Vincent Writes

Welcome to Vincent van Wylick's Website

Category: writing

Essay: The Consequences of Having a Digital Soul

In science fiction and in the Kurzweilesque future reality, the concept of a digital soul is abstract and difficult to grasp. Yet, we have experienced an evolution in this area in the last half decade or so. I speak of the simple matter of IT backups and how it changes our thinking about IT. Very likely that same change of thinking will happen about what it means to be human as well.

At some recent point in time, each computer that we possessed was a separate entity. Yes, every computer was designed with input and output methods, in the form of (portable) storage devices, keyboards and mice, printers, and other forms of output. This evolved to the rudimentary beginnings of the Internet and has exploded in the last 15 years. As network speeds became faster, so came the introduction of ‘the backup,’ in the form of external storage, either in the home or off-site.

Right now, computers are backed up in a multitude of ways. We have offsite options, in the form of Dropbox, iCloud, Google Drive, Backblaze, and countless more. We have home-based options, in the form of software that will sync/backup your data to external harddrives. Not to be ignored, we have software that operates in the cloud, from note-taking to video-recording, to managing your customer, financial, and other company data.

What is one practical consequence of this? Every time your computer gets stolen, breaks, or is replaced, for every fire and flood, a simple restoration procedure from backup to a new computer will restore your digital life to its original, useful state. In essence, the hardware has become immaterial.

So what is the value of a human life? At this time, it is priceless because each and every one of us is ‘unique.’ We have data within us and, let’s not forget, physical features that are impossible to replicate and replace. We, you and I, are not backed up into some form of external storage. I am the only copy as are you, you, and you too.

Right now it seems unimaginable that Raymond Kurzweil or others will succeed to upload our human essence into a digital storage device 1. It seems equally difficult to grasp as to why they would want to do this, as if the very act would remove what it means to be human. That part is true. If being human means being unique, then having a backup is decidedly not human.

But there is incredible value in transcending humanity in that way. Wars and other disasters are killing people every day. People that we will never see again. Some are saying that our planet is being destroyed either by natural or industrial forces, or rather a combination of both. Without action, our only exit is to leave Earth and relocate somewhere else in space. Yet, that brings the cost of transportation with it, mostly expressed in time (another precious human commodity) and the resource cost of transporting many, let alone one.

What about more controversial values? What is the value of someone that is imprisoned for life, yet (supposedly) reforming himself? What is the value of the many unemployed, a trend that only seems to be improving for the wealthier part of this world? What is the value of a parent outliving a child or a person wanting to extend their life beyond human terms? The controversiality is that this value can also be expressed in cost to society.

If we do succeed in transcending towards a transportability of our digital souls, then we will also lose something else. We will lose our bodies and what they mean to both us and the people around us. At best summarised by staring into your beloveds’ eyes, also called the windows to our souls, which would then disappear with the passing of a human. Yes, we are making strides in replicating objects on a three-dimensional scale, but it is hard to believe that this replication can reproduce the depth and uniqueness of the eye, the texture, temperature, and hardness/softness of the body, the characteristics and flaws that make us unique in a physical sense.

For everything there is a price, but as I found out many times now with my electric devices, that price is relatively minor compared to having all of your memories restored. A point of discussion I admit, but I’m happy to argue it on this front also: does the value of a digital soul that is eternal outweigh the value of the whole of a living, breathing, physical specimen?


  1. For those interested, find out more information about his vision here

On Writing: Nihilistic Characters

“It’s a trap!” ~ Admiral Ackbar

When you write a character without motivation, it can seem like you found an endless well of inspiration. Go left, go right, go back, go forward, but whatever you do, don’t explain.

But the risk you run is a frustrated and confused audience. The risk you run when writing such a character is that after a while you forget your original reasons for creating that character. Someone said—I may have quoted that person on this site in the past—that you must love your characters to bits. But a nihilistic character absorbs that love to the point of perfect osmosis, it passes straight through without giving the needed feedback to the love-giver.

I digress and it is time for some examples.

