The Vanity of Metrics
I started thinking about all the times we stop. I started exploring the framework of my creative peers and what causes so many of us to make things in short bursts between hibernations of the mind and craft. It boils down to my desire to see more good work more often from the very talented folk I know or follow.
I believe the frequency, or lack thereof, can be directly attributed to the perceived success of any given project. If you haven't heard already, creatives are very self-critical and second guess every step of their output. Whether it's a rogue stroke of the brush, a wonky note, tongue-tied sentence or something else, an entire creation can unravel before it ever sees the light of day. Creatives measure the success of their projects before they're even gifted to the world - and here we have challenge number one.
What are we measuring and why?
Unless your livelihood is intricately tied to your creative pursuit, success is vastly subjective. Few people make for dollars that pay the bills. Some make for validation. Some make for release. Some make because making gives them joy. Some make to learn and others make to teach. But so many nowadays, myself included, have fallen victim to the pressure of silly vanity metrics such as likes, comments, and shares. And rather than leveraging the information from these metrics as just one lens on a project's total impact, we've allowed them to become the sole measures of success.
I know in my heart of hearts that I write to deeply connect with a few readers who stumble across my content at precisely the right time. I trust the serendipity. Yet I stumble over organic traffic stats, keywords and other minutiae that is tertiary for an artistic release. When I obsess over the metrics, there's a tendency I cheapen the worth of my efforts.
Can you relate?
The ROI is a long play
I'm talking Return On Inspiration, here, not an investment. Although depending on your medium and the materials that make your project a reality, there may be substantial cost(s) involved such as paints, blank canvases, domains or flash equipment. That aside, I think we cut ourselves short when we dub an effort a failure if it doesn't garner an instant response.
Savor the long play.
There's no social statistic that conveys the number of goosebumps you might orchestrate. There's no accurate way to capture the total deep belly fires you may have rekindled. And you cannot rely on any one formula to prescribe your intended response at a given time with a particular audience. The best you can do is try to gift something heartfelt with the hope that it will stick when the time is right.
The poeticism is the most beautiful aspect of the entire experiment.
How to start stopping
I think to make the most of your potential as a creator, you've got to take stock in a few concepts. Firstly, embrace discipline over motivation. More on deconstructing creativity here. You cannot expect consistent joy in your work if you do not consistently work at it.
We've also got to remember why we started. If the process brings you great joy, don't sweat the product. If the one or two dialogues months down the line give merit to your work, screw the shallow instant response. It's great that a fraction of the world gets 10k double tap likes from people they'll never know. How much sweeter is it when someone reaches out directly to tell you that your work made a tremendous positive impact in his or her day?
And there's no such thing as perfect. Background noise on a track and other quirks that began as thorns in the side become nuggets of gold in the public eye. I think the closest thing to perfect we should ever expect from our creative pursuits is that sliver of total focus, freedom of expression and balance that graces the mind somewhere between inception and presentation to the world. It doesn't need to get any better than that, but if it does, more power to you.
That's the ticket. To start stopping, we've got to hone the desire to create and deafen the pressure to collapse. We must quiet the meaningless measurements and amplify the value of simple expression. We have to catch ourselves slipping into static seasons and throw something against the wall. Otherwise, we sit, sulk and stagnate. Don't let the whispers of doubt ripple into silence.
Analysis Paralysis. Maybe today is one of those days you catch yourself talking your way out of making something that crossed your mind. Or maybe you're letting subtle distractions weave their way into your schedule so you don't have to exert the effort into making something special. Don't let the fear of imperfection translate into total inaction. That's the slipperiest slope of them all. Immerse yourself in starting and figuring it out along the way. After all, that's the only way anyone has ever made anything meaningful.