“Think of something you used to do, that you loved to do, that did something for you while you were doing it. Brought you something. Everybody thinking of one?
Now think of that thing you gave up that you loved to do. You gave up because you were, yeah, not good enough. Wasn’t ‘good enough.’ Gave it up.
The only thing Americans don’t give up that they aren’t any good at it is golf.”
This was the opening of a TedX talk called “Perfectly Imperfect” by the great Jack Ridl, retired Hope College professor. His talk is about reclaiming things you love to do – not to be the best in the world at it or even turning it into your full-time career – but simply for the love of the craft.
My “something” has always been writing, all the way back to second grade. I followed this love to Hope College, graduating in 2012 with an English Creative Writing degree. I’ve been writing ever since.
But most of it is done as a hobby. Takes place early in the morning before work. And the trouble is that, even as a hobby, I’ve found it’s hard to write only for the sake of writing. The goal of “I want to write a book” quickly morphs into “I want to write a bestseller.” With a blog, it’s tempting to keep checking the number of views, visitors, likes.
Because we spend so many years aiming for a target – first in a land of letter grades, and then in a land of salaries, promotions, and “where do I rank” – it can be hard to work on a craft just for the sake of doing it, to have fun, and not rely on any external measurements.
This impacts how writers feel about the publishing process too. One may think, “Well, if I can’t get a literary agent or traditional publisher, it’s not worth doing.” Or, if they self-publish, it becomes all about the rankings. Looking at the book sale bar graph.
The business I started in 2018, called Long Overdue, began as a way to bring more fun to the publishing process. Especially for first-time authors. It’s a way to encourage people to write and put meaningful stories out there, even if the audience is only friends, family, and some people in your local community.
Recently, we’ve expanded the idea to include recording family stories. For example, if you have a grandparent, mom, dad who has all of these great stories but they’ve never recorded them, we’re helping turn these stories into books. This was inspired by my own family. I have a book of poems from my great-grandpa. My dad wrote a children’s book about my nephew. My grandma is an artist and her sister has written a couple of novels. I’d love to help more families create these types of libraries that they can pass down to future generations.
Long Overdue is run by me and three other friends. All of us have full-time jobs, so the work is done in the mornings and weekends, which can definitely be tough to balance. One time* in particular, I got so in the zone working on a book before work, I looked up and it was 8:55. Close the laptop, rush to the bathroom, switch from glasses to contacts. Slide out of the good ol’ writer’s sweatpants. Run to the bus then jog into the office around 9:20.
I feel guilty on the walk to my desk. Everyone’s already there, and several colleagues have been working for an hour already. At this moment, I don’t feel a sense of pride in how hard I was working on Long Overdue, I feel like the late guy. Flaky. Letting people down. And wondering, “Why can’t I work as hard at the steady job that’s paying me more than this side business I’m trying to get off the ground?”
*And by “one time,” I think this happened at least 10 different times.
And yet… those before-work projects included helping an author in England (Joy M. Lilley) with her novel Strawberry Moon, an author in Illinois (David Warden) with a book of career advice called Don’t Be That Guy, and an author in Florida (David Ovitt) bringing a children’s book to life, Cecil the Centipede, which he first wrote 30 years ago. We’re working with fellow Hope College grad Jon Oldham (’12) on his Tackle the Library series, and we have several other books in progress.
The part I enjoy the most is when the author receives the final copy of their book. There’s a deep sense of accomplishment and distinct finish line to their project. Plus, all of the authors we’ve worked with so far have multiple book ideas in mind, so it’s been really cool to see Long Overdue ignite/re-ignite a passion for writing, not just a one-time project.
In this process, I’ve found that starting a business feels a lot like writing a book. You have a vision for where you want things to go and you just keep chipping away at each new chapter. Writing and revising. In this way, I think writers and English majors are secretly well-positioned to be entrepreneurs, especially with startups. Year 1 of any business is more art than science.
And, just like writing a book, there’s never a perfect time to start a business. Life is busy. There are bills. Rent. Mortgages. But if we wait for the perfect time to get started, the project keeps getting pushed off until it becomes long overdue.
Maybe someday, there will be more time to work on everything, less trial and error.
But right now, it’s just fun to work on something I love to do. To have Long Overdue be perfectly imperfect.