One of the most challenging things a writer has to do is publish or, if you’re looking for an agent, send that email.
I say challenging because we can work and work and work on our manuscript and never feel like it’s completely done. There is always something more we can do. We will always find a place that could be better, a weak spot that could be strengthened, a change that would make what we think is a big difference.
So how do you know when it’s finished? How is it ever finished?
I used to be one of those writers who would tinker and tinker and tinker with my projects. In fact, before I began self publishing, I rarely ever published anything and often felt really inhibited when it came to sending my work to agents. Even now, I have an agent who is representing a manuscript that we have edited three times so far. And it has not yet sold, which means that when it does, there will be more edits.
The problem is that skilled writers are perfectionists when it comes to our work. We want it to be the best that it can possibly be, and this is a great thing. This means that already we’re above the cut of many of those who self-publish. But our perfectionism also has repercussions, because it makes it really, really difficult to publish or share anything. We get in our own way. We think that before we let our public see what we’ve written, we have to do our best work.
Here’s the thing, though. Our best work today was not our best work yesterday. Our best work tomorrow will not be our best work today. We are constantly, intentionally improving, and that means that if we don’t release what we have today, we will never release it. Because we will never stop getting better, we will never stop learning more about our craft, we will never stop writing better things tomorrow than we did today.
I feel like I need to say this again: What you produce today isn’t as good as what you will produce tomorrow but it is better than what you produced yesterday.
There is a good and viable reason that we should release our project today rather than tomorrow, and it is this: Releasing projects throughout a number of years provides a clear map of our growth.
A clear map of growth is the most effective way that we can beat our perfectionism and grow more comfortable releasing our work as we produce it. The book that is out with my agent right now is a really good one. But it is not my best, because my best work will come in the future. I know this, so I can afford to write The End on that project and move on to the next one. Every project from here on out will be better than the last.
Now. There is a difference between hesitation in publishing because you are crippled by perfectionism and hesitation because you intuitively know that something is wrong with your project. If you know that something is wrong with your project, please fix it. Don’t release it. But if your project is good enough, if it is your best work today, release it. You owe it to yourself to record how you will improve over the years. This is how we gain mastery. This is how we beat perfection.
Your work today is never going to be perfect, because if you are doing what you are supposed to do—improving your writing day by day by day—you will never reach perfection. That sounds negative, but it’s really not. It’s a good thing. We don’t want to reach perfection. We only want to master our best work today.
Here are some suggestions for how you can release your work rather than revising it forever:
1. Make a deadline.
I carried this from my newspaper days, but it has been vital in helping me stay on track with publishing goals and book ideas. I set a deadline for myself, and sometimes it’s even a movable deadline, because I know by now that I will release my project and I will not tinker with it forever. I don’t have time to tinker with it forever, because there are many more stories that need to be told. So make a deadline and reward yourself for meeting it.
2. Practice finishing in small ways.
I blog every week, which means that every week I have to finish something and hit publish. This has given me practice in good enough. I also attribute my newspaper days to my ability to call today’s work good enough. When you write stories every day that will print in tomorrow’s newspaper, you reach a certain point where there’s simply nothing else you can do. You can’t get any more quotes, you can’t add to your graphs, you can’t change your lead for the thousandth time. You finish. And you do better tomorrow.
3. Do what you can to learn and grow so you can become more confident in your skills.
Publishing anything was definitely more difficult in the beginning of my career. I didn’t yet feel confident in my abilities. But after working full-time as a writer for more than three years now, it’s really no big deal for me to publish something. After millions of words written, I am confident in my storytelling abilities. The more you practice, the more you will be, too.
Don’t be afraid to release your work now, today. This is not the only work you will create—or at least I hope it’s not. If you’re in it for a career, there will be many more years of creating—and your work then will be miles better than your work now.