On not getting it out there

One of the perks of being freelance is that you get to work for lots of different organisations, which means you can spot interesting patterns. You get to see if a type of behaviour is unique to one workplace or common across many organisations.

One surprisingly common occurrence for me is an organisation’s reluctance to get their news out there. Organisations frequently hire me because they want a professional copywriter to write a press release, or a blog post, or a news item for their website. So I write it, usually doing several rewrites until they’re happy, and then... nothing. They have no problems with what I’ve written, but that doesn’t mean it’s going anywhere. At the point you would expect them to finish what they’ve started by publishing that blog post or sending out that press release, they put it in the electronic equivalent of a bottom drawer and forget about it until it’s out of date.

I find it infuriating, but it’s my job to write it, not my job to keep nagging them about it. So I make sure they’re happy with what I’ve written, I make sure they’re not waiting for me to do anything more with it, then I invoice and move on.

But it always baffles me: why spend money on a professional copywriter for your press release or news story and spend time making sure they’ve absolutely nailed it, then stop the process before it sees the light of day? In my experience it’s not an unusual occurrence; I would estimate that it happens with nearly half the news stories, blog posts and press releases I’m paid to write.

Many people have blogged about the failure to finish, to get stuff out there. Seth Godin writes about the fear of shipping. (He uses the term “shipping” to describe all kinds of putting-it-out-there.) He talks about the lizard brain, the resistance stopping us from doing things well or even from doing them at all.

There are many rational reasons to fear getting something out there: fear of criticism, fear of moving on to the next thing, fear of deciding what the next thing is, fear of looking stupid, fear of success, fear of not knowing what success looks like. There’s also the fear of silence: what if I get this thing out there for the whole world to see and there’s no reaction at all?

If you don’t have a deadline to get it out there, you’ll probably find that the right time takes a long time to come along. Being close to finishing something, but not too close, is a comfortable space to be in and it’s no wonder we don’t like relinquishing it. If you don’t get it out there, you’re still in control, even if you’re achieving nothing with that control. The potential of what that thing could be, if it ever did get out there, is still infinite and unexplored. You have control and power and potential and you’re safe. No wonder you put off the decision about shipping for just one more day.

But does all this really apply with little things like a short press release? My experience is that yes, it does. The fear might be less with smaller things, but the flipside there is that with smaller things it’s easier to abandon them and kid yourself they fell off the to-do list because you were just too busy. I’ll ‘fess up here and say that this very blog post was written a good six weeks before it was published. You’re reading it now because the irony of leaving it unpublished eventually smacked me round the chops. But there are four other nearly-finished posts in my Drafts folder. Who knows when you’ll see them?