Ship Mode: Recognizing when it’s time to stop polishing your work and just ship it

Every creative project has three phases: make the thing, polish the thing, deliver the thing. The polish step is where you remove errors through testing, editing, inspection, or other review. The deliver step is where you put your work in people’s hands.

It’s so easy to get stuck on the polish step. You keep looking for and fixing little things until you’re sure it’s perfect! This is all about fear. When your work is in the world, they can judge it. They can even ignore it. We want to avoid how bad that feels.

Also, perfection is expensive. You can spend as much time rooting out every tiny flaw as you did making the thing. Those tiny flaws will be embarrassing. But they won’t really hurt anything, and they won’t keep anyone from clicking Buy Now. Crucially, eliminating every last minor flaw keeps you from working on new projects that create new value.

When you’ve applied reasonable polish, when you feel the fear of rejection, it’s time to enter Ship Mode.

In Ship Mode, you single-mindedly do the tasks that put the work in people’s hands. You’re not looking for problems anymore. You choose to think of your work as a finished product. You might notice an error while you’re in Ship Mode, but unless it’s truly egregious, you keep shipping.

My new book was good enough to ship — but it’s not perfect

I self-published my book, A Place to Start (available now at Amazon and Leanpub). I did the whole job: writing, editing, creating the print-ready and e-book files, and (now) marketing. I saved money doing it all myself, but I’m skilled in only some of these tasks. Also, there came a point where I’d looked at my book so much I had become blind to it.

I’m a recovering perfectionist and I’m mildly OCD (officially diagnosed). It was hard for me to learn to let go and enter Ship Mode. But I’m glad I learned it many years ago, or I would still be making myself nuts perfecting my book. I have a day job. There’s only so much time to work on side projects. If I polished this one to perfection, it would not be available for several more weeks yet.

Curse you, Page 50!

I saw it only in the last step of the submission process to Amazon: this ungraceful flow on page 50. No publishing company would allow a paragraph on one page to spill three words onto the next right before an illustration.

When I saw it I gritted my teeth. I probably said a four-letter word. But not only is this problem not egregious, but most readers won’t even recognize it as a problem. Nobody will demand a refund because of it. I clicked the Approve button to finish the submission. That’s Ship Mode!

I edited every story as I assembled the book, and then made two proofreading passes. But when my author copy arrived I found two typos in five minutes. How frustrating!

But I will be shocked if you find something really messed up, like garbled sentences or missing paragraphs. During the polish phase I sweated out everything that would have seriously damaged your experience with the book.

And then I got on with shipping it so you could read it and, I hope, enjoy it.

Ship Mode! Because there’s a point past which polish doesn’t pay.

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13 responses to “Ship Mode: Recognizing when it’s time to stop polishing your work and just ship it”

  1. J P Avatar

    This hits home for me. My day job involves a lot of writing these days, legal briefs that regularly run over 25 pages. Style and readability constantly fight with the need to convey precedent and doctrine accurately and thoroughly. There is always a way to improve it, and I struggle with finding the place to stop. Deadlines help, of course. And there are always, always stupid typos which I become blind to by so many readings.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      That’s tough stuff. For me that place comes when I am frustrated with the editing.

      Typos — let your word processor highlight those through spell check.

      1. J P Avatar

        Spellcheck won’t correct case or statute citations, though. Or typing “though” when you meant “through”.

  2. marcusterrypeddle Avatar

    Art is never finished. Only abandoned.
    – Leonardo da Vinci

    1. Jim Grey Avatar


  3. John Holt Avatar

    Jim, I’m past page 50 by quite a bit; read right through it without a thought about a page split. The topic, and superb writing carried me right past it. Stop fretting and write more! As I read it, this could be a good recovery book for those seeking solace toward a new life. Thanks.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks John! I figured nobody would really notice that. The couple of typos however are a little easier to spot.

  4. Peter Paar Avatar

    There are two unalterable facts about publishing:

    1) You can never effectively proof read your own work.
    2) The typo will become very apparent just after it is too late to do anything
    about it

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Every writer needs an editor. I just didn’t want to pay for one on a book where I didn’t know how many copies I’d sell. It’d be a shame to be in the red on this project!

  5. fishyfisharcade Avatar

    Every day I post on my blog I read the post to look for errors. Then I publish it.

    And then all the typos that I somehow missed laugh in my face as I frantically stab at the edit link. Pretty. Much. Every. Day! :)

    WordPress used to have a free spellcheck button when I started my blog, but it was removed for some reason. And thus was my crutch removed…

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I feel you, brother.

      One of the typos in the book is from a post I wrote in 2008. I went to look at the original post and sure enough, the typo was there. 12 years it’s lived.

  6. Darts and Letters Avatar
    Darts and Letters

    I’m looking forward to reading my copy of A Place to Start on our family e-reader. It’s a bit of a milestone, other than the e-reader itself it’s the first time I’ve ever bought something for it, expressly for my own :-)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I hope you enjoy it!!

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