The Publishing Paradox
My heart beats a little faster and louder as my finger hovers for a moment. Then I do it.
I hit “Publish.”
I feel light, happy, accomplished, proud. I published an essay and get to call myself a writer another day without feeling like a fraud.
But now I have a new deadline. In just one week I have to publish another essay. How can I possibly keep this up?? I’m too busy, I don’t have that many ideas, and I need way more than one week to write anything worth reading.
This is the Publishing Paradox.
The benefits don’t come from what you publish but from the simple act of publishing.
Especially for new writers, it’s scary to put our ideas out into the abyss of the internet. If we’re going to hit that publish button we want to be super proud of the thing we’ve written. And the only way to be proud is to slave over the piece for weeks or months, do tons of research, gather many sources, and ultimately, change someone’s life with our words.
That’s a lot of pressure. Paralyzing pressure. How is anyone supposed to publish with those kinds of expectations?
The answer lies on the other side of publishing. But the only way to experience the other side of publishing is to publish.
Hear me out.
In the days leading up to my deadline I hate what I’ve written. Absolutely hate it. It sucks and I shouldn’t bother calling myself a writer. But the closer I get to my weekly deadline and the more editing I do, I feel a little better each day. And magically, when I finally press publish I think, “This is actually pretty good.”
If you’ve published you know the feeling. It doesn’t matter how long you spent on the piece. Whether it was days or months, you have the same feeling of accomplishment every time you put something out into the world with your name on it.
Publishing every week gave me a new lens on life where I was constantly writing in my head. I wasn’t sitting at my computer looking up supporting sources for my ideas (torture!). I was doing ambient research: paying attention to my everyday observations, conversations, interactions, and strong emotions. Everything I encountered became the potential seed of an idea.
And because of the weekly deadline I didn’t have time to be precious about what I was putting out there. So there were all these moments of, “Fuck it, let’s try this in my writing and not only see how people respond but see how it makes me feel.” The pressure of the deadline almost forced me to take risks and experiment in ways I wouldn’t have allowed myself to do if I had the time to talk myself out of it. And that’s when my voice started to come through in my writing.
The other thing the weekly deadline did was force me to stop staring at my computer screen waiting for likes and retweets and nice comments because guess what? I’ve got to write and publish another essay. I’ve got to keep working on the craft.
There’s an argument for only putting out top notch, quality, excellent masterpieces. But you have to earn that position. That’s not our starting point. The only way to get there is to be prolific and churn out essay after essay for a while. Don’t ask me how long because I don’t know but it’s been a year and a half and there’s been too many benefits for me to think I should stop anytime soon.
My favorite benefit is the one I wasn’t expecting: confidence. I’m no longer a person with a hobby. I’m a writer.
So instead of thinking of your published essays as a precious body of work and tying your identity to them, think of them as building blocks to becoming a better writer. Because that’s exactly what you’ll become.
But it only happens if you publish.