We’re just about ready to publish Expedition Austin: A Kid’s Guide to the Weirdest Town in Texas. We’re really proud of it, and super excited to get it out there into the world.
Do you hear the enthusiasm in my voice? The unfettered joy and pride? No? Well, that’s because I’m on my fourth round of proofs. I’m proofing proof after proof after proof so I can send off for a REAL proof. I find things to fix every time, which is why I keep proofing proofs.
My question is, when do you call it done? When do you just say “good enough” and put it out there. I know people who are frozen in their tracks, incapable of finishing anything at all because they can’t deem their project “perfect.” Those tracks are a maddening place to stand.
I heard a Malcolm Gladwell Revisionist History podcast that touched on this, though it was primarily about how genius is achieved; how it evolves and different approaches to creative pursuits. The episode was called “Hallelujah” in reference to the gorgeous Leonard Cohen song (covered here by Jeff Buckley).
Apparently, Cohen wrote more than 80 verses over years and years before ever bringing it out. The result is pretty damn close to perfect. But, what if he’d gone with an earlier version? Would he have saved himself years of frustration and angst? Would anyone have noticed but him? Would even he have noticed after some space? How much better, really, was the final take?
Not that I’m comparing this book to a Leonard Cohen masterpiece, but many writers can probably relate. At some point, you have to put it out there, even if it’s terrifying. Even if there’s a lowercase “a.m.” when it should be uppercase and all caps. Even if I forgot to mention a super awesome place to park near Home Slice pizza. Even if there’s a spare comma on one (or more) of the 120 pages. Even if it’s not perfect.
I’m practicing with this here blog post. Forget proofing–I’m not even going to reread it. It’ll be like one of those awesome OK Go one-shot videos. Of course, you can’t publish a book done in a single take, but surely there’s a balance between first draft and a soul crushed by one too many proofs.
I’ve written before about the importance of flexibility in a writer’s life, and was recently reminded of that truth. My colleague, Virginia, and I are just about ready to put our Austin guide for kids out into the world, but learned that one of the places we highlighted in the book is closing soon. The HOPE gallery is awesome, and thankfully will reopen somewhere, but the 4-1-1 isn’t known yet. As a result, we’re going back to the old drawing board for a new location to highlight. It’s an unexpected delay, but we know the book will be better and more accurate if we make the change, so we’re rolling with it!
If you are able to get to the great graffiti park before it moves to its new digs, here’s a little piece of Expedition Austin to take with you. While our book is “officially” for kids, we say there’s no shame in letting childhood last a few extra decades. We’d love feedback if you do use this page–and we promise to take it to the drawing board.
I think I’ve mentioned before that “freelance writer” is really a fancy term for “cold caller.” At times, it can be a rough gig for a person who feels like an intruder ordering take-out.
(“I’m sorry to bother you, but I’d like to order some royal thai hot garden if possible. No problem; I’ll be glad to hold indefinitely, and don’t worry if the order arrives without the curry sauce–I’m just grateful you picked up the phone!”)
Still, I’ve gotten better at pitching my ideas, developed a thicker skin, and learned to buck up. After all, if you don’t ask, the answer will always be “no,” right? If you do ask, every now and then an editor will make your day with a “yes.”
Even better than a yes, in my sometimes pathologically introverted book, is an assignment. Getting an assignment not only means an editor has faith in your ability to write an engaging and accurate article, it means you didn’t have to ask anyone for it, and you are almost certain to get paid!
Recently, an editor I’d worked with previously asked me to come up with an idea about a seed accelerator called Tech Wildcatters. The result, a fun look at the personality of entrepreneurs, ran in the August issue of Spirit Magazine.
This type of assignment may not come along very often, but when it does, the work is so very nice that you’ll feel like Peggy Lee singing a Gershwin tune with Frank Sinatra.
Don’t judge me because it’s been three months since my last post–I’ve been busy. The good kind of busy that’s had me writing almost every day about a lot of different things for a wide variety of outlets. For example, I’ve written a business feature for the August issue of Spirit magazine about entrepreneurs, a very short sidebar for Women’s Health about diet and brain health, several blog posts for Central Desktop about collaboration, and numerous op-eds about issues ranging from global LGBTI rights and human trafficking to cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
I’ve been so busy, in fact, that I’ve had a few run-ins with writer’s block. There are days when I sit down at my computer to write about whatever is on the day’s agenda, and that cursor blinking on a blank page is a taunt rather than an invitation. “You think you have something worthwhile to say? HA!”
But freelance writing is a funny profession. You can’t really fake being productive when someone is expecting an article in their in-box the next day. You either have a product to turn in or you don’t. Having an assignment with a clear goal and set deadline helps immensely. I’m also a believer in the “just write” method of getting through a dry spell. If you start typing something that is somehow related to the task at hand, at least you’ll have words to work with and edit. If you avoid, procrastinate, or simply stare at that blinking cursor, well, you’ll have nothing, and so will your editor or client (or blog).
Perhaps all that is to say that while I mustered the creativity to get through my paid assignments, I failed miserably in nurturing Blue Seed. Even though this post may be best filed as an attempt to “just write,” it’s a relief to be back at it.