I am a huge fan of restaurants, cooking channels, cookbooks, and chefs. I’m also an eager reader of business productivity books. So when I found Work Clean: The Life-Changing Power of Mise-en-Place to Organize Your Life, Work, and Mind, by Dan Charnas, I did a little happy dance and snapped it up.
For those of you who aren’t restaurant junkies and who haven’t worked back of the house, “mise-en-place” (or “meeze”) is the prep work and basic routine that chefs use to manage their time, create their meals, and keep the dishes pumping out of the kitchen in a consistent and orderly fashion.
While restaurant food might be art, there’s a definite rigor there, and with good reason: if you mess up an order, or you take too long, people get hangry. Blood sugar drops and tempers flare.
And they’re right in the next room.
And there’s a chance you won’t get paid.
All bad things, all worth taking steps to avoid. If you want to have a Michelin-star quality restaurant, you absolutely need to have your act together.
The chef must deliver.
Personally, I found a lot of gems in this book as far as productivity and mindset (and some great stories about chefs, if you like that sort of thing.) But this passage in particular struck me like a brick in a sock:
“Remember: Striving for perfection and perfectionism aren’t the same thing. Both the striver and the perfectionist aim toward an ideal. But the striver knows that excellence is not about creating something of the highest quality; it’s delivering something of the highest quality, with all the constraints that delivery entails — deadlines, expectations, contingencies, feedback. The chef cannot tinker forever with a dish: Customers get hungry. Food spoils. The chef must deliver.”
It was a slap in the face. I dropped the book on my desk after reading it, staring at my wall as I pondered the implications.
The difference between creation and delivery.
For a writer, what is delivering?
If you’re pursuing traditional publishing, it means submitting work. That could mean querying an agent or submitting a proposal for editors. It will often mean completing and sending a full, polished manuscript.
If you’re self-publishing, it means completing work, getting it edited, formatting it, packaging it, distributing it. Basically, making it available for sale.
Delivering could also mean promotion: writing blog posts, sending out newsletters, participating in social media.
Now, as a writer, we can “create” for a very long time. Often, if I didn’t have an external deadline providing some much-needed fuel in the form of adrenaline, things could stay in the limbo of “creation” for a long time.
But I am realizing that, as a writer, we do have a duty to deliver. As a traditionally published author, I have deadlines attached to the contracts I sign. As a self-published author, if I don’t set at least a semblance of a publication schedule, it affects my bottom line. If I want to continue as a self-sustaining author, it is crucial that I learn to deliver, on time and to expectation.
What if it’s not ready?
Nancy Johnson recently wrote a wonderful post on this very blog (if you haven’t read it, go do that !) about novels requiring patience, and that good work can’t be rushed. I can agree with a great deal of the article. For beginning writers especially, novels are rarely ready when they think. I’ve seen plenty of authors, especially (and unfortunately) self-published authors, who rushed to release and had a sub-par novel as a result. Or I’ve seen authors who jumped the gun when it came to submitting their first novel to agents, only to lose their shot as they were form rejected, unable to resubmit. Learning the craft, working with others, putting in the work is crucial, and should not be downplayed.
But… what if really is ready?
The thing is, there’s “not rushing” – and then there’s dodging.
You need to check to make sure you’re truly making necessary revisions, or if you’re using revisions as an excuse to avoid delivering your work.
I know that I’ve dodged future projects because I let myself get mired down in self-doubt. It was more comforting to swirl in the eddies of finicky tweaks, or even blow up my story and completely overhaul it, rather than accept what I had and deliver it. Since then, I’ve learned that there’s a difference between being genuinely stuck on specific story elements, and having a generalized fear that the work is terrible and cliché and pointless. The former is something that requires attention and time. The latter only grows the more time it’s given.
It’s a tricky thing to identify. If you’re unsure, give your work to your most trusted critique partner or beta reader, and ask them if they think it’s ready. Also, check in with your emotions. Are you scared when you think of “delivering” your story? If so, dig deeper. What, specifically, are you afraid of? How likely is that fear to pass? How dire are the consequences?
Write like a chef.
Like I said: I am a huge fan of restaurants and chefs. They take something as prosaic as feeding yourself, and they elevate it to a beautiful, luscious, completely encompassing experience. As authors, we’re doing something similar.
There are no guarantees in this business – and yes, it is a business. We can prep. We can work on our craft. We can strive for perfection. But ultimately, we need to deliver… and keep delivering as we learn, improve, and grow.
Now your turn. Do you ever experience fear of finishing? Do you fight the siren call of perfectionism? What can you do to help ensure more consistent delivery?