Revealing your work as an artist is nerve-wracking. There is nothing in the world that makes an artist feel more vulnerable than playing that last chord, or reading that last word, or lifting that veil to reveal their most prized piece.
The moment when the eyes of others first become fully aware of the entirety of something that the artist has spent days–weeks–months–years– perfecting. The moment when there is nothing more to be seen or heard or felt about the piece–other than the emotions and feelings that linger after.
The artist holds their breath.
Sometimes silence is warranted, and exciting to the artist. But sometimes silence is accompanied by unfeeling facial expressions and hollow eyes.
Sometimes the response is excited, which is to the relief of the artist–because we’re excited too.
Good. It’s not just us.
I recently watched an interview between John Green (Bestselling Author of The Fault in Our Stars) and Stephen Colbert. Stephen, questioning him about his Youtube Channel, asked him “What do you want to do with your YouTube channel that you can’t do in a book?”
And I loved his response.
“Books take years and years to write. It’s like a really long game of Marco Polo, where you’re in your basement saying “Marco, Marco, Marco, Marco, Marco” and it’s not for like four years that someone else is like, “Oh, POLO!” Whereas with the internet and YouTube you can connect to people immediately.”
And I laughed at the fact that he is EXACTLY right. Writing a book is exactly like a lonely game of Marco Polo. It’s like wading around in the water with your eyes closed in a pool void of other people, not even knowing whether at any point someone else will even jump in to play with you at all. And you do this for years, working as hard as you can and pleading with your typing hands “Marco, Marco, Marco” as your pleas get more intense and vulnerable over time until you finish what seems like your tenth edit and send it to your first readers.
The artist holds their breath.
And yeah, there’s a good chance that if you worked hard enough and finished the book that SOMEONE will jump in and start shouting “Polo!” back, and when this happens it feels good. But, the artist still worries–even after hearing the responses–if they’ll ever REALLY connect with someone.
If they’ll ever REALLY make a difference.
And like Green said, there is a level of this “Marco Polo” game in every type of art.
And things like making silly YouTube videos is one of the most vigorously gratifying games of Marco Polo Available. (#kaseyvs Marco Polo, you might say. ;)) You make something. People like it. (Literally. They “like” it. On social media.) And you feel good about yourself. It’s very instantaneous.
Visual art is sometimes slow to generate a feeling of gratification to the artist. Visual art is very final. A visual artist might spend years perfecting a piece screaming “Marco, Marco, Marco” until they finish their final stroke and the canvas is flipped around to the viewer and it is finally fully visually consumed. Where the artist may have spent a very long time screaming “MARCO” in the water, the viewer responds immediately. Visual art requires very little of the consumer. Visual art is an immediate “Polo.” (Or an awkward silence.)
Musical pieces aren’t nearly as “final” as visual pieces, but they can also take a long time to perfect. Music, though, is relatively quick to gratify the artist upon completion, as well, though. 3-10 minute song. Marco. Feedback. Polo. Move on to the next song, or perfect the same one and play it again–maybe even better than before. Music requires a small investment from the consumer–a few minutes of their day as the piece is performed. But, most people are happy to invest a small portion of their day to listen to a beautiful musical piece. Or even a not-so beautiful one. Even if it sucks, what’s 6 minutes of their life, in the long-run? Sure, I’ll invest my time in that. Hit me up.
But writing is very different.
And writing a book is the most different thing of all.
And maybe this is why I think that a novel is the most nerve-wracking type of artwork that can be created.
Because, honestly, sometimes I feel selfish.
A book demands something of its consumer. A book takes a reader’s valuable time–hours, days, weeks worth of free time. Time that they could spend reading another BETTER book, or feeding the hungry, or watching Scandal re-runs, or whatever else they do in their spare time.
And I have the audacity to create something that will eat-up HOURS of their hard-earned free time, and there is no guarantee that they will even like it.
AND I, as an author, actively pursue more people to give up their free time to read it.
AND on top of that, I charge them money for it.
And That feels kind of selfish to me.
More than anything, as an author, it is my desire that my readers enjoy my work. That they feel–in some way–better after reading my book than they did before they read it. That they feel that they have been enlightened. Or entertained. Or that they caught a good case of the “feels.”
Which, I think, is exactly why I feel the overwhelming need to bite my fingernails to the bone in anticipation of release day.
There is nothing more nerve-wracking to an artist than revealing their work. Except for when revealing their work demands something of the consumer in return. Both hours and dollars.
I promise to all of my readers, that I don’t want you to read my book out of a selfish desire. I only want you to read my book, because, I feel–in some way–that the world is a better place with this specific collection of words available to it.
And very soon, this very specific and intentional collection of words will be available to eat away your free time, just as it did mine for the last years of my life.
The artist holds her breath.