“This month, I’ll finally write a book!” – “23 people like that.” Why is it a bad idea to share your creative goals online? Let’s talk about it.
Many writers like to use online platforms like Twitter and Facebook to share part of their creative process with their readers. One author may announce a meet-and-greet, another one shares pictures of the Trevi Fountain taken during the research for his latest crime novella.
Basically, there’s nothing wrong with that. Especially for writers, social media may be one of the best sources of inspiration out there, right after reading. You can learn the ropes of the business and observe the pros at work. Also, it’s an excellent opportunity to share your personality and build your brand, which might otherwise be hard.
It’s not for nothing that the most popular questions at conferences and during interviews aim at the same concept: “Where do you get your ideas?” Well, that and details about work routines…
Sharing goals – Who invented that?
Still, the idea to quickly blast your goal into the status bar isn’t always as brilliant as it may seem. And I’m not just saying that because the uber-writer Hemingway didn’t know Facebook or because you should go take a swim as he did.
But why could it be wrong?
Follow me to the blackboard, so I can explain, would you?
Granted, this idea isn’t mine. I’m just adding my own two cents so that you can hopefully profit from it. A while back, I listened to a podcast by Jeff Goins.
In case you don’t know him: For me, he’s kind of a meta-writer who teaches success in a creative niche to young entrepreneurs, bloggers, and writers. In doing so, he observes and interviews a lot of writers, musicians, or painters to learn from their process.
So his big topics are the writer’s business and creative work routines. How does a creative person live and work? No matter whether we’re talking about writers or graffiti artists.
I always enjoy his podcast episodes where he doesn’t just clumsily ask about his guest’s idea process. Instead, he goes deep. Sometimes, they lean toward the business side of things, sometimes they focus on a writer’s biography, and in rare cases, on the time-outs where we recharge.
The idea of the sabbatical: On the psychological contradiction of sharing creative goals
In this particular podcast episode, Jeff Goins talked to author Bob Lotich about the concept of the sabbatical; the idea of taking a year off of work, creative projects, social media, and customers.
For the first time, I noticed that in Germany, we are not as accustomed to that concept as Americans or other cultures seem to be. Yes, we know a sabbatical in the academic context, but otherwise, “taking a year off” probably goes against the German sense of productivity (Yes, that’s a thing).
Lotich talks about the creative advantages of his sabbatical experience. For instance, he mentions that, since he took his sabbatical, he feels like he has something to say again, a message to convey. So if you’ve ever considered recharging your creative batteries (and if you have the financial freedom to do so), I can only recommend you listen to this episode.
But now, I want to focus on the idea which Jeff Goins addressed next, referring to Michael Hyatt.
Here’s the idea:
If you share the goal to lose weight, to do sports, to read more, to write that novel, or to finally clean up your desk with your friends on Facebook, you already take the reward out of the likes and comments instead of the actual achievement.
Michael Hyatt puts it this way:
Goal sharing often gives us the same psychological satisfaction of accomplishing the goal without having to do the hard work. In other words, talking becomes a substitute for doing.
So far, so good.
We don’t feel the need to finish our projects anymore, once the announcement rakes in the laurels. It feels as if we had achieved our goals.
“Great! Best of luck!” – We all know those answers, thumbs-ups, and you-are-awesome-gifs.
Hyatt and Goins refer to a theory that Derek Sivers once explained in a TED talk and which is based on the work of psychologists such as Kurt Lewin and Wera Mahler.
Writing down goals isn’t bad per se.
Hyatt emphasizes that we profit from specifying our goals by writing them down. So merely putting goals into words isn’t the problem. Neither is setting them up in your writing app, of course. It’s rather the fact that our gut tells us we achieved something the moment we hit “Publish.”
Whether you ask Hyatt, Goins, or many others – writing down goals is one of the cornerstones of a smart plan. Sharing them, on the other hand, is only useful in well-chosen scenarios.
So ideally, we want to avoid those cases.
I personally believe that we actually can use social media to achieve our goals. We can see that in global projects such as NaNoWriMo, Sober October, or with those individuals who share pictures of their fitness journey and morning routines on Instagram or YouTube.
No doubt, not everyone starting on those paths will get there. But that’s why saying that only one method guarantees success appears oversimplified.
The question is not whether you share your goals online (whichever platform you choose to do so); it’s which path you decide on afterward and whether you share it with a group of people who support that goal.
We should all be aware of the danger of a thumbs-up. Post your resolution. Collect the likes. Go lie down in the sun.
I would differentiate between the status update “Today, I’ll begin my first novel chapter,” in a timeline and its counterpart in a writer group. If you’re taking part in a global movement like NaNoWriMo, updates like that can (sometimes) even get you out of writer’s block.
Then, of course, there’s also the danger of sharing your work in public too early. If you force yourself to read your “finished” first drafts every night by the campfire (or in an online forum), that can harm your progress just as well.
Trust me. Been there, done that. So I can fully understand Stephen King’s advice in his book On Writing to avoid these scenarios.
So how do you play it safe?
By developing a strategy that reminds you of your resolution repeatedly, so you force yourself to work on it.
Fair enough, you posted that you want to write a book, or you even wrote a blog post about it. If you don’t check in regularly after that, be that with yourself or with your “trusted allies,” then that initial post won’t do much for you.
On the contrary: It will even stop you from finishing your project.
At the same time, you want to schedule time-outs and those phases when you don’t expose your work to premature criticism. If you’re not sure whether your idea is ripe and if you want to play around with it for a couple of days, then it won’t be the best idea to let your CNN neighbor in on your vampire thriller’s plot.
Guess what he’ll do? Raise one eyebrow, snort contemptuously through his nostrils and send your idea back into the drawer, right alongside your motivation, so that both can go stale in eternity. Or at least until someone who knows the process encourages you to pick it up again.
After finishing my dissertation, I worked on a stageplay for months. And to this day, I choose the people to discuss it very carefully. Yes, I share it here, but weirdly, the language barrier allows that almost none of my German friends take notice (which I see as a good thing). Anyway, sometimes, I share a basic idea for a scene, sometimes, I just let a friend know that I would like to get their feedback on something.
I am not even sure I successfully made the change from academic writing to blogging and creative writing. How can I demand appreciation from friends who know my genre as well as Fred Flinstone does gasoline engines?
Every writer has his ups and downs. With time, you’ll get to know yourself and know when the time is right to share your ideas with others, especially where to share them!
If you’re looking for support online to grab the creative bull by the horns, that’s not a bad thing in and of itself.
Just be aware that you’ll make mistakes and that the way you share your goals can make the difference between crossing that finish line and never reaching it.
Announcing a project isn’t harmful. But you shouldn’t address it carelessly, just like the project itself. Write down some thoughts, plan with whom you’d like to share specific steps of your journey. Not everyone will support you, and not everything that looks like support on the outside will bring you and your book further along.
An empty Like can do more harm than good.
If you know that and you’re prepared for these dangers, nothing can stop you from reaching your goal.
That’s it for today. I hope this blogpost helps you on your creative journey.
All the best!