On taking shortcuts

Last week I talked about taking risks, about how sometimes you just need to get your work out there. This week I am going to talk about how sometimes you don’t.

In my many years as a book author and freelancer, I have met hundreds of writers, professionals and wannabes, and it has struck me that we tend to do one of these two things, neither of which is in our best interest:

1. We don’t put our work out into the world. We are trying to wait for some future moment when all will be perfect with the work and ourselves. That time will never come, but knowing that doesn’t stop us from waiting.

2. We put our work out into the world before its ready. Actually, this isn’t really the problem, the problem is in taking shortcuts to get our work out into the world. Thinking, “This is wonderful and ready!” and hitting send and then finding out that no one agrees with you is one thing. Thinking, “Eh, close enough” and hitting send is another.

I see this type of thing happening a lot when people decide to self-publish. It’s not that I don’t completely understand the whole “I can avoid rejection this way” mindset, or that I don’t understand that it may be the only way a good book will actually see the light of day, or any of a hundred reasons why people make this choice. I don’t quibble with those reasons. My argument is that taking a shortcut because otherwise you will have to spend time getting better at the work does you no good in the long run.

If your goal is to just have 70,000 words with your name out there in the world, then by all means, shortcuts are a fine way to get there. If you are trying to be a good writer, or a good anything, then you need to be aware of the trap of the shortcut.

It isn’t only in self-publishing versus traditional publishing where I see this mistake. I cannot count the number of people who are dissatisfied with their current agents (and for very good reasons, not just the usual angst over the advance should have been huger) but who don’t do anything about it because then they would have to find another agent. And not only would that mean time spend trying to find one, but maybe they would have to step up their work a notch to catch someone’s eye. It’s easier to stick with the status quo. Or nonfiction writers who think hiring a publicist will get them out of the work of building a platform and doing publicity (I think publicists are great, but hiring one doesn’t mean your work as an author is done).

I struggle with this myself, a lot more than I would like to admit. In the end, I have learned to ask myself the key question: “Am I considering this because it’s easy or because it’s the right thing for my work?”


Note to readers:

I have a reader who is interested in taking a creative writing class online. I don’t know much about these myself as most of my coaching focuses on nonfiction, so please, in the comments, share anything you know that could help this writer!