Most recently, I watched Matthew Mcconaughey in Interstellar. There is a scene that bothered me throughout the film, of him deciding to head into space and “save the world,” without really giving a second look at his daughter, which he leaves behind crying in her room. We witness his many adventures throughout the film, but we never understand what drives the character. He is as cold as the antagonist revealed later in the story.

In the book Leviathan Wakes (Book 1 in the Expanse series), we are introduced to a washed out detective Miller, who fits the very definition of nihilism. He loses some pretty important elements to his life (trying not to spoil it), but his emotions are non-existent, the only expression is movement of the character throughout the story. Which is fine, except that his choices also appear at random or at least as those of a very depressed person.

Exhibit 3 is Vanessa Ives in the TV Show Penny Dreadful (Amazon link), which I also previously expressed my admiration for on this site. What I liked about this show is the melding of different mythologies into a shared adventure. What nearly drove me out was Vanessa Ive’s descent into her own darkness, one entirely devoid of meaning. The character is haunted, ever since she was a child, by an image of her mother cheating and later invokes that pain onto her mother’s lover, by seducing his daughter Mina’s fiancé. That leads her to being possessed by some kind of devil and we witness the scenes of her combatting that demon.

The salvation to nihilism is some kind of overarching faith or goal. Interstellar’s goal is to save the world and for a father to rejoin his daughter. The driving engine for this is the protagonist’s thoughtless (nihilistic?) bravery. In Leviathan Wakes, Miller entire focus is on solving a case, which is what drags him out of the various messes he creates or is a part of. But we also see this drive to destruction, which is hard to digest. Vanessa Ive’s “engine” is her faith and the overal goal is save Mina, the woman whose life she destroyed at some point.

A character does not need to be loved and understood always, but he must have a meaning to his actions. Some of the examples above showcase that this meaning can be lacking and must be compensated over time. But it also risks to frustrate the audience throughout the story and absolutely must be paid off.

In Books/On Writing: Haruki Murakami interviewed

From the article:

Murakami has often spoken of the theme of two dimensions, or realities, in his work: a normal, beautifully evoked everyday world, and a weirder supernatural realm, which may be accessed by sitting at the bottom of a well (as does the hero of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle), or by taking the wrong emergency staircase off a city expressway (as in 1Q84).

It’s hard to find these kind of books, let alone write them.

Murakami’s style is simple, even apparently casual, on the surface, and Tsukuru Tazaki, like many of his previous novels, has divided critics into those who find it banal and those who perceive greater depth in its vividness and precision of imagery. Like most simple styles, of course, his is the result of lots of hard work. “I take time to rewrite,” he explains. “Rewriting is my favourite part of writing. The first time is a kind of torture, sometimes. Raymond Carver [whose work Murakami has translated into Japanese] said the same thing. I met him and I talked with him in 1983 or 84, and he said: ‘The first draft is kind of torture, but when you rewrite it’s getting better, so you are happy, it’s getting better and better and better.'” There is never a deadline for a Murakami novel – “I don’t like deadlines …when it’s finished, it’s finished. But before then, it is not finished.” Sometimes he can’t tell when he should stop rewriting, but “my wife knows. Yes. Sometimes she decides: ‘You should be finished here.'” He smiles and imitates his own obedient response: “‘OK!'”

Just as important, Murakami talks about readers:

How long does Murakami think the game of literature can last? “I think serious readers of books are 5% of the population,” he says. “If there are good TV shows or a World Cup or anything, that 5% will keep on reading books very seriously, enthusiastically. And if a society banned books, they would go into the forest and remember all the books. So I trust in their existence. I have confidence.”

If I haven’t reviewed 1Q84 on this blog, I should. It’s one of my favourite recent books, and I’m constantly looking for more like this. Equally so, but differently, I enjoyed his short biographical book entitled: “What I talk about when I talk about running.”

On Writing: The Ebbs and Flows of Moving Forward

While I’m specifically speaking about story writing, this is such a broadly applicable principle, that it could be placed into any category. When I speak of Ebbs, I mean those moments where you focus on understanding the underlying process. Flows are exactly what they sound like, everything is moving at a good speed.

