What Writers Can Learn From Startups.

5 Lessons

I’ll admit: I don’t have a lot of experience with startups, but I’m fascinated with the culture and ethos. I worked at a late-stage startup that was later acquired….so I did learn a few things from the work that we did and the people around. Here are the lessons from that experience that I’ve tried to keep in mind with my creative writing:

  1. Have a good idea, then validate it before you start. This was is a little counter-intuitive to us pure artist types. Because we usually get (one!) idea in our head and then write 45,000 words before showing it to anyone who is then like…what? Point is, it’s good to talk stuff out, maybe outline it and then show it to a few people to see what they think. I’ve done this (sometimes…), but it saves a lot of headaches.
  2. Be agile. I realize Agile is a technical framework (scrum, lean, whatever), but as writers we can use it in the literal sense. Many start-ups start work on something, only to realize the market demands something else. (That’s basically the whole story of Flickr and Slack). As a writer, I’m not saying we completely capitulate to market demands, but we also need to be flexible if an idea or character takes us to an unexpected place. Which may mean you have to go back to #1…
  3. Create an MVP. That’s minimal viable product, but us writers can interpret it as this: be okay with a lot of drafts. Or maybe even more than one novel. It doesn’t have to be perfect the first time out. The idea is to keep working and keep improving.
  4. Be lean. That means doing the most you can with what you have. I forget this a lot of times when I prioritize strategy over the actual writing. Writing is great, because you don’t need many tools to do it. Even a pencil and paper will do. Tim Grahl, who is a book marketer, encourages writers not to be discouraged by the technology or to worry about the technology. It’ll figure itself out, and the solution is often easier than you think.
  5. Be good, not perfect. As if perfection is even possible. I think I have to let a few things go to get the story done. And sometimes my “perfection” is not “perfect” to someone else. Perfection is an impossible goal.

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I’m Josh Spilker, a writer and author. I blog about the writing process at Create, Make, Write. For more like this, sign up for my newsletter here.