Afraid to Publish Your Work? Here’s the Solution…

What separates artists from ex-artists is that those who challenge their fears, continue; those who don’t, quit. Each step in the artmaking process puts that issue to the test.
–David Bayles

When you are afraid to publish your work, to release your art into the world, then you know it’s time. Time to give up. Time to let go and have faith in what you’ve created. It may be great, or it may be terrible. But it’s time. Time to ship — to move on, forge ahead, and explore new endeavors.

Photo of Ships
Photo credit: Steve Smith (Creative Commons)

But before you start, you must finish. That’s what “shipping” is: the discipline of letting go so you can experience the thrill of starting again.

Learning to let go

I’m working on a project that I know is important, but I’m at the point where I’m sick of it. I want to give up, to throw in the towel and just cancel it. But I know this feeling; I’ve felt it before.

This desire to quit means I’m close to something great. So I push forward and persevere. I stick with it for a few more painful iterations; I want it to be just right. I feel the urgency increase; I can sense the need to get this project out and allow it to touch people’s lives. So I review it a few more times (like a good, creative perfectionist).

Then, with all the courage I can muster, I condemn the voices of self-doubt. I reject the temptation to wait.

And I go.

What happens next is not up to me. I’ve done my work. I’ve created the best thing I can. Now comes the mystery. Will this touch thousands, maybe millions, of lives? Or will it flop and utterly fail? Will I regret making it, or will it be the best thing since sliced bread?

Only time (and luck) will tell.

But for now, I’m content. Because I’ve created. I’ve shown up long enough to actually produce something. What more can I ask?

Here’s the alternative

We all battle this struggle between our desire to move people and our fear of what they might think. We all want to do our best work and at the same time question what we have to offer.

It’s a difficult, convoluted mess, this creative life, but it’s ours and ours alone. We can either embrace it or not. We can submit to the process and learn to trust it. Or we can keep questioning ourselves, slowly going crazy.

You know what happens when you don’t do this? When you don’t ship? That’s right. Nothing. Your art stays on the shelf, in the garage, or on the computer. Safe and quiet. No one is moved. Nothing is changed. And the world remains the same.

On top of that, you never get better. You can’t become the artist you want to be without practicing in public. If you’re okay with this, then by all means, keep at it.

Good luck.

As for me, I choose to move through the fear and release my work into the world. It won’t be perfect, but it will be published. And I will learn something in the process.

What about you? How do you face your fears and hit publish? Share in the comments.

84 thoughts on “Afraid to Publish Your Work? Here’s the Solution…

  1. Hi Geoff,
    I loved this.. I’m a painter and exhibit my work regularly. I have always said that you have to believe in what you’ve done and be brave, as, when you put your painting on a public wall, it’s there for all to see, and it’s you- you have put your soul out there for everyone to have a pot at- and they do!! But, hey, it’s worth it.
    Iv’e just started blogging and when I published my first, it was such a big deal- and then came the silence!!!
    Me thinks I shall return to the canvas!!
    Bless you,

    1. Don’t let the silence discourage you; my first comment was a friend who saw the blog. Since then, I’ve only had a few people post on mine, but I keep pushing. The only way to go is up! Keep at it, and you’ll make it.

  2. I was just thinking about this a few days ago. I’m a teacher in a Life Group class (Sunday School) at my church. Whether I’m ready or not, I “ship” every week at 9:45 on Sunday Morning when people stroll into the class.
    It’s helped me to be disciplined, but the craziest thing it’s taught me is that the times I feel the least prepared and ready to teach are the classes that often go over well. It’s a Holy Spirit thing. But I also think it’s that I’m not really good at predicting beforehand how impactful something will be.
    I’ve really just had to get over myself and ship. I’ve had weak lessons. I’ve had strong lessons. I’ve had everything in between. Life change in my class happens over time.

  3. I generally remember who I’m writing for. And ultimately, it’s myself. If I’m pleased with what I write, that’s all I desire. Anything else is a great bonus and a blessing.

  4. Great post, Jeff. For me, it’s always a battle between good enough and excellence. I tend to come down on the side of publishing a “good enough” post if I don’t have the time to re-write it. I’ve been amazed over the years how some of my quick posts have gone viral while others that took days or week to create, limped off into obscurity. 

    I’ve heard it said that you shouldn’t post unless it’s your best, but I don’t buy that anymore. The difference between one excellent post a week versus five “good enough” posts is a loss of consistency. You gotta ship…

    1. Note: John, the people who say that are those who have spent YEARS practicing. They have the liberty to know when it’s their best. The rest of us (myself included) don’t. That said, I try to make every day’s post the best I can.

      1. It’s really nice when you can have someone else read and edit your work before you ship. Writing ahead of time may help me accomplish this, since I get up and write everyday at 4am. Nobody wants to edit that early…

  5. What you describe in that second section, learning to let go, is exactly what it feels like to give birth.

    There’s a point in labor called “transition” when you feel like giving up completely. It’s the most difficult phase of labor. It’s the point when everything you thought you were doing well flies out the window. You get frustrated, confused, discouraged and irritable. You don’t want to talk to anyone, and you don’t want anyone to talk to you. It’s the point when most women who’ve chosen to have a natural birth give up and call for Doctor Feelgood.

    But here’s the thing about transition–it’s also the shortest phase of labor. If you can push through it, if you can somehow see how far you’ve come, if you can believe what you’re doing is important work, and that it’s work no one else in the world can do but you, it will all be over soon. 
    And then, when it’s over (and I mean, almost immediately after it’s over!) and you’re face-to-face with that precious gift, the pain dissipates. You’re overcome with a great sense of accomplishment and pride, and you realize it wasn’t so bad. 

    In fact, you think you just might be able to do it again someday. 

    1. Wow. I forwarded this to my wife. Thanks for the profound insight. I’m publishing a book this year and having a child. Several people have told me there will be two things birthed in my life this year. It seems they’re right.

  6. wow, awesome, exactly the words and contemplations i needed atm! my work’s done, i really SHOULD call some agents now – but i’m so afraid of the call, it’s unnerving… yet, it’s the fuckin’ next step, you know? there’s no other inbetween, so why not just do it?! 😉

  7. Such a timely post for me, Jeff — thank you!

    For most of my life, my aim has been to avoid criticism. I’ve worked myself  into frenzies and near exhaustion all for one goal: nothing. Sadly, I’ve been pleased (or at least relieved) when I’ve achieved it.  Nobody complained? Ahhh, “success”!

    Listening to Seth Godin’s Tribes recently, I was struck by the importance of being remark-able. By the concept that criticism is far better than nothing (what?!?) By the reminder that although criticism stings for a moment, a remarkable piece of writing lasts forever. And by the idea that remarks (especially critical ones) can become a conversation that pushes my thinking and writing to places they can’t go on their own. 

    A friend gave me this quote in late December, and it’s hanging above my computer as a reminder that 2012 is my year to quit revering nothing and start (as you put it) “shipping”:

    “To avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” Elbert Hubbard

  8. Sigh.  Sometimes, Jeff, I just wish you would stay out of my head. 😉    I finally  had the courage to show an ebook idea to a couple people last week and now it’s time to go back and try to improve.  I’m so tired of looking at it though.   I know it will never be perfect but I also desire to do as you said make sure when I ship it’s the best possible creation I can make.  It’s not there yet.

  9. How funny, and timely. I just finished a message to a friend telling him how I had realized I was dragging my feet in finishing this book because I’m afraid. Not of failure, afraid of success. Even though I recognized the fear for what it is, it is still just that- fear. It is hard to overcome, like you say, this worry that what we have to contribute isn’t a good enough contribution. 

    No matter how many times God says “yes”, “go”, “WRITE!”, I still think..are you sure? 


    So it’s time to ship, huh? 

    Alrighty then. Guess I will.

    1. yep. you know when it’s time to ship? when you REALLY don’t want to. when you intuitively know you should. when editing is really just stalling — and you know it. go for it.

  10. I face my fears by simply forcing myself to SIT. I turn off the internet and just write.  It’s hard. It’s inconvenient to my schedule. But, in order to move finish a race one must first move from the starting line, even if it is a step. 

    Shipping is action related and in order to reach the shipping yard a process, (another action) must be completed. 

    Thanks for the reminder to let go of our product being perfect and to just get it moving, ship!

  11. I completely agree. I recorded an album in 2008, then never released it because a couple of music industry guys didn’t like it. Now it’s 2012 and I’m about to release my debut EP. I gained nothing by waiting, and I had nothing to lose back then. 

  12. Good post.  I went through this very thing with just a silly little last post. I wrote some poetry and waited five days before hitting “publish.”  Now, if I were writing up an interview, that’s no problem.  I would just check the spelling, grammar and structure, and let ‘er rip.  Not so with the poetry….  I gotta let that incubate for a little bit.  I mean, I want to be a little weird — just not a little TOO weird….

    1. i think letting stuff marinate is healthy, so long as it doesn’t turn into stalling. the difference in my opinion is fear. if you’re afraid, you’re probably stalling.

  13. Everything seems more epic when it’s inside my head.  The alternative to not shipping is fictitious perfection.  This type of perfection is rooted in statements like “I could paint that, it’s just a bunch of scribbled lines thrown together.”  The funny thing is, even when I try to paint like a modern artist or write, the end product is never what I envisioned it would be.  So sometimes it stays in my head as a perfect blog post.  And sometimes it ships as an imperfect piece of garbage.  I would be lying if I preferred the latter every time.  I call it “the monster” but it goes by different names.  Sometimes I win, sometimes the monster wins. 

  14. The self-doubt hits me every time I schedule a blog post. I can’t imagine what I’ll be like when I get close to publishing a book someday. I can only re-read it so many times. I can only question the sentences so much. I can only stress for so long. And then I just have to hit publish. No matter whether a post succeeds or fails, I find that my writing, my delivery gets better with each post. And for me, that’s reason enough to hit publish again and again and again. 

    And for the record, Jeff, I cannot imagine your upcoming book will be anything less than a runaway success. So hurry up and get it finished.

  15. I do face fears Geoff but not as many as most, as I have found that when I press through there is often a positive response to my work and not what I expected. Also, I have wonderful mentors such as yourself and Krissy Brady who push me forward when I hesitate. You guys have a very special place in my life and I am eternally grateful for you.

  16. My boss used to tell me this all the time: “Sometimes you just have to hit print” (or publish). I’m prone to tweaking things to death but eventually you have to let go and see what happens. Some are great; some need more work.  You never know which pieces are which until you hit print.

    (Ok, enough self-pep-talking and time to actually do it).


  17. “Then, with all the courage I can muster, I condemn the voices of self-doubt. I reject the temptation to wait. And I go.”

    This is the challenge. When what you default to: covering up, hesitating, being opaque (let’s say) … due to habitually doing this throughout your life, then gaining the courage to reveal, be embarrassed, fail and present to others that which they may not understand is, well, freaky. It’s easy to stay stuck, defined by the overt and covert opinions and definitions of others.

    But, what happens? Nothing. Aka a sweet, safe, lifelong companion that keeps one comfortably at the center of the bell curve. Bleh.

    1.  Oh, you miss so much when you stand on the diving board but never dive in the water–belly flops, for one, the adrenaline rush of success, for another. The more you dive, the less you flop.

      1. Carrying on with the metaphor, which is wonderful TNeal! Did some clown diving back in the day.

        More dives, more control, fewer flops. Eventually, the high dive called my name. And the higher the up, the bigger the splash (with a well-honed cannonball). 

        And it was done for… no … because of the fun of it. But others benefited too, since they got splashed. Well, there were always a few party poopers!That’s just the way it is. In diving and in life.

        1.  Sounds like people got too close to the splash zone. It also sounds like you had a great time. Hope your writing journey proves just as enjoyable.

  18. This is exactly where I am right now. I am tempted to throw in the towel on a certain project I’ve been working on. I hear all the same voices of self-doubt you mentioned and think I am afraid to finish it because of what comes next (the submitting and shipping and rejection). But something you said spoke directly to my heart…”But before you start, you must finish. That’s what “shippng” is: the discipline of letting go so you can experience the thrill of starting again.” Yes, this is what I must do. Thank you 🙂

  19. Give it away for free…test the waters.

    I’m actually doing that with a non-fiction book I recently wrote.  I am publishing it over the course of dozens of articles on my blog.  It is giving me a chance to see how people react to my content, as well as getting used to putting myself out there.

    It’s a great experience, if nothing else.

  20. I love all the comments here. I have the same apprehensions too. The hard part is learning to hone the craft of writing, reading the how-two books from seasoned authors, only to find out you need to go back and give your writing yet another once-over. But all the seasoned writers will tell you that the time comes when you need to let the work go and publish it. You’ll never have your work one hundred percent perfect the way you want it to be. These same authors will also tell you that though you’ll have readers who will love your work, there will be those who simply won’t care for what you’ve done. That’s just the way it is. But the truth is you won’t ever know unless you push your work out there.

  21.  I understand the angst. I sent a manuscript to the publisher back in the fall. Then I received the editor’s notes, suggestions, and galley proofs in January. I’m looking at hopefully the final decision round this week. It’s a mixture of excitement (oh, man, it’s really happening) and night-sweats terror (oh, no, what if I flop?). I know the truth. The book may flop but I only flop if I quit.

    As for luck, this morning I played on a basketball team (a bunch of mostly old guys getting up before the sun) that lost a couple of games early. Some breaks went against us. I remember saying, “Let’s play in a way that we change our luck.” We did play harder and we did change our luck.

    Luck happens but we can help it along when we work harder and smarter (which is one of the reasons I read you, Jeff–you help me work smarter with your on-target writing advice, something I plan on noting in my next blog post).

  22. This is hard for me. Rejection in the realm of writing is a VERY normal and common thing. So, it is really hard to stop “perfecting” and let something be what it is, especially when readers can always find room for you to modify or change what you’ve already written. The worst is finishing something, and then someone telling you it’s not done. 

    In a way, I think stories are like people, they could always grow or change and be better, etc., but not exposing things that, as the artist, you are done with is like refusing to have your picture taken because in a few moments you may look different. 

    Art is perfect in its imperfection. It’s a snapshot of existence. Sure, it needs to develop to be born, but eventually it has to come out and live. I believe art is the product of the person you are when you make it too. By not finishing and exposing whatever it is you are working on right then, you are cheating yourself and the art. 

  23. oh boy. Shipping isn’t hard if we could ship anonymously. Shipping knowing people see our work…that’s scary. Man, my insecurities are running hot these days on so many fronts.

    Thanks Jeff.


    1. I agree completely. It’s not the criticism of our writing that’s hard to take, it’s the criticism of us. When someone criticises what I’ve written I sometimes take it way too personally. But then again, I grew up in a house where everything we did as kids was greeted with the question “What will people think?” My parents were very judgemental and thought that everyone else was too. So whenever we did something which they disagreed with it was always met with “What will people think?” 

      And it didn’t take much to make them disagree with what we did either. I once had the audacity when I was 16 to want to go to a presentation in the city given by a well-known retired actor for anyone interested in working in television. My parents thought it was a waste of time and money and nagged me into not going.

      So I never became a writer until years after I left home and even to this day they don’t tell people what I do for a living. It’s not a proper job you see. They prefer to let “people think” I’m a housewife. I’m never sure if it angers me or saddens me.

      But the worrying about “what people think” still lingers in my life. 

      Shipping anonymously would be far easier than letting people know it was me who wrote it. I don’t often get criticism anyway, but every time I ship something, my insecurities start to mount. (I just hope no one criticises  this comment or I’ll go to pieces).

      I love your blog BTW Jeff. It’s very inspiring.

      1. Just based on the proverbial question, “if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, does it still make a noise?”. Feel that way about my writing sometimes. If no reads or responds, did it ever make a difference? The hard part though is I can’t lay it down. The words keep pounding to get out.

  24. I always wonder if it will be good enough.  If anyone will like it.  I had a day last week where I hit a near record on my blog.  Then another day, I wondered if anyone was going to read at all.  I don’t know what the difference was.  The thing is I just have to continue, be consistent and, like you said, SHIP.

  25. Sitting there, your finger hoovering over the publish button. I get it. Been there. Done that. I still do it! Still do the hovering act, wondering if what I’ve written will touch people on some level (preferably a good one!), wondering at times if I’m ready for the world to hear my thoughts (and if they are ready to hear them!), wondering if I’ve caught all the typos—or if I’ve just written an article that would fit well into a Berenstain Bear story on how NOT to do it! 

    And yet, more often than not, my hovering finger falls on the publish button. Not at the moment of inspiration, but a day or two later, after sitting there in draft mode for at least a day, waiting to be read over a few more times, waiting for approval.

    May I say that I, for one, am thankful that YOU hit the publish button. I love your blog. I love your writing! Keep it up! 🙂

  26. “In all fields, even those of culture and art, other
    people’s judgment exercises a paralyzing effect. Fear of criticism kills spontaneity; it
    prevents men from showing themselves and expressing themselves freely, as they
    are…Much courage is needed to paint a picture, to write a
    book, to erect a building designed along new architectural lines, or to
    formulate an independent opinion or original idea.” — Paul Tournier

  27. This is priceless. It’s a lot like having kids (which I know is in your near future!). I’ve been at this parenting thing for 17 years and if I wanted to believe that all my kids were going to live with or near me forever, that they “won’t ever leave me” I’d be doing no one any favors. If I parent to the best of my ability to “ship” kids out to the world that are going to make a difference, then I have purpose in my work and they have value as individuals – the same goes for my writing. If I keep it in my hard-drive or a file-box no one will ever know what it’s potential might be. Thanks, Jeff.

  28. It always feels as if there is a constant process of  “creating/putting the work out there”. I am struggling now with publishing a  couple of books. I am petrified because in many ways I know what to expect (haters and pessimists). I have to trust me and the universe….

  29. Jeff Goins, thank you for this post. It gave me the courage to hit publish.  I’ve stuck my book(s) away in a drawer for so long, afraid of rejection/being told it’s (I’m) not good enough.  Love your blog! 

  30. Not only that, but you’ll go the rest of your life wondering what could have been different. What if you’d just done it and gotten it over with? If you failed, at least you’d _know_ that you failed. If you hold back for fear of failing, you’ll live the rest of your life with the woe of worrying.

    I’m a college dropout. Everyone around me thought I had it made – I could do it. I couldn’t. But now, I know – I tried my hardest and that was the end of it. My best just wasn’t good enough. I don’t ever wake up at night and wonder what I could have done differently.

  31. Thanks man published my first attempt at rap thanks to you tonight, only good can come from this 🙂

  32. I pretty much go through the same process you wrote. I’d be working on something till it starts to feel stale. That’s pretty much the time to do final tweaks and edits and let it loose.

  33. Loved reading this! Thank you, Jeff. I just blogged yesterday about things left unfinished, namely the rewrite of a novel I wrote years ago and love but have grown tired of, just like you said. But I can’t NOT type The End. So I finally have (with edits still to do) and tomorrow pitch it to an agent at a conference in Chicago.

  34. I have a story that I have been working on for a few years…it’s nearly complete, I keep going over it and taking away and adding…and yet it just sits there…I just sit there…one day I almost ripped up what I wrote and nearly deleted it from everywhere I have it saved…I get this voice inside me and it’s of my grandmother…always telling me I am great at what I do…Gram is usually right.

  35. Thanks for this post Jeff.

    I’ve been building a travel product for last 18 months. I started solo, bootstrapped, got a team, lost the team, again solo and now with perfect co-founders. Due to all this, i had to iterate and re-build the product multiple number of times and lost valuable time in releasing it. I have gone through many hurdles personally and professionally.

    Finally here I stand with the product that i’m really proud to have built, but i just feel so scared and burnt out. Building it was so much fun and like a dream but when i release it…this becomes real (which is always scary). Scared of obvious things like acceptance, usability, is it simple for ppl to understand or did i just waste last 18 months? ……… But,

    Like you said above, only way to move is forward and to keep learning…. i know… it’s only fear 🙂

  36. This is the most synchronistic post for me. I just met with a graphic artist yesterday about the music and writing project I just finished. I expressed to him my excitement but also my fear and apprehension about putting my work out to the world to judge. We had this very conversation about it. He went on to say that, as an artist, if you really want to move people and leave something of yourself behind you must be willing to risk and show them who you truly are. Thank you for this post Jeff. It is so helpful and reassuring as I get ready to launch the project I’ve worked on for the past three years.

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