Creating authentically or: How I learned to stop worrying and create like nobody’s watching

Paying too much attention to follower count and likes can negatively affect the creative process, whereas authenticity and openness can enhance it.

Creating authentically or: How I learned to stop worrying and create like nobody’s watching
Photo by Thomas Franke / Unsplash

My early exploration of personal blogging took me down several clickbait-, buzzword-, and listicle-filled rabbit holes: “Ten ways to get more followers”, “How to find your niche”, “Five habits of insanely successful writers”, etc. The more I read, the more it seemed that the measure of a successful creator is their ability to amass followers, exploit trends, strategically time content, and create non-stop.

From a business-marketing perspective, these metrics make a lot of sense: Higher visibility equals higher follower engagement equals higher clicks equals higher revenue. I’m even willing to admit that a bit of self-marketing is necessary to foster a community around one’s personal content.

But when the pursuit of numbers becomes a means to an end, you lose a bit of yourself.

Sincerity in a sieve

In the years leading up to the pandemic I started getting an itch to write. Write what? I didn’t know. I just knew it was the medium through which I wanted to express myself and connect with other people.

When the pandemic finally hit, I started getting into meditation and mindfulness, finding them to be wonderful tools to deal with the new stressors of life. Wanting to share my newfound interests with the world and flex my writing bone, I decided to take the plunge and start a blog.

It was easy at first—the novelty certainly played a role in that—but I also enjoyed sharing with others what I was learning. As my follower count started to climb, so did my desire to please my budding audience (dopamine is one hell of a drug, kids). I began to delve into social media strategies and best practices, focusing my efforts on pumping out content at regular intervals and trying to anticipate what topics would perform best.

As impulsively as I had started my side project, I stopped. Keeping up on social media had become a chore. I was bored of writing about the same topic. I didn’t want to write based on some arbitrary schedule.

All of the curiosity, excitement, and optimism I had started my project with had run its course. I wasn’t writing for me anymore.

Create from within

At the time of writing this, I only have five followers and have only published a couple of new articles. I realize this hardly makes me an authority on the topic of running a “successful” personal blog (whatever that means), but I’m a lot happier now than I was before.

So what golden nuggets of insight can I offer for someone looking to share their creative projects with a wider audience? How do you stay authentic and motivated while enmeshing yourself in a community?

Whether you’re a writer, visual artist, musician, or other breed of creative, you likely feel the inherent need to do just that—create. Doing so gives you life. Meaning. But it’s important to recognize the fact that this is an internal drive.

Creating because of external factors likely won’t be fulfilling in the long run.

Creating for yourself or in spite of external factors, on the other hand, is a different story.

Creating content about the topics you’re interested in—at the frequency you want to create them—isn’t a faux pas. You might not be overwhelmed by claps, followers or likes, but if you stay true to yourself and remain mindful of your limits, you can avoid burnout and connect with other people who appreciate authentic content.

Hands with paint on them
Photo by Amauri Mejía on Unsplash

Open yourself up

I recently read Show Your Work by Austin Kleon, a book that I’ve heard described as “a self-promotion manual for people who hate self-promotion”. Despite this reductive description, the book convinced me of the importance of documenting your creative process as a way to discover yourself and be an active participant in your creative network. Seeing the vulnerability and struggles of others in their creative pursuits (and sharing your own) is humanizing and affirming.

When we look at a beautiful painting or read an evocative poem, we might consider it to be immaculate or deem the creator a genius because we only see the finished product. While this may be true, very rarely is the creative process easy or clean.

Kleon’s book also helped me recognize that creativity doesn’t happen in a vacuum. We all have the ability to motivate and influence other creators by sharing our work. Similarly, we might see someone’s work and be inspired to create something new with our own unique spin (ideally giving credit where credit is due). This sort of thinking fosters collaboration and inclusivity, which is particularly important for new creators.

Protect your flame

Like many others, I’ve been guilty of participating in side hustle culture. My hobbies and interests were often my first victims, as I would seek ways to monetize them—inevitably sucking the joy out of them in the process. But this tragic tale is as old as time: a soul trying to find its place in a world that equates wealth and popularity with success.

We’re fallible creatures, and despite our best efforts, there will be times we misjudge our priorities or go against our values. Still, we owe it to ourselves to try as hard as we can to create meaningfully and authentically.

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