Scheherazade told one thousand and one stories over one thousand and one nights for good reason – to stay alive.
Her chief lesson is simple: publish or perish. Actually, in her case, it was also publish and perish – maybe.
It wasn’t enough for her to simply tell a tale.
It had to be good.
But at its core her lesson is simply that what you do – write, film, paint, create products, provide a service – is useless if it doesn’t get out there.
Seth Godin talks about this a lot, borrowing a phrase attributed to Steve Jobs: “Real artists ship.”
Teller of tales
Scheherazade is a storyteller, perhaps the greatest of them all given the circumstances of the telling and the ingenuity of the telling and of the tales. She is the teller of The One Thousand and One Nights.
Her situation was simple: tell a tale that engages the King or face beheading in the morning.
That’s some kind of motivation!
To stay alive, she told a tale each night for one thousand and one nights. Realizing she had to keep the King engaged by the tales, she would conclude as the dawn arrived with a hook that left him wanting more. He was left asking, “What happened next?” To find out, he had to wait till the next night and therefore could not have Scheherazade killed.
Scheherazade’s situation is a perfect analogy for creativity. It’s not enough to dream it; you must produce it. It’s not enough to produce it; you must produce it well. It’s not enough to do it once; you must do it again.
It seems to me you can list the lessons of Scheherazade and discover there are six:
- Publish or perish
- Publish and you may perish anyway
- Ensure your audience asks, “What happens next?”
- Make it as good as possible but don’t linger because …
- You must publish again tomorrow (or perish)
- Perfect gets you killed
You can take these lessons as intimidating reasons for abandoning your book, movie, or product development. You can try to find something much safer. However, you may find “safe” is no more safe than “unsafe.”
On the other hand, you can take these lessons with a sense of relief; they remove some of the pressure we put on ourselves to be perfect.
While we tinker and tweak on one idea to make it perfect, we have to remember that the time spent doing so is time we are not spending on the next idea (which could be a much better one).
Whatever we do is never just about what we’re doing. It is also about what we are not doing. Time spent here is time not spent there. At some point we have to move on, regardless.
Art that doesn’t matter
Art that doesn’t ship is art that doesn’t matter. Products that never hit the shelves are products that do not matter. Services that don’t get up and running are services that do not matter.
Publish or perish. Publish and take your lumps if it isn’t perfect then publish the next thing with lessons learned. Publish and publish again. Repeat.
You can take a breather after one thousand and one nights.
The ideas in this post are taken from three books:
- The Friday Book by John Barth, essays on literature, and
- Linchpin: Are You Indispensible? by Seth Godin, and
- The Thousand and One Nights by Scheherazade
I first came across the phrase “publish or perish” in John Barth’s essay, Getting Oriented. And yes, I know Scheherazade is fictional but it’s a lovely fiction so I attribute authorship of the Nights to her.