Posted by: stelladuffy | November 6, 2012

making work and the shame thing

There’s a really in-depth blog in my head, about shame and the notion of shame and how shame is so useful, as a writer, and for book characters, and on stage, and for actors, and for theatre characters, because it really gets to the guts of what we’re all about, as human beings, and to the very nub of our icky/crunchy feelings about desire and yearning and success/lack of success and failure and wanting and pushing and needing attention and fearing attention and that we live in a culture that tells us off for showing off and yet exults celebrity as if it is the pinnacle of achievement and how hard it is to make work and then time after time, send it out, share it, open it up to public (and private) scrutiny. Knowing it will be judged, and scored, and misunderstood and understood, and ‘got’ and ‘not got’, and loved and despised, and knowing that I do all those things as a reader, as an audience, and that therefore every reader and every audience member who engages (or not!) with my work is likely to do one or more of those things too.
And one thing that is at the base of these feelings is shame.
Because we’re told we’re meant to make work and not care if people like it or not, not care if people buy it or not, not care about the response, that the work should be enough in itself. And, mostly, for me, it is. I like making work. I really like making work. That’s why I make so many different types of work. I like making.

I do want people to see it, to read it, to buy it, to attend to it.
And when they engage with it I really would like them to like it. (Love it is good too.)
Or if not like it, to get it.
Or if not get it, to at least understand that some effort went into it. Understand that it was not, that it never is, nothing – to make work. It is never nothing to put in the effort, to send it out, to share it, to open it up to the light of the world, to take it out of the rehearsal room, off the memory stick, to offer it up.
That the offering it up/sending it out, exhibiting it is, in many ways, the hardest part, the biggest part, the most important part.

And how the desire to have people like/’get’/appreciate/gain value from our work is both part of what makes making work worthwhile and, always, (for me at least) a big fat fearful truth. And how much shame there is around that truth. Shame about admitting that yes, I’d really quite like people to like/’get’/value what I make.
Because if we’re artists we’re supposed to just want to make work whatever the outcome. And if we’re fully-actualised human beings we’re supposed to not care what people think. And anyway, surely all brilliance simply rises to the top in the end? (hah!)

Yes, I’m sure it’s all tied up in a culture that values us by what we do, and I’m sure that’s a very good reason NOT to put a premium on how other people value our work … and yet, oof, I’m human.
And I like it when people like it.

I’d write way more about this, in the in-depth way I’d like to, if I had time.
I don’t have time, because I’m making this, Ordinary Darkness.
A play about men and women, men and girls, men grooming girls, about politics and fake politics and manipulation and greed and misguided rebellion and falling in love and lust getting in the way and about being careful what you wish for. And shame. It’s definitely about shame.
And this work on Ordinary Darkness is something I’d like people to like.
And I have some shame about that liking people to like, because, as a grownup maker of work, I’ve heard so very many times that I’m not meant to care what other people think about my work.
Pah. I ALWAYS care what the audience think, what the reader thinks.
I may not always agree with them, but I always care.

This wasn’t the in-depth blog, but maybe it was part 1.
(Fifteen hour days. My favourite kind.)


  1. Thanks for being so honest about this. I think any of us who put creative work out there feel this way, because the work is part of who we are and a harsh criticism of the work feels very personal. I kid myself by saying that so long as one person ‘gets’ it that’s all that matters… but I can angst over a so-so review for weeks/months/years, and beat myself up over it, aware that my writing contains so much of my heart it’s impossible to filter out the criticism completely. The only way I’ve figured to counter this awful turmoil is to get braver and braver about what I write, so that regardless of what people think about the work I know that I’ve done my best to expose the things I see as unethical, corrupt or just plain wrong – that I’ve done my small part to try and make the world a better place! This I can be proud of – and so can you! You do this too. Thank you! Stroppy women writers of the world unite (and let eachother know we are appreciated!)

  2. Goodness! Story of my upbringing, and why it took so long to stand up for my own writing and to begin to own it as worthy of some merit (there I go again: don’t actually say I think it’s good in case someone disagrees!) But I’ve begun to be done with all that now, not least because of my more recent personal life story and because I stopped believing in shame. A good honest and truthful assessment, and yes it demands a deeper treatment. Got me thinking now, too.

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