For writing, I’m currently doing three things: writing in Scrivener on my Mac, writing in Daedalus on my Phone, and reading about how to be a better writer. Daedalus syncs to Scrivener via Dropbox, and I primarly use the phone to take notes and/or work on chapters. Scrivener is meant to be my production tool, but I find that most production takes place on the road, and I rather expect to do the finalisation on the Mac when the time is right. As well as maintenance / the act or prettying up, of course.

The Ebbs, to me, are contained within the transitions. There is a switching cost, to use a fancy term, that happens after you spend time in the Flow, suddenly come to a halt, and when you find yourself reorientating / searching for next starting point.

Very practically, I hate the way Dropbox syncs between these two softwares, creating duplicates, requiring some hacking in Scrivener, and a better understanding of that process overall. That is an inefficiency (Scrivener!), which creates an Ebb.

The other Ebb is new learning about production, during production. There is much to learn about writing, I find, specifically when it comes to narrative development and writing for the purpose of being read. Those pieces of knowledge force me to bring the writing to a halt and introduce new orientation points. Similarly, Scrivener had a learning curve in the sense of organising chapters, character backgrounds, etc., that I had to get past.

All of these are excuses of course. A writer should just write, and I often find myself wondering does a Steven King, Paul Auster, or a Nick Hornby do just that? Some interviews that I read suggest that they too struggle and often a good writing day is two good hours of writing, rather than the mystical 9-5 production mantra.

Flow could rather be described as the ability to navigate past the Ebb, wether through practice (likely) or outsourcing (possible). Food for further thought.

Software links:
Daedalus Touch for iOS
Scrivener for Mac & Windows.

Writing Tip: Staring at Strangers

An interesting interview with author Yiyun Li about the way she writes. I confess to have never read her work, but I find the approach fascinating, particularly the way she interacts with her characters.

In Kinder Than Solitude, one of my characters lied to me from the very beginning about how solitude was best for her. She was articulate about that solitude, and so part of me thought maybe she was right. But as a writer, you shouldn’t believe what your characters say about themselves. When they avoid being looked at, they avoid being studied, you need to push them and push them and until they admit, or relinquish, or confess. I got stuck with this character, with her belief in her solitude so beguiling. My friend Brigid, who is an early reader of my work, marked the passages with fierce comments and many question marks, so I knew I didn’t get close enough. Eventually the character (and I) found out it’s not solitude she has: It’s a never-ending quarantine against life.

It’s a strange relationship that develops between an author and its characters, and it’s actually true that you can have a superficial understanding of your character, kind of like a stranger that you encounter on the bus. I do not know whether more understanding makes for better reading, but it certainly makes for better, more coherent writing.



Medium & Bacon

Another NaNoWriMo gone. It hurts less this time not to finish, mostly because I redefined my goals to just finishing when I’m ready. I’d like to throw some excuses out there, but excuses are like door handles, we all got them. I still think that general enablers must exist, but the most important one is always MOTIVATION.

Motivation creates time, time equals practice, practice turns into content, content provides feedback, feedback generates growth and/or change. It’s pop-psychological advice I’m writing here, because emotions, people, physical ails, the weather, all that can affect this process, in all likelihood will.

Let’s also talk about BACON, the thing that we want enough of to support our families and hang out with our friends around the globe. Bacon comes from finding the right MEDIUM, which is a match between your abilities and the marketplace. In other words, if your ideas turn into tangible product which holds value for someone, you gots Bacon.

In the Motivation-Feedback loop that I described, Medium is built in. We all suck when we start, but by practicing and receiving feedback, we grow and/or change to another Medium. Our ability to create tangible product either improves or our understanding why we must change improves.

So, about that Nanowrimo book I started writing… I have a clear vision of the end scenes, one that came to me quite visually in a dream. It’s frustrating to see the end, but to have to write a lot to get to those scenes. Part of me wants to just skip or do it in a different Medium (e.g. drawing, which I’m worse at, or movie-making, which I have no experience in, perhaps podcasting… all or most of these require the story or script anyway…). Writing this, the thought of a flashforward or of writing the last chapters first comes to me. Will finish the one I’m working on now and think about the other way.

