Hacking the Novel

Computer culture is teaching me how to write.

Work from where you are, put down words, publish them online, and change what didn’t work the first time around. Iterate. It’s not the prettiest process but it works, which is what you need for a first draft.

Bre Pettis and Kio Stark brilliantly articulated this in their Cult of Done Manifesto, my favorite paean to makers everywhere:

  1. 1. There are three states of being. Not knowing, action and completion.
  2. Accept that everything is a draft. It helps to get it done.
  3. There is no editing stage.
  4. Pretending you know what you’re doing is almost the same as knowing what you are doing, so just accept that you know what you’re doing even if you don’t and do it.
  5. Banish procrastination. If you wait more than a week to get an idea done, abandon it.
  6. The point of being done is not to finish but to get other things done.
  7. Once you’re done you can throw it away.
  8. Laugh at perfection. It’s boring and keeps you from being done.
  9. People without dirty hands are wrong. Doing something makes you right.
  10. Failure counts as done. So do mistakes.
  11. Destruction is a variant of done.
  12. If you have an idea and publish it on the internet, that counts as a ghost of done.
  13. Done is the engine of more.

(Their ethos was immortalized in this charmingly geeky poster below by James Provost, which you can snag sans guilt thanks to his choice of Creative Commons licensing.)

Still, I’m continuing to struggle with a tension that I perceive as somewhat inherent to “writing online,” a phrase that can’t help but feel oxymoronic given my age. (A millennial I am not.)

Namely,  writing for me is an inward-looking, intensely private practice, and the online part – depending on my level of delusion about how many people are paying attention – is resolutely public.

When I prepare excerpts to publish on the interwebs I think they belong to a categorically different type of fiction than the “book,” which has to work symphonically and not just as a single-serving bite. So my current working method is resulting in a kind of bifurcated output, with primetime-length episodes accumulating in one folder and an extended, director’s cut edition taking shape in another. Maybe eventually I’ll find room for both, especially within the realm of enhanced ebooks.  In the meantime I’m grateful for the ghosts of done, however and whenever they want to visit me.

So hey, if you know of other authors hacking the novel (otherwise known as writing-to-done, which is itself a great blog) would you share them in the comments?

Now I gots to get back to the process of iteration. I will begrudgingly admit that it’s less painful than its alternative, procrastination.


  • Glad the manifesto is a help! Super interesting project you have going here.

  • Kirstin Butler wrote:

    Thank you so much for writing it! I’ve referred to it many a time. And thanks for the comment, too :)

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