Last month I made something of a bold statement that was not only audacious but, in retrospect, was also incorrect. That statement was:
“When it comes to writing … there are essentially two phases:
Whilst these are the two initial phases, there is a third stage which is perhaps the most important:
‘Shipping’ means to get it out there, to get it shipped. I use this term, not in the sense that Tumblr uses the term, but in the sense that Seth Godin, writer of ‘Linchpin’ uses the term. He defines it perfectly, so I have no need to alter his definition:
“The only purpose of starting is to finish, and while the projects we do are never really finished, they must ship. Shipping means hitting the publish button on your blog, showing a presentation to the sales team, answering the phone, sending out your references. Shipping is the collision between your work and the outside world”Linchpin, Seth Godin
When you read a lot, you come to recognise the differences between good writing and poor writing. This isn’t to say that you don’t enjoy poor writing, just that you acknowledge the execution could have been done better.
I read a lot of self-help and I am sometimes afraid to admit this, as the self-help genre gets a bad rap. However, because I have read a lot of self-help, I know bullshit when I see it but what Godin said above really resonated with me.
When it comes to creative work such as writing, this stage of ‘shipping’, ‘delivering’, ‘releasing’, just getting it off the desk, is as important as the writing in the first place. This is the goal, right? Do we write for ourselves or because we want to create a physical bridge between our own head-space and the rest of the world? Shipping is what makes your work real.
We all have different personality types – whether or not you are on board with the analysis put forward by life/business/voodoo coaches, there is no denying that some people have a more natural slant towards one way of thinking or doing or being, than another person might have.
I think it is important to explore these personality types not only to understand yourself but to understand (and this was my light-bulb moment) that everyone has their own way of thinking and it isn’t about political or cultural or even personal preferences; it’s down to the way they’re wired.
- Some people are great at the creation stage – draft
- Some people are great at fine-tuning – editing
- Some people are great at getting the work out there – shipping
I can guarantee you, there is no personality type that is automatically all of these people at once. In this modern world, if you are a writer, creative, or producer of any kind, you must either:
a) build a team around you made up of every personality type
b) you must work to develop the skills required to actualise all three stages. Once you’ve made it, no doubt it would not only be easier but more effective to build a team but whilst it is just you and a pen and a cup of tea (alright, that’s me) we have to make consistent baby steps towards achieving as much as we can until it gets us to where we want to be.
Last month, I explored the concept of formulating and building habits through the process of ‘drafting’. And this is going to be something I am going to have to work at every month until it becomes a part of my automatic process. I am a tinkerer at heart. I love to look at work I have previously done and spend hours, days (even years), fine-tuning my phrases. A quick search through my underwear drawer (the place I keep all important things) will deliver reels of papers with half written, crossed out nonsense, that is waiting to be completed. But I drafted this very post and I am happy that I did – not because I think it turned out any better than previous posts, but because I want to get into the habit of drafting all my work to some extent.
‘Shipping’ is another habit you must focus on and build.
Unlike drafting, which I am working on through practice, shipping for me is more accessible if I sign up to some external pressures. This takes the form of the environments I’m writing in and the deadlines set by some other person.
This month I entered a short story competition for my local city’s writing group. It is an annual competition which asks for a short story on ‘any subject’. The fact that the subject is so open is infuriating to say the least but given that it was released by the city’s writing group, I decided to use said city as the theme. I found a central coffee shop, sat in the window with a pen and blank pad of paper and got my initial thoughts down. For me, coffee shops are the perfect environments for these initial drafts. They are expensive and they have closing times so whilst you might think you are in the heat of the moment, a great well of inspiration barely being scratched at, the fact of the matter is the short story competition only requires fifteen-hundred words and you’ve run out of cash. This environment scores highly on getting this story shipped.
I had rung my editor the week before and let her know the deadline for the story asking if she was available to proofread. She was available but no later than two days before the deadline – something to do with having a personal life and not wanting to stay up all hours for my grammar checks. So now, although the story wasn’t due until midnight on Sunday and I was sat in my coffee shop on Friday, I needed to get it over to my editor before the day ended. This deadline is helping my story inch closer still to being shipped.
Finally, there was the competition itself. Written, checked, proofread and checked again, I could always just pop it in my underwear drawer, but I had paid for the entry and I was bloody well going to submit it. So, I did. Obviously, I read the entry terms three or four times beforehand just to check I had the right font size and format but before the clock struck midnight I hit ‘submit’. And Voila. Shipped.
I’ll let you know if it’s a winner. Wish me luck.
Grammar Exercise 3
Taken from pages 9-11 of Treasure Island. All Grammar including paragraphs has been removed (short but surprisingly difficult…)
at first i had supposed the dead mans chest to be that identical big box of his up stairs in the front room and the thought had been mingled in my nightmares with that of the one legged seafaring man but by this time we had all long ceased to pay any particular notice to the song it was new that night to nobody but dr livesey and on him i observed it did not produce an agreeable effect for he looked up for a moment quite angrily before he went on with his talk to old taylor the gardener on a new cure for the rheumatics in the meantime the captain gradually brightened up at his own music and at last flapped his hand upon the table before him in a way we all knew to mean silence the voices stopped at once all but dr liveseys he went on as before speaking clear and kind and drawing briskly at his pipe between every word or two the captain glared at him for a while flapped his to you sir replies the doctor that if you keep on drinking rum the world will soon be quit of a very dirty scoundrel the old fellows fury was awful he sprang to his feet drew and opened a sailors clasp knife and balancing it open on the palm of his hand threatened to pin the doctor to the wall the doctor never so much as moved he spoke to him as before over his shoulder and in the same tone of voice rather high so that all the room might hear but perfectly calm and steady if you do not put that knife this instant in your pocket i promise upon my honour you shall hang at the next assizes then followed a battle of looks between them but the captain soon knuckled under put up his weapon and resumed his seat grumbling like a beaten dog and now sir continued the doctor since I now know theres such a fellow in my district you may count ill have an eye upon you day and night im not a doctor only im a magistrate and if i catch a breath of complaint against you if its only for a piece of incivility like to nights ill take effectual means to have you hunted down and routed out of this let that suffice soon after dr liveseys horse came to the door and he rode away but the captain held his peace that evening and for many evenings to come