Consumer insight and the writing process

Self publishing has become such a hip concept that you sometimes wonder why we need those stuffy institutions. Well, wonder no more, because they fulfill a real service by allowing you to focus on creating and they take over the nightmare of selling.
Why is it a nightmare? As I slave over my Nanowrimo work, I am filled with doubt. Am I writing the right things, who am I writing it for, is my work actually something others want to read? 
In a way, splitting the work into blogpost actually achieves a valuable goal. It allows you to split up, measure, and adjust your work to market demand. At the same time, long form storytelling cannot always be produced that way. Sometimes, as you write a chapter, you figure out that the order’s not quite right, perhaps the transition doesn’t make sense and something needs to be rewritten, etc. So perhaps serialised work is not the perfect antidote to the creation vs consumer insight problem. 
On the other hand there are two ways that may be. One may simply be the market effect of consumers choosing the strongest content and not choosing the weaker one. I compare this to the Amazon or Apple App Store market places and rankings, where customers vote with their dollars and reviews. A simple mechanism that costs 30 cent to the dollar as a standard fee.
The second would just be outsourcing to a publisher, who not only selects a book based on estimated market worthiness and then attempts to place the product in front of customers’ eyes. It is not an exact science either, but it often feels like the most viable one when it comes to publishing books that require a lot of time, cost, and uncertainty (risk) to produce. 
Maybe, by my way of reasoning, you can see that I derive much of my thinking from different sectors (high tech, space tech, medical), and try to apply it here. In the end, I just want to understand the raison d’être of the publishing industry and where creators fit into it. 

1st NaNoWriMo13 chapter & observations

So it’s live. It’s probably not very good, but it’s out there. You can comment, dissect it and tell me to not quit my day job. I’ll try not to yet 🙂


  • Writing without a plan is hard. Writing with a plan, by which I mean an outline, is easier.
  • The biggest problem that I personally have is vocab and factual knowledge of the environment, items, and the time that a story plays — this makes me better at fantasy, at least in times like Nanowrimo, where you don’t have time to research. Alternatively, writing about that which is close to me is easier as well.
  • I primarily wrote on the iPhone for 1 reason: it offers the most flexibility in terms of time and place. I could write anywhere and anytime and jot down notes or outlines during hectic moments. The consequence is that my word counts is not as high as on a regular keyboard.
  • Discipline is the hardest part: not only do I have a day job, but I also have a life outside of writing. Two other problematic motivations: FUPM (it doesn’t pay, so there’s an opportunity cost) and 80% of writing (to me) is imagining, which happens away from the keyboard. 
  • In the end, I’ve accepted that I can’t dedicate 100% of my time to it, but I just try to work at it regularly and focus on finishing parts.
Background to the story
A few months ago, I had a dream about a bunch of kids stuck in a castle fighting demons, which weren’t all they appeared to be. I know, weird. I jotted it down and am inventing a story around it. It will be part fantasy, part-scifi, adventurous and dramatic. 
It currently has 10 chapters, one of which is written. To be continued…

Re-share: Preparing for NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month

Tomorrow is the 1st day of NaNoWriMo – (Inter)National Novel Writing Month. I wrote some encouraging words last year and I think they still apply today.

The gist of it: write 1665 words per day & several of the great novels in history were written in a less than a month. So let’s get it done!

Also a short announcement.
I will obviously not be publishing much here, but I created a blog called JustforSnG just for the purpose of story writing. Since I’m more prolific a blog writer than a “write for myself” writer, I’m experimenting a little with that format. It already features part 1 of a story I started a few days ago, just to “lubricate” the finger joints.

I’ll do my best to put pieces of my Nanowrimo novel on there regularly (when I’m happy with a chapter or section, basically) and I also made the resolution that I will finish this novel, even if I don’t make it in a month. Projects half done are like projects not done at all…

Wish me luck, thanks for reading, and don’t hesitate to give feedback.

