There are some people who you’ve known forever. I don’t mean a long time; I mean that you don’t remember meeting them because you might not have been able to form the thought that this is a new person because you were just that young. Jodi is one of those people to me. I have a vivid recollection of being in the 3 or 4 year-old Sunday school classroom with her when she decided that we were going to move a table. I think the reason it’s a vivid memory is because we got in trouble and had to sit with our backs against the wall of the classroom until our parents got there. I didn’t typically get in trouble, so it was a vivid memory.
Now, around 35 years later, we’re still friends. We don’t live in the same town, but when we get together it’s like we’re kids again. The last time I saw her was at my church’s annual musical festival called Questapalooza, three years ago.
“Paul, about my book, I’m always joking about that. I’ll probably never write it,” she told me.
At the time, I’d written my first book and was working on my second. I knew that she could do it, but she was making excuses.
She’d made a mistake, though. She told me that she wanted to write it. Now, I wasn’t going to let her out of it. A year or two later, I think in part because I kept bugging her, she started writing it.
That’s actually a great tactic for forcing your hand. The more people you tell about your dream, the more likely it is to happen. Some people won’t care, but some will treat you as their hero and want a play by play. Others, who’ve already done whatever you’re doing might encourage you because they might know sticking points or tips that you, being new to the process, don’t.
If what you’re making is a product, this might also yield some future customers. In the case of my books, I almost always publicize my process and my progress. Why? It helps keep me on track and it also is publicity for the book that will be released later.
Since, I like both of these outcomes, I’m making sure that as I finish a chapter (so far, one a day), I copy the text and place it on my blog at TrinityDigitalMedia.com and on my Google+ page (google.com/+PaulClifford).
People have told me that I’m basically shooting myself in the foot because anyone interested in my writing could just read it there, but I don’t view that as a problem. First, I’m still building my audience, so while I’ve given away the content to Podcasting Church since I started writing it, I continue to sell copies on Amazon every month. It’s not the case that everyone who might want to read it knows that they can get it for free for subscribing to my newsletter (for example).
There might be some people who do, but I think those are very few. Secondly, I’ve seen on more than one occasion that if I publicize the paid-for version and the free version (even stating that they’re identical), someone will pay me money they don’t have to. This happened just today. Someone on Google+ asked for a book to go through with his tech team at his church. I offered free copies of my book The Serving Church. To make it easy, I gave a link that would enable people to download a free copy if they subscribe to my newsletter. Then, I told them that they should unsubscribe if they wanted to and enjoy the book as a gift. I just checked my stats and just as many people subscribed (and got the free version) as said they bought the paid version.
My problem isn’t that people will take advantage of me, but that they won’t know that I exist at all. Here’s a secret though. By getting on my mailing list, those people are joining my inner circle. They’ll hear more about future projects and they’ll be the first to read more of what I do. Additionally, if they read my book in its unedited form on the blog, they’ll be seeing ads with support what I do. It’s a win / win / win for me, too because some of them will prefer to have all the content, edited and collated into a single document as opposed to a mass of blog posts. To do that, they need to buy the book.
So publicizing what I do not only make sure I keep doing it, but it also makes sure that there is someone to buy it once it’s completed. I want all those things.
People have warned me that my copyright is at stake when I do this, but I’m not worried. Why? First off, I have the original file. It’s dated to when I started writing it. I have proof that my version is before other versions, should there be any.
Secondly, promotion of a book isn’t trivial. Assuming someone did steal my work, they’d have as much promoting the stolen work as I do with the original.
By keeping what I write a secret or talking about it only in vague terms, I’m really hurting myself more than I am protecting it from thieves. Despite my disdain for the current copyright system, it still protects me by default. My work is considered mine the moment I create it. You might have heard that you’re only protected if you register a work, but that’s no longer true.
So, my process for when I’m writing is to tweet something like “Just finished another 1,823 words. That’s 16,967 total. #NaNoWriMo #amwriting” and then follow it up with a link to the chapter I just finished in on my blog.
Writing this quickly isn’t easy. Every day, I get bogged down toward the middle of my chapter, but I press on and find that the words come eventually.
I feel a bit of obligation to my audience to continue. Is it the case that they’ll show up at my door with pitchforks demanding the next chapter if I skip a day? No, I doubt that, but it’s possible that someone will ask me about it. If that’s the case, I’d feel worse for skipping a day than I already had, so it works for me.
There is a trap with doing this, though. It’s possible to announce something and if you don’t keep a firm deadline (real or artificial), you can get to the point where you start to increase the quality of the final product so that it “makes up for it” being late. Be careful about doing this.
There’s nothing wrong with trying a little harder to make something a little better, but that can quickly become a cycle that never ends.
When I was in seminary, I had a paper that was late. The later it got, the better it needed to be, in my mind, to make up for its lateness. Days turned into weeks; weeks turned into months and then a whole semester. I’d let a paper go a semester late and I finally got tired of it. Instead of putting it off until I could make it perfect, I finished it in a day or two.
I wish this was the only example of delay-induced perfectionism, but there’s another much more famous example than the great term paper fiasco of 1998. In 1996, a video game called “Duke Nukem 3D” was released and was very successful. As video game companies do, they announced a sequel that became something of a joke in gamer circles, not because of the game itself, but because it was announced as a pending release over and over again. People who loved the 1996 version started to believe that it wouldn’t come out at all.
In 2011, fifteen years after the previous version, it finally shipped. Several companies had touched it in those years and finally someone just decided to break the “it’s just got to be awesome” mindset and ship it.
It was greeted by a lukewarm response magnified by the years of expectation.
Don’t fall victim to the “it’s late so it needs to be better” trap. If it’s late, finish it at the original level of expectations or slightly higher as soon as possible. Don’t let two months become fifteen years. Let the expectations of the people that you’ve used to motivate you continue to the finish like. Don’t let it get stuck in any stage of completion.
Remember that the antidote for uncompleted work isn’t putting it off and trusting the future you. No, the antidote is to do something today and something tomorrow. Keep plugging away at the project and keep people updated about the progress you’ve made.
Communication is key here. Don’t stop when it’s tough and decide to come back to it later. Sometimes you just need to power through to get some version, even a bad version, done. This is what I call the “if it had to be, it’s done” version.
If you need an element for a special event on a certain day, that’s one thing. You don’t have control over when you can ship, it’s either done then or it’s not. Try to get to a finished (but not perfect) product as soon as you can and then tweak from there to try and make it as good as it can be.
You might be surprised how happy the people, who wanted what you’d told them about, will be when they get what you’re disappointed by. Remember you know your ultimate plans and they don’t. They only know the final product so revise and tweak with that knowledge in mind.
So, by all means, tell people about what you’re doing. Don’t let your expectations or the excuse of “it just has to be better” get in your way. It’s better to finish earlier than later. It’s better to finish while people are still asking than to hear, years later, “hey, what ever happened to that book you were writing” and make an excuse because you know you just didn’t get to it.