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Killing creativity one trend at a time
Algorithms versus your artistic vision. 🎨 ✍️
For a while it was fun.
I was an early adopter of social media. I use to run training seminars for creative entrepreneurs and small businesses to help them leverage tools to build a community and find new customers. Back then, before paid ads dominated the scene, it was all about conversations and storytelling. Creators had a chance to take their community behind the scenes — into their workshops, perhaps their desks, and the processes behind their craft. Followers had a chance to put a face to the name instead of just seeing a painting on a wall or a book on a bookshelf.
We were creating connections. For a time, it felt good.
Until it didn’t anymore. For me, it started about a year ago. As a writer and the marketing lead at two photo-based companies, I have been an avid user of numerous social media platforms. These platforms have brought us new readers, viewers and customers. I’ve had a direct connection, and conversation, with those who appreciate what we are creating. Today, we still have our core communities and I love to see familiar names popping up in the comments. But, like many creators, I have seen what it takes to beat the algorithms. I’ve seen a decline in engagement. Now it feels like the only way to get attention is to pay to advertise or give into trends that will increase our reach.
It’s a terrible place to be as a creator. It’s no longer about putting your work out there because you’re stoked to share it. It’s about replicating a recipe if you want to be seen. It also calls us to tap into new methods of storytelling. If you’re a photographer, you’d better get on the video train because that’s where the eyeballs are. Same if you’re a visual artist. Invest in a camera setup so you can capture time lapses and the progression of your pieces. Even writers are called to pull off complicated marketing plans to promote their work. I have entire Dropbox folders of video content that I can use to promote my memoir.
I’m not saying those things are inherently bad. They can be a lot of fun to put together and put out there. But the pressure to keep up with the latest trends can be a killer for your creativity — and motivation.
At times I’ve chosen to take energy away from writing and put it into creating content that will help generate a conversation around my work or bring my readers into a more immersive experience with my book. Often I have fun with this kind of content, even if it eats my time. The problem is: sometimes it’s worth it, sometimes it’s not. The trial and error process alone is frustrating. If the algorithmic gods don’t wave their glittery wand in your direction, tough luck. 🪄
Social media is unpredictable. When I saw that one of my most viral videos ever was one of me tobogganing down a trail behind my house (you can find it on my Instagram feed), I thought to myself: This is absurd. Here I am toiling away at a book marketing plan and THAT’S what people want to see!? Another example: I spent time and energy building up a TikTok account when I released my book and had only 64 followers after six months. I have since disabled that account.
I’m not calling for a full stop to social media here. I think it can still play a role in a greater scheme. But that landscape is looking grim for many creatives, especially those who are late to the game in building their platforms. It’s worth doing a cost/benefit analysis of the whole thing: What do you ultimately gain from the time you put into it? Is it taking away from your creative process?
As new platforms, trends and technologies pop up — AI, virtual reality, new social media trends and optimization strategies — we need to continue to question: Do these tools serve my vision or is the cost too high when it comes to my artistic integrity?
I realize this is a nuanced discussion. For instance, some creatives have found a healthy balance in which they utilize the tools in order to bring in income, which frees them up to pursue their truly creative work. Others have found an incredible audience on social media and are doing good for the world through their presence there. Humans are wonderfully innovative and I am frequently blown away by how some artists are using the tools to create unique and refreshing content (see some recommendations below!).
To close today, I wanted to offer up a few alternatives:
Find your bread and butter. I mentioned this above with regard to creatives who have found ways to bring in income in order to free up time for creative projects that may not pay the bills (as least straight away). What this looks like for me right now is 1:1 creative coaching and managing a photography business while my book royalties and other freelance writing add a nice bonus (but nothing I fully rely on). This takes the pressure off my craft and the bottomless pit that is keeping up with the algorithms.
Focus on quality over quantity. This goes for your friends, clients, customers, collaborators, readers, and followers. All it takes is a small community to start making waves, even if it doesn't feel that way. Trust me, big numbers don't guarantee big engagement — not anymore. It's all about attracting the right people. Be genuine. Be yourself.
Go back to old-school methods. I'm convinced that the blog will make a comeback (just take a look at the explosion of subscriber-based newsletter services this past year - ahem,). Host a good-old slideshow or event in your hometown. Put some energy into creating a ridiculously good website, both in aesthetics and function. Get on the e-newsletter train. I believe these types of outlets will help you to remember why you love to create.
Focus on being different, even if it feels awkward. I get it: if you're trying to grow a business, you might feel like you need to give people what they want. But when it comes to your craft, take a hard look at what you're creating. If it doesn't get you jazzed, ask why you are doing it. Will you look back on this phase of your life and regret how much time and energy you put into curating a presence that felt like a replication of everything else you see online? Consider how you might redefine your relationship with social media to make it work for you.
If any of this seems harsh, it’s because I’m putting my own work under the microscope here. I'm in this with you. Trust me, I’ve gone deep, deep down the social media rabbit hole in an effort to create popular content. It’s a gloomy place to be.
Partially, it’s the comparison game that’s rampant on these platforms and causes us to doubt ourselves. That extends beyond social, to this very newsletter. I have had this article sitting in my Drafts but not published (until now) because I feared it wasn’t well-researched enough (with those underlined ‘source’ links that tell the reader how smart I am). 🙂 But Field Notes is about the lived experience. And if my experience this past year says anything, and this includes many hours spent talking to other creative folks, it’s that these trends threaten our creativity.
All I ask is you take the time to assess your own reasons for using the tools. Do your homework. They might be a perfect fit for you. Just make sure your creativity isn’t suffering in the process.
What’s caught my attention lately… ✨
Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It, by Ethan Kross, has been an interesting read so far. I have already found myself being more aware of the thoughts crossing my mind and how they affect my mindset and daily interactions.
I mentioned above that there are a few creators who continually wow me. Some names: Joel Robison (conceptual artist), Tay Odynski (visual artist and illustrator of The Wonders That I Find), Alise Dietel (artist behind A Million Tiny Lines), Rachel Pohl (another artist extraordinaire) and my very own Paul Zizka (landscape photographer).
Check these out too… 🙌
The Wonders That I Find - my children’s book
My Email Newsletter - updates about my books, projects, and 1:1 coaching