NaNoWriMo – Get those fingers lubricated!

I hope you don’t mind me using the term “lubrication!” I just think it fits and am using it to make a point about practice. Another parable taken out of real life:
I used to go dancing quite a lot in clubs. With my mongrel blood (half-Dutch, half-Serbian, parts Italian), I have a natural affinity for rhythm, and music just energises me. Something changed after I moved away for studies and work, I guess I got older and more boring, but it was hard to really feel the music afterwards, specifically in my hips. I previously noticed that taking salsa lessons in my early twenties not only did wonders for my dancing, but it also helped me with other sports as well. I call it the lubrication effect or “energy flows where the attention goes.” The increased focus on moving my hips allowed them to move more freely, enabling me not to dance better, but also to be more flexible in other sports. Thank you, Billy Elliot :-p
Practice makes perfect as they say, but one of the single hardest parts of it is to start. To give another example: climbing. If I haven’t done it for a while, my body cramps up as I do it. I hang onto grips longer than I should, I’m stuck in my brain, rather than the moment, and the whole thing costs more energy than it should. Well, not writing for a long time sucks about as bad, at least for me.
There’s just as many elements to writing as there are to any other activity. If there weren’t, we’d all kick butt at it! There’s the typing (or handwriting), which is a skill-set that you lose with lack of practice. There’s creativity, which can turn into petrified wood if you haven’t used it in a while. There’s the plotting into entertaining ways to tell a story. And finally there’s overall communication, which depends of brevity and specificity, just as much as having a beginning, middle, and end. 
Quite concretely, not writing for a long time makes my texts lengthy, meandering, and boring. And the only way to get through it, just like climbing or dancing, is to get through the uncomfortable feelings and getting that skill-set re-lubricated. It’s as simple and as complicated as that!
So what does that mean for NaNoWriMo? All I’m going to say is that I’m glad I started blogging again prior to the NaNoWriMo experiment. I hope that my fingers, my creativity, my planning, and my communication skills will allow for a less cramped way of writing than if I were to start from scratch. Will the outcome be good? I don’t know, but at least I will feel better while producing it. 

NaNoWriMo – In Defence of Finishing

Nanowrimo requires some serious effort. 50,000 words in one month, that’s roughly 1,500 words a day. I don’t blame you for not keeping up that pace. You’re tired from work, the kids are crying… Just give up already! Wait, what? I do blame you for not finishing and here’s a story about why.
I’m a sales manager and one of the activities I focus on every day is training. I was recently confronted with a new employee that had absolutely no sales experience and did not have the typical personality for sales. Now, I can tell you what sales is all about, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that it’s about managing several seqeuential elements, as well as that it’s a numbers game. It was a nightmare at first and the reason was pure and simply confidence. I won’t bore you with the details, but the fact is that this particular person did become a good sales rep in the end, through the experience of finishing the sales process successfully until she had mastered it. 
So how this relates to Nanowrimo is probably obvious. You won’t learn anything from trying to write 1500 words a day and just leaving it if you won’t make it. You also won’t learn anything from writing your book and just leaving it to collect dust.
I’m always drawn back to Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours rule, which states that x number of hours of targeted practice (using feedback from pros to get better) makes you good at anything. For me, the time spent writing only matters if I finish ‘the process.’ The process does not end at the end of this blog post, this story, or this book. It ends when I grew my knowledge and person because of it. It ends when I mastered this particular activity and can move in to something new. 
Now, processes and endings differ from person to person. Perhaps writing 50,000 words is an accomplishment (it is!). Perhaps getting published in the New Yorker is amazing (it is!). And perhaps writing and finding out you suck is another one (can’t get better feedback than that, because it means you can move on). Or publishing a series of books is what is an accomplishment. They are all are different because they mean different things to different people (cliche!).

