Think your article isn't good enough for publishing yet?
First, it probably is. You're overthinking it.
Second, publish it anyway. Edit later.
It's your blog. Write in public.
Last November, I decided to start writing online personally. It's been a decade since I last had a personal blog, and I felt like I finally had something to say.
I knew I'm prone to getting bored and quitting new habits. To make sure my new blog doesn't die in infancy, I made an agreement with myself:
If I can write daily for a month, I'm good to start a blog. That would mean I'm disciplined and motivated enough to keep it going for at least a while.
A month later, I had 30 daily drafts. I knew I'm ready.
But there was a problem:
My first article that was supposed to kickstart it all just wasn't coming together.
It was a simple article. For years, I wanted to share my story of discovering Audible, falling in love with audiobooks, and becoming an avid reader for the first time since high school. Finding time for physical books is hard when you're busy, and I hoped my Audible experience would help someone else in my position.
I had already explored this idea in one of my first daily drafts, and I had shared it in a LinkedIn post and a short Twitter thread a few weeks earlier:
How hard can it be to take all of this and turn it into a simple article?
Impossible, apparently. I just couldn't do it.
Here's how I saw it:
A Twitter thread can be sloppy, a LinkedIn post doesn't need much thought, but an article (or an essay) has to be absolutely perfect before it can be published.
But no matter how long I spent rewriting it, it didn't feel right. It felt... too basic. Too clunky. Kinda boring. And the more I struggled, the more I felt like I shouldn't have written this article at all. Publishing it seemed dumb now.
Like, what's the point?
Who cares about this Martin guy's experience with Audible? Who am I to tell people what they should do? I'm not an expert in audiobooks. And I'm certainly not a writer. What made me think starting a blog was a good idea?
Yep, I caught myself considering scrapping my blog plan. That's when it struck me:
So you're going to abandon the idea you've been thinking about for years just because you don't like your first article? Really?
Two perfectionism-kicking thoughts came to the rescue:
- "You're overthinking it. No one cares. What's the worst thing that can happen?"
- "It's good enough. Just do it. What's the simplest possible way to get it out?"
(Actually, it's more like 6 separate thoughts. My Getting Unstuck Kit. More on that probably later.)
I was definitely overthinking it. I was a nobody on the internet. My website hasn't even been launched yet. I had no plans to promote my writing, at least initially. I could publish an absolute piece of trash, or a Pulitzer-worthy story, and there would be no difference.
If an article is published online and no one is around to read it, does it make a difference if it's imperfect? No, it doesn't matter. Just publish it.
And what's the worst-case scenario? A rando stumbling upon my article and hating it enough to find a way to tell me it sucks. Not quite the end of the world is it.
Besides, my article wasn't even that terrible. At worst, it was mediocre. And the internet is full of mediocre articles. It's full of mediocre books, videos, songs, pictures. The world is full of mediocre things.
But guess what? That's how you learn. You start mediocre (or maybe you start terrible), and you get better as long as you keep going and learning from it. Deliberate practice in a nutshell. No one's born great.
All this to say: why the hell am I wasting time and energy even thinking about this?
Do I want to share my story with the world? Yes! What's the simplest way to get there? Launch my blog, publish my article as soon as possible, and move on!
So I took my Twitter thread, merged it into my latest draft, and published Me + Audiobooks: The Love Story. So much overthinking, yet it literally took me less then a few hours.
And guess what?
Nothing. The world didn't end. I wasn't pelted with rotten tomatoes. As of this writing, about 100 people have read my article. A few even told me they liked it.
And I was seriously considering not starting this blog because of this.
Still doubting yourself? Just hit publish.
Fast forward ~two months.
It's mid-February. Freezing, I know. Not a fan of winter.
At this point, I have 15 articles published on my website. Writing is still my main focus. I'm publishing twice a week, and the schedule works great for me so far.
Most of the articles aren't perfect. Some are better than others. A few aren't exactly deep, like Give Sustainably. I get side-tracked occasionally and have to publish a simpler piece not to break my streak. A few times I've published at 23:59 on a Wednesday or Sunday (my deadlines). On February 6, I spent 11 hours straight editing my notes on Atomic Habits, because I miscalculated how much it would take me to get it done. What a Sunday it was!
