Life’s No Good In Draft

Posts In Draft

I’ve got a running joke with my friend Michael. He has a blog which he’s been writing for a bit. In an effort to hold him accountable, I ask him every now and again, when it’s been a while since he last posted something, how it’s going. I usually get this response:

Oh, I’ve got a lot of stuff I’m working on. I’ve got a couple posts in draft.

Oh, I didn’t know those counted.

Fortunately, Michael is the type of person who dishes it right back out when I do the same thing, and, whenever we find ourselves talking about drafts, we say to each other, “Oh, I bet those are great!”, implying that they are, in fact, not that great at all. The joke eventually turns into one of us noticing that the other hasn’t posted in a while, and letting him know:

I’ve been really enjoying your drafts lately.

The implication is that nobody can enjoy the drafts. In fact, the best posts in the world don’t do anything in draft, because no one can read them. The real message behind that joke is “don’t tell me about all the great posts you’ve got in draft, because, until they’re published, they don’t count.”

I know.

I almost let this post stay in draft, and, of course, it ended up getting splashed across Oprah, the Guardian, Hacker News, Discover Magazine, and a lot, lot more places. It’s been my most popular article ever, and it almost never made it out of draft status.

I didn’t think it was any good. But I clicked publish anyway, because great stories don’t do anything if they stay in your head. They’re no good in draft.


From Writing To Life

Not hitting publish for a while might mean your writing stalls. This isn’t fatal – except possibly for your writing -, but it will stop your growth as a writer.

However, there’s something more dangerous than not hitting publish on your drafts: not hitting publish on your story.

Here’s what I mean:

Plenty of people spend lots of time planning life. Here’s what I’ll do when [insert XYZ here]. They’ve got list after list after list, but it’s all cerebral – all played out in a fantasy in their heads.

Meanwhile, back in real life, they’re doing nothing.

That’s why I hate bucket lists. They represent a life of plans, not a life in action. And when all you do is plan, your story stalls. You end up believing your plans count. You end up living in draft. There’s only one problem with this: your plans don’t count. Your action does.

See, living in draft is way more dangerous than writing in draft because it doesn’t just stall your writing. It stalls your life.

In Progress

How To Know If You’re Living In Draft

So, how do you know if you’re living in draft? Here are some symptoms:

  1. You make lots of plans, but don’t carry out very many of them.
  2. You keep putting off your plans until “a better time”, but you haven’t defined exactly when that time will be, or what makes it “better”.
  3. You spend a sad amount of time watching television, movies, or (please, God, no) “reality” TV.
  4. You haven’t updated your impossible list in a month.
  5. You find yourself “stuck”.

Shock your system with cold shower therapy. Stop asking stupid questions. Just do it.

Use the #1 productivity hack in the world – make a decision. Then use the best advice in the world:

Go balls out.

If you’re worried about screwing something up, screw it up as badly as you can. Make rejection and failure your top priorities, and see if they really are as bad as you fear.

My friend Dan always writes, I’m about not being a p*ssy.” They’re strong words, but they’re Dan’s words. If you don’t like them, use “scared” instead. I heard that sentence a long time ago, and I’ve internalized it like this:

I don’t want to ever not do something because I’m scared.

Don’t Be Too Careful

There’s been a refrain going on in my mind lately:

You’re being too careful.

F that ish. 

If you’re a writer, be like Johnny, and just publish all the time. Be prolific.

If you’re a person, hit publish on your story. Screw up all the time. Be prolific. See how quickly you can make the current iteration of your impossible list out of date.

Either way, hit publish on your writing. Take action with your story.

You only get one go around. Stop living in draft.

I’m knocking out one of these things myself. I’m hitting publish on this post, and sending out the email, then I’m headed to O’Hare. I have no idea where I’m going, but I’m going to knock another thing off the list:

  • Go to the airport, and buy a ticket, without knowing where I’m going.

Let’s see how this goes…

photo credit: fiddle oak

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  1. says

    How nice it would be to see you when you land :)

    I often think about this type of stuff… it’s tough to connect with people about ideas if you aren’t willing to dish them out.

  2. JHO says

    Fantastic post. Sent to my kids. I could never have done it as a shy kid. If nothing else, I said to them, smile at people and say hello.

  3. says

    Once again, a great post… Recently I have been really trying to actually follow through on my plans. (Including not letting posts stay around in draft)…

    Let us know where you end up!

  4. says

    But if you make a bucket list and commit to doing at least 5-10 things every year, would you be against that? Hmm. But I definitely agree that the concept is something that is easy to postpone. Instead of a bucket list, make a daily list of things to do. Like trying one new thing each day, a new fruit or dish, walking home from work.. whatever.

    I’m not entirely sure what I want to do yet, that’s why I decided to try out different things, follow through with a process of elimination. I started writing again, started playing the piano again, got my first job(at 22.. haha). Just trying to focus on doing things that are productive, and even if I don’t end up doing that for the rest of my life, it helped me on the journey towards that discovery.

