantly put yo’ self OUT THERE, you know?

I love how Emma said in her article that we need to give ourselves permission. That’s the key. It’s not about being obnoxious, or bragging or attempting to make people jealous. (All things we may have grown up being told, as Emma mentions in her post…). And it’s certainly not about waiting for anyone else to give you permission to share yourself. We’ve got to do it for ourselves.

Writers promoting their work are no different than actors going on press tours to promote a new movie they have coming out, or a singer popping up on every talk show for three weeks straight to promote their new album. This stuff is scheduled. On purpose! 

Actors are obligated to promote the new work they are releasing. Singers need people to buy their albums. Authors need people to buy their books. It’s how the creative industry works.

You could even go a step further and say mechanics need people to know they exist, so that they can fix cars and stay in business. Supermarkets need people to shop with them and not their competition. Whatever anyone’s thing is, some sort of promotion is needed so people can find out about a service and then use it, if that’s what they choose. We aren’t forcing people to read our work, we’re giving them the option.

If I can think of it like that, it seems doable.

I really believe that when you look for something, well, that’s what you’ll find. In focusing these past few weeks on getting better at talking about my work, I’ve stumbled upon a new podcast by Sara Tasker, of Me & Orla blog fame. I wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention while I was clicking, picked an episode at random and settled in for a listen. Well, I happened to stumble upon the episode with the super creative Sarah Von Bargen, all about how to get over your silly fear of self-promotion. (Ah, life is so cute sometimes.)

“Anything that has ever changed your life, that person had to like, stop being afraid of self-promotion. They had to pitch the book agent, they had to like, write promotional tweets, they had to like, work with a PR agency and do public speaking and talk themselves up. And that’s the reality of getting your stuff out there.”

Sarah’s right, of course.

And that’s a great way of looking at things. All the things we love most, the work that has moved us to tears, opened our hearts, changed our minds…the books, the films, the music and words that have guided our course and put a band-aid over the sore spots, those things all exist because the person who created them decided to suck it up and just talk about their cool thing. And it was probably scary. And they probably felt silly sometimes. And they probably wondered if anyone would care. But they did it anyway.

I think whatever creative work we are attempting to put out there, the end goal is similar for most people…we want our work to be seen. We want it to be useful, to be accepted, to be liked. We want our work to carve out it’s own little space in the world. It’s a process I’m working on regularly. I have my own little list of home truths and one of them is this:

You can write for yourself and still be happy when other people read your work. And if you’re writing for other people? Well, that’s totally cool too. Creativity doesn’t need to be so deep and pretentious.

Here’s to writing my honest words and then doing my best to tell people about it. Wish me luck!

– – Brittany Forbes

Brittany writes in Canadian, loves in English, and dreams in French. She writes about travels and various other journeys over at Letters To Rayelle.

Am I alone in this struggle of finding self-promotion to be the WORST? Do you have tips to make it more bearable? How do you feel when others promote in a really obvious way? Leave a comment below or reach out on Twitter and let’s chat!

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