Still, those articles were mostly ready by midnight, even if they weren't finished. On a few occasions, I had to make some final edits the next day, but that was it.
Then, the Wednesday of February 16th rolls around.
It hadn't been a very focused week so far (according to my diary). I'd just spent a few days running errands, getting my car fixed, and doing other things that weren't exactly writing. I also got more active on Twitter, working on my strategy, socializing for a few hours a day, and trying to get hold of Microsoft support:
In other words, a lot going on.
That Wednesday, I wanted to publish So Why Do I Write where I'd explore the reasons behind my writing and share my story. I couldn't simply half-ass this.
Yet as soon as I sat down to work on it in the afternoon I knew there's no way in hell I'll get it done by 23:59. It was nowhere near ready. Not as in "it's not great", but as in "the first draft is like 25% done, whole sections are missing, and the whole thing is little more than a stream of consciousness".
This time, it wasn't me overthinking: I didn't have an article to publish.
I had three choices:
- Not publish anything that Wednesday.
- Postpone "So Why Do I Write" and publish a simpler piece instead.
- Publish an incomplete version to hit the deadline, finish later.
Not publishing was an easy way out. Technically, it wouldn't even break my streak since it was Wednesday. For what it was worth, I could've published two articles at 23:59 on a Sunday and still adhere to my 2x/week schedule. Technically.
Yet I didn't like the idea. Technically, it was fine. Practically, I would be lying to myself. I also knew I'd have to work twice as hard not to make it a habit. It was a slippery slope. Publishing at 23:59 was a technicality already. Why add more?
Publishing a simpler essay was another easy option. I had almost three months worth of daily drafts by this point, surely I could turn one of them into a quickie. I did it before, why not do it again?
But I didn't like this either. Publishing mediocrity not to break the streak felt wrong. Public opinion aside, I felt like I'm wasting my own time doing it. If I publish two garbage articles per week, does consistency matter? Not really.
Or I could just publish an incomplete draft. I still had a few hours left until midnight. More then enough to expand the draft, publish it raw at 23:59, then spend the rest of the night (and the next day) editing it to make it good enough.
This felt unprofessional and plain wrong. What if someone sees my half-baked draft and thinks my website is trash? What if it goes viral (somehow) and the whole world thinks my writing sucks? What if Google penalizes me for it?
But on the other hand, this could be a commitment device to make me finish it as soon as possible, and not just leave it for later. "It's public, and it looks like shit! I can't just go to sleep, I must finish it now!"
It also felt just a little daring. Writing in public. "I'm doing this right in front of everyone, and I'm not ashamed of myself!" I remembered seeing @visakanv contemplate writing a book in public, and being pretty vocal about it. Refreshing!
In the end, I did just that. I published a half-baked draft at 23:59 with a WIP note at the top. Then I spent a few more hours working on it, and did a few more editing passes the next day. That's how So Why Do I Write was born:
And guess what? (The answer will surprise you!)
Yup, nothing happened. Again.
The world didn't stop. No one came to shout at me. I wasn't banned from Google.
Later, a few people told me they enjoyed reading it.
You're allowed to do it
It's the end of April today.
I'm still publishing two articles per week.
They aren't perfect. In fact, they've become shallower as I switched my focus from writing to other things. And writing about product management is harder than writing about life since I have less experience as a PM than I have as a human. It's also harder not let the personal-professional divide creep in when writing on professional topics.
I still publish incomplete drafts occasionally. I even created a placeholder I can reuse. In fact, my recent article called Developer-Driven Products was initially published very incomplete:
It doesn't feel great to publish something I don't consider "finished". But why should it? It reminds me that I have a lot going on in my life and there's only that much time in my day. That perhaps I'm mismanaging it. That I'm not great at writing. And that maybe, just maybe, I should revise my publishing schedule.
So it makes sense that publishing imperfect feels uncomfortable.
But also liberating. It reminds me that I'm allowed to do whatever I want. My writing doesn't have to be perfect. I don't have to be perfect either. I don't have to unquestioningly obey the rules, follow tradition, and play by the book.
I can break the rules. And so can you.
Besides, I'm not telling you to DUI or rob a bank. Just that your writing is good enough. And if it's not, who cares - publish it anyway. You can always edit it later.
Unless it's a Tweet. Still no Edit button.