The big point is that if you don’t set yourself an endpoint that allows you to close a chapter and move to the next, it means that you’re either stuck or a perpetual quitter. Neither of those are good place to be. So do yourself a favour and set an endpoint for your Nanowrimo experience. Make it worth your while to have spent all this time on it. 

The correlation between writing, life/work-skills, and dictatorship

I’ve thought a lot about this topic, though clearly the best examples are those from real life. The chronicle of Higher Education has a super-interesting article about Joseph Stalin, which describes not only his work as an editor, which was apparently what he did before the other things, but also how much of his later “management style” had elements of editing in it. 

Stalin edited “virtually every internal document of importance,” and the scope of what he considered internal and important was very broad. Editing a biologist’s speech for an international conference in 1948, Stalin used an array of colored pencils—red, green, blue—to strip the talk of references to “Soviet” science and “bourgeois” philosophy. He also crossed out an entire page on how science is “class-oriented by its very nature” and wrote in the margin “Ha-ha-ha!!! And what about mathematics? And what about Darwinism?”

Even when not wielding his blue pencil, Stalin’s editorial zeal was all-consuming. He excised people—indeed whole peoples—out of the manuscript of worldly existence, had them vanished from photographs and lexicons, changed their words and the meanings of their words, edited conversations as they happened, backing his interlocutors into more desirable (to him) formulations. 

I think that you can probably argue that anyone’s profession can have affect on how you conduct yourself in subsequent profession. How would a lawyer, engineer, hygiene facilitation operative” work in another job? As a writer, I can tell you that the effect are twofold (for me). One, I’m constantly frustrated at the mess of spoken language. Two, presentation skills drastically improved after I started writing.

While I’ve never worked with an editor, I know that, at times, their reputation is not so good. After all, part of their job is to “cut” the creativity of the writer. But from another perspective, they are cutting “a diamond,” which is a very positive thing…

NaNoWriMo Peptalk from Nick Hornby

As I’m thinking about / semi preparing for Nanowrimo in November, I liked reading what Nick Hornby wrote about it. The whole think quoted here, but do check out the Nanowrimo website for countless tips and other pep talks.

One of the questions that is probably troubling you at the moment is this: How do I know whether I’m a writer? And the question can only be answered with another question: Well, do you write? If you don’t, you’re not. If you do, you are. There’s nothing else to it. If, in a month’s time, you have produced a novel, or a chunk of a novel, and you have never written before, then you will have changed your status, simply and crucially. Ah, but are you a good writer? Because that’s probably the question that best articulates the nagging doubt that has held you up hitherto. And I’m afraid you will never know the answer to that one. No writer does. (Some writers think they do, but they are usually wrong.) 

By contrast, it is easy to tell whether you are a good high jumper. If you knock the bar down every time, then I regret to tell you that you are not. You cannot be an underrated high jumper, or an unlucky high jumper, or an overpraised high jumper, or a high jumper whose reputation relies entirely on his or her connections to the wealthy and influential. Your high-jumping work cannot be trashy or elitist or obscure or sentimental. If you work in the arts, however, life can get pretty confusing. There is no bar to knock down, and as a consequence, there is no sturdy judgment to be made. Shakespeare—he was good, right? Like, officially? Tolstoy didn’t think so, and neither did George Bernard Shaw. 

It’s no good looking to writers for definitions of what constitutes proper writing, because you will drive yourself crazy, and you won’t find anything that you can build into a coherent whole. “Writing a book, full time, takes between two and ten years,” Annie Dillard said in her book “The Writing Life.” Tell that to PG Wodehouse, who wrote ninety-eight books and forty-five plays in a seventy-five year career. You could argue, I suppose, if you were singularly obtuse, that Wodehouse was a humourist, and therefore didn’t write real books. Yet there are many people, and I am one of them, who think that Wodehouse was one of the greatest English prose stylists of the last one hundred years. Wodehouse wrote, wrote fast, made money, produced prose and characters that have endured. He looks like a real writer to me. OK, here’s some advice: If you find yourself producing a book every few weeks, don’t panic. It could mean you’re a comic genius. 

