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Make Something You Won’t Ever Show Anyone Else

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Updated July 28, 2022

You’re reading an excerpt of Creative Doing, by Herbert Lui. 75 practical techniques to unlock creative potential in your work, hobby, or next career. Purchase now for instant, lifetime access to the book.

In Minor Feelings, poet Cathy Park Hong writes, “We say we don’t care about audience, but it is a lie. Poets can be obsessed with status and are some of the most ingratiating people I know. … A poet’s precious avenue for mainstream success is through an award system dependent on the painstaking compromise of a jury panel, which can often guarantee that the anointed book will be free of aesthetic or political risk.”

All too often, considering an audience gets in the way of creative work. It’s not an easy habit or thought pattern to break; even if you think you’re not making for an audience, you’ve gotten into the practice of it. The key is to practice making something you’ll never show anyone else. In doing this, you’re gaining valuable feedback from yourself.

One of Dacoury Natche’s collaborators, Donald Glover (who makes music as Childish Gambino) has talked about the importance of making work that you won’t show anyone else. Glover says, “Making songs now that I know aren’t going to be heard by anybody else, it is an interesting thing. Because I think you have to do that now as an artist. I really do. Because you start to manipulate your work based on other people, which is fine depending on what you’re trying to do.”

It’s only once you’ve gotten in the groove of making things you won’t show anyone else that you’ll make something truer to what you want to make, that enables you to find the stories you want to tell, that are worth taking risks for, and eventually to find your creative purpose.

Or flip this prompt: Take Someone Behind the Scenes

Find New Contexts for Your Work

I’ve been writing online for years. With the best of intentions, friends would suggest that I start a vlog, or a podcast. It used to bother me, but now I take it as part of a vast feedback channel. Instead of starting a vlog or podcast myself, I look for people who work in those areas and try to get my work out to them. Rather than repeating my work or reading it out loud, I prepare and improvise points from my writing into a more conversational format like an interview. I also keep my eyes open for visualizations that might better convey my message.

It’s in making the work more portable that I’m able to put a portion of it out for feedback. The simplest version of this is getting feedback on names—which ones did a friend remember? Or, which concepts or ideas from an interview stood out to listeners or readers?

Chris Kim is obsessed with these different areas, which he calls contexts. It’s important to him to find new contexts for his work. For example, he’s interested in building in a more modular way—saving melodies in their own track, saving drums on another, and sharing these individual elements with people to get their perspectives.

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