The biggest misinterpretation of Show Your Work! is the idea that you should show everyone everything all the time. Just set up a 24/7 webcam over your desk and let people watch. (I won’t name any names, but when the book was still being written, the title Expose Yourself was thrown out there.)
Not only do I think it’s a bad idea to share while you’re actually doing your work, I think it’s a fast track to destroying your work.
It’s nearly impossible — not to mention extremely unpleasant — to work with people looking over your shoulder. There’s “the indignity of being observed,” but there’s also the observer effect: the idea in quantum mechanics that by simply observing a system, you change it. (This happens all the time in my everyday life: I’ll spook a bird by trying to take a photo, or I’ll praise an in-progress drawing and the kid will run out of the room.)
A few years ago, Tim Kreider wrote of becoming a meme:
You can’t write — or live — if you imagine the whole world watching over your shoulder, waiting for you to screw up, ready to mock or vilify you. Which, thanks to the internet, it now is.
I thought of Tim when I read this recent interview with with Dave Eggers, about his new book, The Every:
My theory is that a human under surveillance can’t create. Not really, at least. The staff at the Every are judged on every movement, every keystroke and each thing their pupils land on. It’s all observed and recorded and measured, and this creates a low-level vibration of paralysis for everyone, for fear of saying the wrong thing or making any kind of mistake that will never be expunged. But to create, you have to tap into the anarchist part of yourself; there can’t be rules and there can’t be anyone looking over your shoulder, and you can’t wonder what a troll in Tallinn will think of your idea.
It’s bad enough trying to create something when nobody’s watching — the worst trolls are the ones that live in your head!
The danger of sharing online is this ambient buildup of a feeling of being surveilled.
The feeling of being watched, or about to be watched.
You have to disconnect from that long enough to connect with yourself and what you’re working on.
“To me, being a genuine writer means that you’re able to shed all human dignity in a moment,” says Chuck Palahniuk. “People depend on you to express something that they can’t express.”