This blog is about my biggest pants yet. That should have been the blog’s title, but pants is funnier in British than American, so I didn’t. What’s the point when half your readers won’t find it as snortingly humorous as the other half? Anyway, learning by the seat of your pants, and in public, is a great tool for improving your writing, and your life. Being a bit of a muppet in public shows you that so long as you are not, say, president of a crazy and secretive nation, or crazy president or an otherwise completely fine nation, the world will not end. (If you are such a president, then I only hope there is large secret-service person close by, who will snatch your hand away from the big red button).
So why is learning in public so useful? Jami Gold says it can help you get feedback as you work, and build interest in your idea or brand. She also highlights a few downsides – including sharing something which contains errors. (I’ve done that for sure – I corrected some typos in one of my AZchallenge posts just this morning. Yikes.) Another potential pitfall she mentions is setting yourself up for problems if you don’t deliver what you promise – readers excited to receive your finished work might be very unhappy if it doesn’t appear when promised. Read her entire post about it here.
Joe Bunting says sharing your work helps you to fail faster. And the faster you fail, the quicker you get to success. Weird logic, but you can see how that would work. Check out more of Joe’s articles on his writing community, The Write Practice.
Jeff Goins is a big proponent of failing in public, and like Joe was one of my inspirations in creating this blog. Jeff’s philosophy on this is that other creatives don’t do their thing in a garret. Musicians don’t just record their music and listen to it themselves: they share it in live performances. Artists, even graffiti artists like Banksy, don’t hide their work, they put it up where people can see it and get excited about it, one way or another.
It encourages other people who are on the same path as you. Austin Kleon believes you should share something every day. That helps solidify a habit, and it creates a habit for your audience, too, to look out for each day’s contribution from you.
It gives you confidence that mostly your actions don’t have terrible consequences, and most consequences can be fixed. I went back and removed those typos I mentioned earlier. Nobody commented to complain about my shoddy proofreading, and I apologise right now for not having gone over that post properly before publishing it. I’ve also changed my mind about all the structure stuff I posted on when I started this blog. It was a mistake to ignore structure for most of my writing life until now, and I admit that freely. I’m learning from that mistake!
It challenges you to hold yourself accountable to your audience. This blog allows me to practise blog writing (!) and also to reflect on things I love and hate in the world of literature. I could do this in my private diary, but by doing it in public, I have to check spelling, test sentence structure, and make sure that each post’s argument more or less hangs together.
I think most of all it encourages you to share your work. Once you get over the idea that what you do can be seen by other people, it emboldens you to give them more things to look at. I could post a new novel, chapter by chapter in public, and get feedback as I go. I could test out story system ideas on people instead of in my head. I could do anything. I never intended this blog to be a platform for my stories, but I’m starting to wonder if I should change that. I love Austin Kleon’s idea of sharing a poem every day.
It kills off perfectionism. I encounter a lot of writers who are afraid to start writing because they know that what they write will not be perfect. Or writers who go over and over their first chapter, trying to make it flawless, before they move on.
If you’re writing in public, on a schedule, you haven’t got time for that. You check your work to the best of your current ability and you send it out into the world. I learned this in 2013, when posting fanfic chapters every day. My readers would message me asking when the next part was coming. I wanted to meet that demand, and so even when I could see a sentence which could be honed further or a plot point which could be developed more, I held back my perfectionism and pressed Publish. It was time to share, and I shared. I achieved so much more this way than if I had stalled and fussed over my writing. It’s not perfect, but it’s out there being read, and that was my aim.
Here are some places you can share your work and learn in public:
Tumblr – I use it for stories, many people use it for art.
Twitter – Jeff Noon tweets stories – haunting, beautiful, weird stories.
I think learning in public has toughened me up and made me more aware of my audience. It’s brought me a good habit of writing to be read.
What do you think of public learning? Are there other outlets where you share your work? Let me know in the comments! I love to find new places and ideas.
I’ll be back tomorrow with Q – with a mystery theme…