Stop Creating a Minimum Viable Product
I asked Pierce Brown at a book signing what it took to complete the fifth book in his Red Rising series, Dark Age. He answered, “cutting it down from about 1,100 pages in editing” At 800 pages published, the book is a massively dark and complex penultimate issue of his six-part series.
Recently, Pierce shared a similar story on Instagram. He’s currently writing the final book in the series and ran into a bit of a roadblock. He shared:
A little update on book #6. The chisel is at work and has been since the last update. Radical honesty: I initially set off on a path that led me deep into thistles and brambles. Hacked through them with sweat and toil only to find fearsome dead eyed beasts waiting just on the other side. All that to say: I chose the wrong damn path. I’m a stubborn shit who sometimes mistakes hard work for good work, and doesn’t enjoying being dead wrong. But the story did feel wrong. Eventually, I sacked up and tossed 200+ pages in the bin, and found the right and true path through to the saga’s conclusion. I’m well along that path now, but more moons must fall, more planets burn, and more heroes brood before this book’s ready to make you feel all the stuff. Thanks for your patience. Will have more info when I’ve got this bastard where I want him.
It’s hard to admit when we’re wrong. Especially when we’re wrong about something we’ve poured our life into creating. Yet, Pierce’s example shows that sometimes we have to hit delete on things we care about because they aren’t right, or they’re not the best they possibly can be.
We publish all sorts of writing advice for The Writing Cooperative community. Not every writer will resonate with every piece of advice, but if it works for someone, it will work for others, so we try to share a wide breadth of ideas and techniques. One trend I see emerging lately, primarily among content writers, is adopting the minimum viable product method of creating.
Minimum viable product is adopted from start-up culture and means getting the bare bones of a thing to market because you can always update and add to it later. It forces the creator to stop overthinking and ship products into the world. The idea makes sense if you’re talking about software, but I don’t think it works for writers.
When writing, there is no minimum viable product. There’s every draft and revision, and then there’s the final draft — the thing shared with the world. Yes, article writers can make corrections and edits after the fact, but rarely does that occur. Pierce Brown cannot release a minimum viable version of his book and then come back a few months later with an update, deleting chapters, and adding new ones. Writing doesn’t work this way.
Revising drafts is probably the least exciting part of writing. That’s part of why the minimum viable product method is so appealing. Writers adopting this technique are solely focused on producing and sharing, banking on the idea that quantity wins in a constantly connected culture.
However, editing and revising drafts is where new ideas develop. Cleaning up drafts discovers stories stuck on the wrong path or places where edits can strengthen points. Editing removes minimum from a minimum viable product.
As creators, we should strive to share our best with the world. If that means there’s a bit of time between what we publish, then so be it. I’d rather release things I’m proud of, things that are of quality and accurately reflect who I am.
How about you? Are you willing to delay a release to ensure the quality is to your standards? Hit reply and let me know.
A version of this story originally appeared in my weekly newsletter, Eat Your Words. Eat Your Words is an idiom meaning to take back what you’ve said. For me, the phrase combines my two favorite things: eating and writing. The Eat Your Words by Justin Cox newsletter mixes writing and creativity advice with featured meals and recipes. It’s the best of both worlds, delivered right to your inbox every week. Sign up today!