How to Edit Your New Business Like a Bestselling Novelist

If you’ve been thinking of starting a business but you’re overcome by fear, I want to offer you some advice that I’ve been giving writers for years. “Just create the thing. Then fix it. Nothing starts off perfect.”

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I hope you’ll pardon my French when I quote Papa Hemingway here: “The first draft of anything is shit.” He’s blunt, but he’s pretty much right. The key to writing good novels is the same as the key to starting a good business. Stifle your self-doubt, and make small steps toward your goal. When you feel like you’re going in the wrong direction, stop, turn around, go back a few paragraphs (or a few steps on your website or your business plan), and try a different tack. But, most importantly, Do not let your inner critic take control. Your job is not to judge, your job is to create. The wonderful novelist and essayist Anne Lammott made this same point (in reference to Hemingway) when she said, “What I’ve learned to do when I sit down to work on a shitty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head.” 

So. Think of starting your business in the way successful writers approach writing a novel. 

  1. Make a loose plan, but allow for the possibility of surprise and change. 
  2. Follow your plan and go step-by-step toward getting something completed. With a novel, this could mean writing two pages a day for six months (That’s 365 pages, a fairly hefty novel). With a new business, this could mean buying a domain and having your arty friend (or better yet, Sad Monkey Media!) build a website and create a logo for you. Don’t worry, all of these things can be updated later. 
  3. With a novel, you’ll want to put the finished first draft away for a month or six weeks, then view it with fresh eyes. Same goes for your business. Let your website stew for a few days, then look at it again. Tweak it, rewrite it, update it. 
  4. Now, edit the novel and have friends look it over. Transferring this idea to the business realm, send out feelers to trusted associates: “What’s working here? What isn’t? Would you buy this product or use this service?”
  5. After you’ve edited your book, as a writer, you’ll send the thing out to agents to see if you get any bites. If not, edit it again. Keep adjusting! Add conflict, add a secondary plotline, etc. With a business, this means go live and see how it works. If no one bites, no big deal! Change your focus, adjust your target market, change your logo. 

The point is, a business, like a draft of a novel, is a continual work in progress. Eventually, if you keep moving forward, something will hit. And it may hit big. Gillian Flynn wrote dozens of drafts of Gone Girl before getting it right. The book went on to sell 2 million copies, and Flynn sold the movie rights for $1.5 million. Maybe your startup could be the next Gone Girl? You’ll never know until you finish that shitty first draft.  

Angelina Medina