Every creative project has three phases: make the thing, polish the thing, deliver the thing. The polish step is where you remove errors through testing, editing, inspection, or other review. The deliver step is where you put your work in people’s hands.
It’s so easy to get stuck on the polish step. You keep checking until you’re sure it’s perfect! This is all about fear. When your work is in the world, they can judge it. They can even ignore it. We want to avoid how bad that feels.
Also, perfection is expensive. You can spend as much time rooting out every tiny flaw as you did making the thing. Those tiny flaws will be embarrassing. But they won’t really hurt anything, and they won’t keep anyone from clicking Buy Now. Crucially, eliminating every last minor flaw keeps you from working on new projects that create new value.
When you’ve applied reasonable polish, when you feel the fear of rejection, it’s time to enter Ship Mode.
In Ship Mode, you single-mindedly do the tasks that put the work in people’s hands. You’re not looking for problems anymore. You choose to think of your work as a finished product. You might notice an error while you’re in Ship Mode, but unless it’s truly egregious, you keep shipping.
I write in my spare time, personal stories and essays. I’ve done it for years. I recently self-published a book of some of my earliest work. (Scroll to the bottom for more details!) I did the whole job: writing, editing, creating the print-ready and e-book files, and (now) marketing. I saved money doing it all myself, but I’m skilled in only some of these tasks. Also, there came a point where I’d looked at my book so much I had become blind to it.
I’m a recovering perfectionist and I’m mildly OCD (officially diagnosed). It was hard for me to learn to let go and enter Ship Mode. But I’m glad I learned it many years ago, or I would still be making myself nuts perfecting my book. I have a day job. There’s only so much time to work on side projects. If I polished this one to perfection, it would not be available for several more weeks yet.
I saw it only in the last step of the submission process to Amazon: this ungraceful flow on page 50. No publishing company would allow a paragraph on one page to spill three words onto the next right before an illustration.
When I saw it I gritted my teeth. I probably said a four-letter word. But not only is this problem not egregious, but most readers won’t even recognize it as a problem. Nobody will demand a refund because of it. I clicked the Approve button to finish the submission. That’s Ship Mode!
I edited every story as I assembled the book, and then made two proofreading passes. But when my author copy arrived I found two typos in five minutes. How frustrating!
But I will be shocked if you find something really messed up, like garbled sentences or missing paragraphs. During the polish phase I sweated out everything that would have seriously damaged your experience with the book.
And then I got on with shipping it so you could read it and, I hope, enjoy it.
Ship Mode! Because there’s a point past which polish doesn’t pay.
My new book, A Place to Start: Stories and Essays from Down the Road, collects early work from my personal blog. I had just come through a great difficulty in my life, a real setback that left me reeling. Through writing my stories I was able to make sense of what had happened so I could move on. My book captures those stories and shows a way to find your way through hard times to a better future.
Here’s how you can get my new book: