The Secret to Not Sucking

There is a fine line between shipping and sucking.

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Photo Credit: via Compfight cc

Here's what I mean by that: If you subscribe to any number of blogs on writing, productivity, or business, you've probably heard the term shipping used in reference to creative work.

In past newsletters and blog posts, you've probably heard me tell you to ship, to just get your work out the door and see how it can change things.

And for the most part, I love this idea. It teaches you the difference between brainstorming and creating. It forces you to overcome your fear of failure and just put something out there. Plus, it frees you up to create new things.

But there is a shadow side to shipping.

Mediocrity versus making a difference

If you're constantly shipping half-finished projects, it's going to hurt your reputation.

“Just ship it” is not an excuse to do mediocre work. You should always be striving for excellence. Just remember that your work may never feel good enough and that even when it's fantastic, you will still feel fear.

It's a weird paradox, and I have no other counsel except this: embrace this tension. Always be looking for ways to make things better, and always remember that if it doesn't ship, it doesn't count.

Deadlines and budgets

I'm writing you this as I argue with my publisher about whether or not my next book is ready for publication — or if it needs another month of editing.

Part of me wonders if I'm just stalling, but I don't think that's it. It's just not ready. I can't explain it. I just feel it. (Note: A few trusted friends are encouraging me in this. They say it's good, but that it could be awesome. I am trusting them.)

After reading the Steve Jobs biography, I found it interesting that many of Apple's best products were over-budget and past deadline. All due to Jobs's perfectionism.

Here's the thing: Jobs was also obsessed with shipping. He was meticulous about things like rounded corners and the box a computer came in. Everything mattered.

But he also wasn't afraid to fail.

This is where we must find ourselves. If we're going to do work that the world notices, it has to be great, and it has to ship.

Having twenty good books is not as good as having five excellent books. It might make you more money, but it won't leave a legacy.

Then again, it's better than having no books at all.

This is relative

We are all at different places.

If you're just starting out, you should probably err on the side of shipping. Because releasing your work is practice. It's scary and hard, but it helps you get better.

But if you've learned the discipline of finishing, try holding off on a project. Do another revision. Get some feedback from a friend. Go the extra mile. Make it amazing.

So when do you ship and when do you wait? When is it okay to go over budget and extend your deadline? That's up to you and your gut. Learn to trust your artist instincts (and the counsel of others).

But at the end of the day, it'll still feel risky.

And it is.

The thing to not do is stall. No one is going to pick you. Whether you wait or not is your call. You're the one who has to live with the consequences.

My suggestions? Be brave. Fail fast. And make it count. 

I know of no other way to do this. Good luck.

Recommendation: If you haven't read Steve Jobs yet, I highly recommend it. It's on sale via Kindle on Amazon (affiliate link).

When have you chosen to not ship because it meant making something better? Share in the comments.