    Then of course I got sick, I’m not sure how to interpret it. I considered taking it as a fuck you from the universe, but then I saw it as free time off, and coughing is supposed to give you great abs right? Haha.

    Definitely got some great points in here. Sometimes it can be easy to get stuck in the planning phase, and once that happens, it’s even easier to postpone some more.

  5. says

    Looks like the accountability technique is working well for you! I guess I’m lucky that only one of my posts have ever sat in Draft for long. Even then, I ended up scrapping it but going with the same idea to publish another article. I’m afraid if I let even 2 pieces sit in draft, it’d become too easy to let 5 more.

  6. says

    I learned this line in some personal development training:

    Be unreasonable in life. As in, be with out reason, be without your stories, your excuses, and without your other stories. Live life without the reasons that hold you back.

    Great point about the impossible list. My fiance and I wrote a HUGE one a year ago, thanks to you, and we haven’t got a whole lot checked off yet. Thanks for making me think about that again. Dan and Ian have us thinking about updating our dream lines very soon, too.

  7. says

    This is just what I needed! I never leave anything in draft when I write unless they’re a work in progress. But off late I have been feeling so stuck with the way I am living.
    Time to stop making plans, living in draft is very daft 😛 Time finally get off my lazy butt and start DOing things.

  8. Monique says

    Perfect! Ha ha, I’ve got a gazillion posts in draft. Thank you for the kick in the ass! Time for me to stop being a wuss.

    How long will you be in Boston (My town)?

  9. says

    Boston? Sounds like a good adventure! Great post especially since, more than most people, you practice what you preach. “Life’s no good in draft” reminds me of a quote in Shawshank Redemption . . . “get busy living or get busy dying.”

  10. says

    That’s freaking RAD — can’t wait to see where you go!!!

    Make a Decision – Go Balls Out.
    That’s basically enough to do anything in life.

    But you hit me hard, as I haven’t looked at my life list in a few months (but in all fairness I’m actually working on an item as we speak — I’m in Guatemala taking Spanish Lessons).

    Thanks for the post and Safe Flight!

  11. says


    Great article. I loved the line, “I don’t want to ever not do something because I’m scared.” This is something that I try to live by, not always successfully, but this was a great reminder for me. Sometimes, I can over-prepare and underact, but when I am conscious of it, I do a better job of pushing myself to be comfortable with discomfort, and I find that the feeling after doing something that is a bit terrifying is tremendously gratifying.

    You live your words too, which makes what you say that much more meaningful. And the fact that you are crossing another thing off of your Impossible list with your plane ticket to wherever is motivating.

    Thanks man for another great read!


  12. davidd says

    Let us know how that “go to the airport and buy a ticket without knowing where I’m going” thing works out… or just, how it WORKS. I thought that today, with all the security requirements, you had to buy your ticket at least 24 hours in advance. Can you actually walk up to the airport counter and buy a ticket and get on a plane?

    And how, with all of the options, do you make that last minute choice? Do you walk up to the counter and ask, “what’s the cheapest thing you got?” or “where can I go for five-hundred bucks?” That sounds like a surefire way to end up surrounded by security guards.

    (Obviously the “scared” thing is still an issue for me.)

  13. says

    I enjoyed todays post, especially the part about hating bucket lists.

    I can’t tell you how many times I have had bucket lists. I have even had bucket lists of bucket lists.

    However, one of my “objectives” or “goals”, and I really hate those terms too, was to write a post on you and the Impossible HQ.

    I am proud to say, “mission accomplished”.

    Here’s the link.

    Thanks again for your no-nonsense approach.

    Adventure Insider

  14. Shuggy says

    On this note, I have learned that I often drain the impetus for a “good invention” by sharing it with someone. It seems that the very act of collaborating on the idea is a detriment to my desire to do anything else about it.
    I wonder why that is?
    Sometimes I wonder if it was just me wanting to “hear myself be clever.” Why do I settle for “the draft version” when I really might make money off of it, or make life easier for thousands?

  15. says

    I like the post in general, just one thing — “I’m not being a p*ssy” are not strong words, they’re sexist words. Don’t be scared to call out sexism, even (especially?) when it’s from a friend.

  16. Hannah says

    “If you’re worried about screwing something up, screw it up as badly as you can. Make rejection and failure your top priorities, and see if they really are as bad as you fear.”

    That is the first time I have ever heard make rejection and failure your top priority, and I have to say I really like it. It goes along with what my mentor told me yesterday, she said, “Hannah, go make a mess!”

    Dang flabbit, life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all! Frankly, having a life of boredom is crap. Just crap.

    P.S. Took my first cold shower this morning. All I can say is, I will never take a warm shower again. :)

    Thank you for being the authentic you and doing the impossible.

  17. Steve says

    Awesome post Joel! I’m a writer myself so the concept of my life sometimes being ‘in draft’ really hit home with me. I love your blog and your action based style of personal development. Thanks again. Have fun on your trip.

  18. says

    I used to live in “careful”. I hated it and the rent was too much. It cost me a lot of growth opportunities and experience. Better to risk and lose than to wonder what if. Great post!


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