It’s a mess, the arts. Critics don’t agree with each other, readers don’t agree with critics. And real writers—if I may become definitive for a moment—change their minds about their own worth and talent somewhere between two and seven hundred times a day.
I’m trying to tell you that your own opinion of your work is entirely irrelevant, and so is the opinion of others. You have a job to do, and that job is to write a novel. You have a bar to jump over, in fact. And to jump over that bar, you will need a pen (or pencil), or a typewriter, and paper. Or a computer. Or some kind of recording device, and someone with a keyboard who loves you very much. You will need to stop checking Facebook every five minutes, and to this end I recommend an app called Freedom, which will block you from your own internet for hours at a stretch. You need a story and characters and something to say about them, although it’s possible that some of these elements won’t arrive until after you’ve begun. You don’t need an agent or a grant or a publisher’s advance, and you don’t need to know whether your book will be studied at university in two hundred years’ time. 

Walk into a bookshop and you will see books that you love and books that you hate, books that were written in three weeks and books that took thirty years, books that were written under the influence of drugs and alcohol, books that were written in splendid isolation, books that were written in Starbucks. Some of them were written with enormous enjoyment, some for money, some in fear and loathing and despair. The only thing they all have in common—and actually there is the odd honourable exception even to this rule—is that their authors finished them, sooner or later. How do I do it? I swear, and smoke, and hate myself for my presumption. And if any of that works for you, then I’m happy to have helped.

Designing books for consumption

Product design should include a solid understanding of the consumer base from day 1, though often, in the creative industries especially, this is not the case. In writing, most people tend to start with the idea of a story (or they just start typing until it develops into one) and just write until the story is complete, before even thinking about who is going to read it. I know that publishers offer advances to some writers, so logically those writers do envision at least one particular customer, the publisher, and it’s the publisher’s job to understand what consumers want. 

But what when this model is uprooted? We all know that as the digital age progresses and the hardware and infrastructure catches up, it allows for the link between producer and consumer to be that much more direct, which allows for speedy and accurate information exchanges, as well as, potentially, direct monetary exchanges, bypassing many of the intermediaries that charge fees and make the feedback loop less efficient. 

Product design should also be flexible in what that product should be. My title of designing books is already misleading, because if your consumer doesn’t actually want a book, the product itself has to change in order to maximise its effectiveness. I mentioned some examples 3 or 4 posts ago, where books are for a particular demographic of consumers; other demographics may prefer shorted serialised content, content in audio or video format, etc. A direct link (or basically a sufficiently information rich one) allows for producers in designing products that consumers want, by engaging in the information exchanges necessary to create sustainable business. 

The next question that arises is that of usable workflows to manage both the creative process and marketing one, preferably without having one eclipse the other. 


Minimum viable product in books

Yesterday, I finished my post with the below paragraph — I figure while I have this stream of consciousness, I might as well milk it…
Most writers see their market test as either a publisher or a publishing platform (self-publishing on Amazon or elsewhere). I am more and more of the opinion that this is wrong or at least an assumption (and you know what they say about those…), based on “what others are doing.” It says absolutely nothing about your invention if no one reads it on paper or as an ebook, if your product is placed amongst 100,000 other similar products or if your actual target audience is not targeted specifically. 

I have two experiences that I think relate directly to this. As well as a lot of experiences of failures that relate but perhaps don’t educate. 1. I’ve built a minimum viable product (MVP) in a different sector – hardware technology. 2. I used to blog, which I consider as an MVP product for writing. Both of these have exposed me to some of the complexities of MVPs, because it’s not so much about the minimum product, as it’s also about the minimum barrier to eyeballs.

Placing your “book” on a publisher’s desk (filled with piles of other manuscripts) or self-publishing to end up next to 1000s of other books, may represent your minimum viable product, but a product with a tough market is not necessary the most viable option.

