CTRL-A & DELETE

I just caught myself hitting  CTRL-A & DELETE with touch-typer speed and precision.  No hunting and pecking for that odd combination of keys required.  In case you’re not a complete computer nerd like me, the key sequence highlights everything on your screen and deletes it.  It’s the quick and easy way to start over with a clean slate, or the modern equivalent for ripping the sheet of obnoxious writing from the typewriter, wadding it up, and pitching it toward the trashcan (only not as cathartic).  For whatever reason, this time I paused and thought about why I did it.  It must have been the third or fourth time I had hit those keys in the preceding five minutes but I hardly remember doing it.  I only remember trying to get an article off the ground and not liking my results.

I had started an article I wanted to publish on Medium.  You see, I’ve been “saving up a couple good ideas” for pieces I believed had some legs and could launch my Medium presence with a bang.  Saving an idea is a silly notion, I know, but that’s the reality of how I thought today.  I wanted this to be a great piece, though, and I was not meeting my expectations.

As I re-read the first six or seven sentences of the article (for the third or fourth or fifth time), I judged it as unworthy of a venue where I could expect people to pay to read my work.  So with a flash of thought, my fingers twitched and the offending words were obliterated.  As I pondered my action I tried to figure out on what grounds I based my judgment.  I was, and still am, at a total loss for anything that made sense.  I simply did not believe it measured up to other articles I have seen on the site but I can offer no concrete evidence as to why I believe it.

My actions were obviously a symptom of publishing fear.  Somewhere, deep inside me, despite my strong words and bravado, despite my month-long record of posting blog content, I am scared of how the public will judge my work.  I don’t want to be laughed at or ridiculed.  I don’t want my work to be found wanting by the internet literary mafia.  Instead, I expect it to strike a chord with every person who reads it.  I want it to move them enough so they not only reward me with their dollars but they are compelled to tell all their friends about the wonderful article they read.  What tripe.  I know the futility of approaching the work with some sort of “greatness goal” from the outset.  It’s just not how it’s done.

“The writer’s job is to write.  Let the public and the critics decide what to do and think about your work,” says every guru on the internet.  With clear instructions like that, why is it so hard to separate yourself from thinking about how your words will be perceived?  It’s a conundrum.  There has to be a trick to dissociate yourself from the feelings of inadequacy and impending doom.  If I can find that trick I’ll retire a millionaire.

In the meantime, I need to end the habit of judging my work as I write it. The CTRL-A & DELETE cycle must be broken.  I suspect I am not alone in fighting this problem.  I also suspect it will be similar to the addict giving up the needle or the bottle. There will be a few relapses, but my resolve shall remain strong.  To ensure I do not wimp out and delete the next great article I conjure, I commit to writing and publishing an article on Medium within five days.  You should do the same!  If we can’t do that, maybe we should pry the DELETE key off our keyboards!

How to Hate Your Writing But Ship It Anyway

Every writer hates their work to some degree. I’ve yet to talk to anyone who has never questioned the quality of what they write. It seems to be a universal phenomenon. Yet magazine articles and books get published, websites get their copy, and there are certainly enough commercials on television to conclusively prove someone’s writing is worthy of the public’s attention. So why do you hate our own words? More importantly, how do you overcome this feeling so you can ship your product? It requires a simple commitment to yourself.

Making the commitment starts with defining the emotion you feel when faced with the decision to publish. Is it really hatred? It’s not likely that you truly hate your own thoughts. Perhaps it is mere dislike? Rather than dislike, maybe it’s better described as distrust. I can understand a lack of trust in what I write versus what I think. The root of distrust is fear, so maybe we should just call it that. Fear makes the most sense, too. You are scared of sending your work into the world and having it found wanting. I know I think about that pending judgment every single time I publish an article or submit a manuscript to a publisher. That’s why fear is the best description of my feelings toward my work. Your description may be slightly different, but you can figure out exactly what it is if you try. Doing so allows you to structure your commitment to minimize the effect of your emotions on your actions.

Once you have your dislike appropriately labeled, devising a strategy to overcome it is fairly simple, but not always easy to follow. In my case,  the strategy is to be bold. I just damn my fear and send my work out. I have tried to manage the fear by having friends review my work before I publish but that sort of thing never works. Your friends have a hard time telling you the truth when your work is terrible. I’ve also learned that if I allow myself any possible way out of shipping, I’ll delay sending my work out (sometimes permanently). Instead, I acknowledge I have committed myself to publishing my work, either personally or via a third party, without exception. Everything I write gets shipped. There is no hiding my work on my hard drive or in the depths of a drawer. With my commitment I have removed any personal choice about publishing it. It goes out. Like it or not. I give myself adequate time to perform revisions and editing, and then off it goes, good, bad, or indifferent.

Such a commitment sounds too easy, too contrite a solution to be feasible. Perhaps it is, but it works for me. If you doubt the power of such a simple act, you may not fully understand the depth of my commitment. It may help you to conceptualize it by comparing it to taking a trip on an airplane. Once you’re on the plane and it starts shooting down the runway, you’re going along for the ride whether you like it or not. There’s no changing your mind and ringing the bell to tell the pilot you want off the hurtling death machine. That’s the sort of all-in mentality you need to have with regard to your own commitment to publish your work. It does not remove the fear, but it does remove your ability to tell yourself “no.” That’s the secret sauce.

After you ship the fear and loathing do not fully go away. To continue the airplane analogy, once the plane leaves the ground and you’re headed into the skies you have to relax.  It’s the same when you publish your work.  What else can you do? Worry about what every visitor to your website thinks about every piece you’ve written? Not hardly. Once you have posted it on your blog or sent the manuscript off to your agent or editor, it’s done. You may still hate what you wrote, or, as in my case, fear the judgment of what you wrote, but it’s out of your hands now. Move on to the next piece.

Over the past decade, I have written hundreds of pieces for my work and personal pleasure. On the occasions where my work was made public I had the fear of judgment. I still do. Not all of my creations were treated kindly by those who read them! It sucked. I wanted to quit writing. I wanted to delete the offending pieces. I didn’t die, but I did quit publishing for a long time. It was one of the biggest mistakes I have ever made, all over what some mutton-head thought of a tiny article on the internet. I vowed never to make that mistake again, and I promised myself I would travel the path of publishing every single thing I write from now on. I hope you slap your fear into the corner and follow me on the journey.