The first time I went to a writing conference, I kept hearing the same thing over and over again.
Groups of writers would cluster, exchange small talk, and then, inevitably, the conversation would turn toward submitting their work. People had been writing for years, decades even. And over and over again I heard them say how they felt paralyzed. They were afraid to push that submit button. Afraid to send their darlings out into the sometimes-brutal world of magazine or book or online publications, where those darlings might find rejections or walls of silence.
And so many of those writers, probably talented, probably with interesting things to say, weren’t submitting their work.
My feeling when I started my first copywriting job was similar. There was an agony to not knowing whether what I was sending would be good enough. There was a distinct desire to hold back, to read things one more time, ten more times. I finished projects because I had deadlines. I sent things because I had to. Not because I thought they were ready. Not because they were perfect enough.
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Reasonably often, I get emails from people who want to make a career out of writing. They ask where to start. What to charge. Where to find that first gig.
And honestly, I’m never sure how to answer. There are so many places to start. Reading like a fiend. Taking writing classes. Choosing the type of writing you want to pursue (because tech writing is very different from magazine work which is very different from book editing which is very different from copywriting). Creating a portfolio.
All of those are places to start. But here’s another one:
Start by getting comfortable with imperfection. Start by embracing the knowledge that you won’t always know if something is good enough until you try. Start by recognizing that writing – every type of writing – is revision. And you can’t revise until your writing is in front of that client or editor or mentor or hiring manager.
I landed my first paid writing gig over 15 years ago. My first agency job over 10 years ago. And believe me when I say that the success I’ve built over those years wasn’t necessarily about talent. So much of it was about making the choice to put my work out there at every opportunity. Publishing blog posts and watching people’s reactions. Sending imperfect work to clients knowing that revisions were going to come back and I’d have the chance to make it better. Sending my manuscript to agents knowing that there were probably plenty of rejections in my future.
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This is something I think about a lot. About how often we hold ourselves back because our efforts don’t feel perfect enough yet.
Not just with writing.
With any art or message we want to put out in the world.
So, you want to blog? Or write a book? Or submit a poem to an anthology? You want to sing a song you wrote and put it up on YouTube? You want to create art? Book covers? Sculptures? Dance routines?
Perhaps this is the time to let go and let some of your work out into the world.
They say you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. And I’d like to add that there’s never just one shot when it comes to things like pitching magazines or sending that commissioned piece to the client for feedback.
Expect revisions. Expect some rejections.
But don’t let them keep you from letting your art stretch its brand-new baby-bird wings and try to leave the nest.
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I say this as someone who’s been successfully self-employed as a writer for almost 10 years. As someone who still makes a lot of revisions on client projects and magazine articles and novels. As someone who’s learned to let myself fail a little in front of other people. As someone who’s had a client say they “hated everything about” what I sent over – and as someone who lived through that, fixed it, and ended up with a happy client in the end.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. And in case you needed to hear it today:
It’s okay to embrace imperfection and just do the damn thing. It’s okay to forget the steps in a dance competition. It’s okay to need to re-write that article for a client. It’s okay to sing your heart out and forget a few of the words.
You don’t have to wait until you’re perfect to start putting your art out there.