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Don’t Make It Perfect. Just Make It Better.

“I have bits & pieces but don’t know how to construct a coherent plan from all of it.”

These are words an author shared with me this week, and it sounded so familiar. This is a challenge that many writers go through. They are super smart, they have read so many “helpful” articles and blog posts, and read books and attended conference sessions, etc to learn how to develop an audience for their books. BUT… they are drowning in a sea of “wonderful” ideas, without any process by which to move forward.

I had a conversation with another author who was considering hiring me for consulting. As we talked about his goals, he seemed vacillate between two emotions:

  • I’M SMART & HAVE SKILLS
    In describing his specific goals it was clear that he could feasibly go through the book launch and marketing ideas on his own. He has the basic skills to do so, and is obviously very smart.

  • I’M OVERWHELMED
    In describing his plans, he quickly became totally overwhelmed when he realized how many balls he had in the air, and how adding any more would adversely affect his other obligations at work and home.

Talking through this, I told him that my biggest fear, and the thing I see most often with other authors, is that 12 months from now, his plans will remain undone. That even though he is smart (he knows what he wants), he has skills (he knows how to get it done), that the last part (I’m overwhelmed) will overshadow these things.

That sometimes, you bring partners into a process because doing things together is not only less lonely, but more effective. In the past, I used the Weight Watchers system as an example:

A primary reason Weight Watchers works is that it is inherently social. You are encouraged to show up to a group meeting for a weigh-in, to chat with other members, and the Weight Watchers staff. This process offers encouragement, you learn how others are finding success in losing weight, and you build powerful relationships with those who have similar goals. Over time, you may want to lose weight not just for your own sake, but to ensure you don’t let the group down. Your purpose has become communal, and you feel a sense of accountability.”

Another important aspect to build momentum is the value of process. That a simple process that encourages small actions can be more powerful than a complex plan. I have been considering a simple prompt that a friend shared with me months ago:

“How can I make it better?”

This seems like the simple challenge that each of us face in our lives.

Whether these are issues of craft.
Of work/life balance.
Of interpersonal relationships.
Of lawn care.

That the goal is not “how can I fix everything and make it super awesome!”
Because that road is long and twisting. Because to reach “awesome,” is often more of a process than a destination or achievement.

For instance:

  • Can you write bestselling novel after bestselling novel?
  • Can you find total fulfillment in every aspect of your career and total complete peace at home?
  • Can you make everyone like you?
  • Can your lawn be perfect?

Honestly: probably not. Sorry.

But you can make each better. Within 30 days, you can learn how to:

  • Write a better sentence.
  • Feel better about specific task in your job.
  • Repair one aspect of a broken friendship.
  • Get 20% of your lawn 10% greener.

I’ve written in the past about how bored I have become with chasing “best practices.” (see: Why “Best Practices” Lead to Mediocre Results) That there is often a false promise in these (e.g.: “5 simple ways to make your book go viral using Goodreads!”), and that the describe things that works for a handful of people two years ago, but have since been diluted. That I’d rather see authors:

  1. Be more focused on honing their craft.
  2. Better understanding their audience.
  3. Get clearer on the motivations and messaging that connects those two things.
  4. Have meaningful conversations that lead to trusting relationships, and doing this often.

Why?

Because these are all things that were critical for success 30 years ago.
Are critical for success today.
And will be critical for success 30 years from now.

Too many people are pursuing “best practices” waiting to “go viral.” They are hoping to find some “secret” way of using Amazon that is akin to winning the lottery.

Success comes from relationships and empathy, not buttons.

Many authors are starting in a place they are slightly unsure of.
Slightly embarrassed about.
Slightly afraid of.

So they need to start one thing: make it better.

Not amazing. Not perfect. Just better than a day ago. Than a week ago. Than a month ago.

Oftentimes, this is about establishing the right habits. Perhaps it could be:

  1. Write daily
  2. Change one work habit that gives them an extra 15 minutes of breathing room each day
  3. Have a conversation with one ideal reader each week
  4. Understand one new thing about how your stories connect with that reader’s heart and mind

If you are hoping to build processes such as these into your writing life,
I just announced the next session of my 8-week online course: Get Read: Find Readers and Build Your Author Platform, which begins May 5.

Thanks!
-Dan

  • Frances Lee Hall

    Great discussion, Dan. I like that prompt, “how can I make it better?” It’s a positive challenge, and also reflects, for me, that whatever is overwhelming you, it actually exists in some way; so in a sense, you’ve done something, now to keep going and improve upon it. Whenever I’ve gotten into the Overwhelming Blues, I stop myself and ask, “what’s my next productive step?” Not steps. But, step. Then I do it. I call a former co-worker for coffee. Or I research Aweber. (ok, that was 2 steps.) A very wise colleague of mine suggested that, and it’s worked nicely for me.

    • Thank you Frances! And yes, I have found this to be a flexible tool. For instance: sometimes when I feel the desire to put off starting a HUGE project, I can take one step forward by just creating a template outline. Like, literarily just creating a cover slide or numbering blank pages for a presentation, just selecting how many slides it should be. Usually, just that action creates momentum.

      -Dan

      • Frances Lee Hall

        Yes. Great reminder that the action doesn’t need to be huge. To make something better.

  • Martha Jane Curtis

    Great prompt. I like the concept of “making it better one step at a time.” I often find myself overwhelmed, not sure which hat to wear when. I have to discipline or MAKE myself choose one thing, right or wrong, and go with it. One step usually leads to the next and the next. Before I know it, I’m back on track. Now to apply it to my writing. Thanks for the encouragement.