Thrash in Private

One of the downsides of being a creator is that you’ll leave behind a trail of dead bodies — bodies of failed projects. There’ll be projects that took too long to ship, projects that grew too much in scope, and projects you didn’t care about all that much. There’ll be projects you thought were awesome but the market didn’t, projects that became outdated and never received an update, and projects you had to shut down because one of your collaborators pulled the plug.

One of the greatest services you can do for your audience is to actually keep all those skeletons in your closet. That’s impossible, of course. Sometimes, your failures will be very public. But that’s no reason to not try in the first place. Sadly, this is what most creators now default to. They ship and ship and ship — and then they abandon, abandon, abandon. Actually, all of their “shipping” was just thrashing.

In his book Linchpin, Seth Godin explains thrashing as “the apparently productive brainstorming and tweaking we do for a project as it develops.” Features get added. Little tweaks are made. Sometimes, the whole thing is rebooted from scratch.

The trick, Seth says, is to “thrash at the beginning,” then hold people accountable to those decisions. No more changing the color two days before the launch. No more, “But our competitor just showed this new feature we should also add!” You decide, you build, and you ship — and if it becomes one of those fatalities that makes the 7 o’clock news in your world, then so be it. But at least you did it right.

“What you do for a living is not be creative,” Seth says. “Everyone is creative. What you do for a living is ship.” Many creators no longer know the difference. I know someone who started with an email course about marketing. Then, they wrote a book about sex. Next, some articles on their blog, a column with a magazine, an SEO agency, a course about note-taking, the list goes on. I was happy when they returned to weekly articles, but of course, that, too, only lasted a year. The one thing I can count on is that they’ll be on another platform, doing some other random thing, in a year’s time.

It’s easy to be a hot-footed creator. To launch things and promise, “This is it! This is the one guys!” then leave your audience hanging 90 days later. Focus applies to work as much as dating. You can always jump ship, but new is just different — and will rarely make you any happier. Unlike finding love, however, when it comes to projects, you can thrash in private. You don’t have to throw everything out there. You can keep ideas on your shelf until you’re sure of them. Sometimes, finding that confidence takes years.

I have concepts for some ten or more books, and I’ve started working on at least half of them. But I stopped announcing which book I’m working on when. Only when I’m in the final 30% stretch will I start piping up. When I can see the thing rolling across the finish line. I don’t like to make promises I can’t keep.

In a TikTok world where the algorithm expects you to throw out new bait at least once a day, it’s easy to thrash entirely in public. The pressure of “more output faster” makes you release nothing but half-assed work. But whereas that pressure isn’t real, our disappointment in you when you inevitably abandon us will be.

Think harder about what you put out there. “Is this thing actually finished? Is this a logo I really want on my résumé?” If you change your mind three weeks after release, just because you shipped it doesn’t mean it wasn’t thrashing. “Oh crap! That was more soul-searching than service, wasn’t it?” This realization can come at a heavy price: the trust of your fans.

Do us a favor, and thrash in private. We can forgive the occasional change of heart, but if change is all you do, you’re not helping us. You’re using us — and that’s not what being a creator is about.