As an aside, all of this made more complicated by the restriction placed upon all of us — the opportunity cost between producing actual content and disseminating that same content in an effective way. In other words, having successful marketing execution, alongside product development execution. If I study to be a writer/painter/engineer/creator, I do not necessarily have the time to study to be a marketeer. But my point is that product development does not exclude marketing, it should be part of that process. Much like a tree falling in an empty forest does not make a sound; it’s a non-event, just like a non-marketed book is a non-successful product.

But let’s go back to how your market, as a writer is developing: we are increasingly less inclined to invest time into consuming written content. We prefer shortform easy-to-digest content, which actually represents an opportunity for you. Instead of investing all of this effort into creating a super long book, why not put less effort into it and instead focus on making digestion easier? Much like the rise of the hamburger, make the bookburger a success. (P.S. replace book by any other media, because I think it applies broadly…)


Matching supply and demand in books

I have trouble both starting and finishing books these days. It’s entirely correlated with the time that I started using computers and smartphones. There’s just a big amount of competition for your time out there and I don’t really need to tell someone reading this blog that.

It’s tricky to find demand for your work and to tailor supply to that as well. Traditional books, if there is still such a thing, are ultra-longform content. But they are also designed to be consumed in various formats – paper, electronic, audio, apps, books-to-movies, books-to-plays. Each of those formats will appeal to a certain segment of your potential audience:

  • paper: the more traditional folk (sorry, traditional folk); 
  • electronic: slightly less traditional, but still not very progressive;
  • audio: niche;
  • apps: hipster or youngster;
  • books-to-movies: mainstream;
  • books-to-play: wealthier or better educated segment.
None of these are scientifically studied. Some or most of these are also segments of segments – the scifi crowd, the classic literature crowd, the vampire crowd, the magic crowd, etc.
For a creator or a creative enterprise, the question is: for my invention, what is the path that the market development needs to take to maximise the sales potential? What is going to attract the most eyeballs and generate the highest cash flow of the choices that I make? 
As with any invention for commercial purpose, you start with a  napkin of an idea, which develops into version 01, and so on, each time manifesting itself into something more tangible and more tailored. I have an idea for a story, I jot it down, I start writing, it turns into a book, and then comes the decision of how to publish it. 
Most writers see their market test as either a publisher or a publishing platform (self-publishing on Amazon or elsewhere). I am more and more of the opinion that this is wrong or at least an assumption (and you know what they say about those…), based on “what others are doing.” It says absolutely nothing about your invention if no one reads it on paper or as an ebook, if your product is placed amongst 100,000 other similar products or if your actual target audience is not targeted specifically. 
I know I need to expand on that last sentence more, but unfortunately I’m out of time and also I don’t yet know the perfect answer for it. Tbc…

Contrasting Online to Offline Writing

A few days from now, I plan to dedicate my evening hours fully to NaNoWriMo, the (Inter)National Novel Writing Month (of November), with only theoccasional update on this blog. I wanted to write a little about the process of this, as I won’t be able to next month. I’ll start with the obvious difference between blogging and long-form writing: the social aspect.

One is the loneliest number… not so much for Bloggers
In many ways, writing for a blog is a social activity, one where you write not just for and by yourself, but together with your readers, who can comment, disseminate, share, etc. That said, there’s plenty of work happening outside of the social realm, such as drafting, which, depending on your source material (this one stems from my own mind), can be more or less social.

The social element of writing long form content is also affected by the source material used. E.g. writing a journalistic book or a very practical one may use many interviews and practical experiences as a source. But the actual work of drafting is much longer and tends to be much less social.

In my personal experience, the biggest obstacle I’ve had to overcome was that my content was published for and critiqued within the public realm. When I started, I wasn’t used to comments, either negative or positive, or the idea that anyone could read what I wrote. Over the years, you become desensitised with it, but it still feels strange to have your work out there, possibly used against you as well.

In contrast, one of the biggest obstacles to long form writing is the lack of feedback. How a person deals within such a vacuum very much differs, but for me it was challenging at first. When you accept it and the freedom that can be associated with just writing, you can move on to great things, though the challenge is not to get lost in that freedom either.

While originally in this blogpost, the next one will discuss more about my view of the process.

© 2018 Vincent Writes

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