You’ve read those self-help writing articles. They have titles like “Don’t hit that Publish button till you’re happy,” or “Your Heart tells you when it’s good,” or maybe “Trust your inner audience.”
They’ll all repeat that it’s okay and even best to not publish your work unless it’s awesome. That it’s okay to just burn an article you’ve spent an entire day, week, or month on if you’re not entirely happy with it.
I don’t personally like this approach at all.
Thanks to the way life works, writers have limited time to publish things. Life is a hidden and desperate race against a big clock. Use every publish opportunity you can. Relentlessly publish, even if it’s just for your own edification at first. Don’t let your ideas languish on a virtual shelf. Get them out there so they can impact people, engender reactions, and teach you something before your time runs out.
You can’t trust your inner voice of worry if you want to improve as an online writer. You can’t follow that self doubt, no matter how strong it is. Not everything is going to be your best work, sure, but how are you going to know if something is good without the valuable tool of outside perspective?
Your inner voice wasn’t built to be an arbiter of creative quality; it’s a survival tool.
The same voice that tells you how to avoid setting your kitchen on fire or escape from places where bears might be located is not the best tool for deciding whether or not a piece of art is “good enough” for public consumption.
It’s natural to doubt the creative process. It’s natural to not want to hit that publish button. It’s a vulnerable and terrifying thing. It happens to everyone. From the bottom all the way to the top. But if you stop something from being expressed publicly just because you’re worried it might be a bit rubbish…you’re giving up the opportunity to grow.
I know, I know, the court of public opinion can be rough. But you have the tools to control it and ween useful information away from its maw. You don’t have to actively engage with everyone. You can separate the jerks from the genuine feedback. You can hit that block button. You can delete comments. You can even delete a story if things get out of control.
Let’s say you post something you think is bad and the internet at large also thinks it’s bad. Well then, your suspicion is confirmed. That’s valuable! If you post something you think is merely okay and you were afraid to post, and some people really love it, congratulations! You’ve found a new audience.
That second one is the entire point, isn’t it? To communicate with others and form connections? How can you do that if the content is never there in the first place?
Creative growth only comes from risk, and a writer with a million articles on a private shelf is waiting for something that’s never going to happen. Sticking your neck out there is a vital last step of the process.
If I never published anything until I thought it was one-hundred percent ready, or unless I thought it was a totally wonderful idea, I’d have four articles online instead of 1000.
Often my inner voice is totally wrong, and that’s why I’ve learned to stop listening to it so much. It doesn’t always know what it’s talking about until it’s joined by some friends on the outside world.
I’ve shelved article ideas for months because I thought they were ridiculous, only to finally publish them and watch them grow a big audience. I’ve worked for weeks on pet ideas, honing them to a place where I really loved them, and then watched as they found three readers and dropped into the abyss.
Both of these experiences are instructive, and both are valuable. I don’t treat the anonymous feedback and the readership numbers as gospel, but without some kind of data from outside my own echo chamber, I can’t learn where I’m succeeding and failing, and I can’t get better.
So go out there and publish everything. Go nuts. Get your thoughts out there if you have the opportunity. It’s a scary world that’s not always going to agree with you, but it’s not a bear you have to somehow tackle with in some empty forest. You can turn the whole thing off, if you need to. But more often than not, you’ll find some validation, encouragement, or constructive feedback you can use to make the next piece that much better.