Peter’s blog

How to Send Incomplete Work and Get Thanked for It, a Case Study (Writing)

If someone had told me when I first started writing that it was a good idea to send a client partial work, I would have laughed them out the front door. Then I would have written an obnoxious tweet about it and continued to polish my writing until I thought it was perfect and ready to be sent off.

And then it would either be sent back with requests for changes or edited into something completely different. Here is a case study. (For best results, read it in the voice of James Earl Jones).

Sending Sloppy Rough Drafts

Background: Samantha is a mid forties medical practitioner. She needs a very specific piece of writing with about fifteen rock solid medical sources. APA format. I need it by midnight, Peter, you’re our only hope.

Presenting Problem: The content that she needs is very specific. If I f*ck it up, everyone loses. Drinking back to back pots of coffee and writing nonstop is only worthwhile if I nail it perfectly on the first try. I always aim to do that, but what if I don’t. Again, everyone loses.

The Patented Peter John McLean Approach: Send her a sloppy (use spell check – not THAT sloppy, Cheech) rough draft. Write it up without all the sources, without any in text citations, and without a serious read through. Once you have done the bulk of your research just put all of your thoughts and concepts into a document. Now you have a great working draft. I immediately sent this to Samantha, telling her it was a rough draft of what I was working on and that all I wanted to know was whether or not I was on the right track. I don’t care about sources or errors or anything else right now. I care about glaring miscommunication.

Within a half hour I get an email from her telling me that I’ve nailed it and to proceed with what I have.

That’s it.


To a lot of freelancers this probably seems amateur as hell. Wow, Peter, you bother your clients throughout the day begging for reassurance and hand holding? Do you drink from a sippy cup? What kind of bib do you wear?

Yeah yeah, I get it. If Samantha thought I was an idiot for sending it she could have told me so, but I knew she wouldn’t. Because what she cared about was getting a document by midnight that she could rely on. And by sending her a rough draft at five pm she knew what I was writing and was able to confirm that I was doing what she wanted.

So we could both feel secure knowing that everything was properly communicated.

And it ended happily ever after, for the record: she said I nailed the paper and paid me a bonus.