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Agile Writing

The concept of agile

This post is a convergence of ideas related to that of agility. It is mostly a combination of the ideas expressed in Venkatesh Rao’s On Freedomspotting and Justin Murphy’s Reasons not to start an online magazine. Essentially, it seems that the accelerating digital culture I am beginning to write in requires that content is produced rapidly and will reward unique, niche content.

Agile is a word used in software development to describe a methodology of creation that can be described most aptly as ‘release early, release often’, or RERO. This methodology emphasises the importance of early and frequent releases in creating a ‘tight feedback loop between developers and […] users’. Essentially, the idea is that prototyping and development can be undertaken at a much faster pace while also producing a product more suited to the customers needs; feedback is able to be incorporated at every stage of development and refined to ensure it finds product-market fit—that is, it satisfies market demand.

Feedback loops

This concept should not only apply to software development but also to writing. By releasing content earlier and more often we are able to better meet the demands of a niche audience—posting on Twitter enables writers to get direct feedback to each blog post. What are people enjoying? Which ideas are missing their mark? Why are they not resonating? By creating tighter feedback loops in the writing process, the author is able to navigate the preferences of the audience and ensure the market desires are met.

Of course, it’s not necessary that an author’s writing be dictated by the target demographic but all feedback from readers or ‘users’ will inform the author as to how well their message is connecting. Consider this notion in direct opposition to the traditional method of publishing—a publisher offers the author a contract and in turn prints, publishes and sells the book after it has been completed. The writer is likely to spand at least a couple of months trying to write the first draft before receiving any form of feedback. After spending an enormous amount of time and effort to craft their manuscript, authors may find that the release is a failure—the product simply did not have the demand the publisher thought it would.

Authenticity within a niche

The modern, digital age we live in is simply too fractured to produce a work like this. I increasingly see segments of people searching for micro-niches, small corners of the internet where they can produce, consume and network with others with the same niche interests. It makes sense then, that writing in this modern age is an attempt to send an increasingly refined message to these types of groups to say ‘this is what interests me, does it interest you too?’. There is no friction in a model like this, no transaction costs or time delays. It is about projecting a signal about what type of writing you do, seeking to provide people with interesting content relevant to their interests but most importantly to give work character—authenticity in the modern world has become critical to generating any form of knowledge network.

Trust in institutions is ‘unprecedentedly low’ and it makes sense to take advantage of this. My writing model has, as a result, shifted to that of the agile developer: high-volume, high-consistency writing aimed at a few particular niches that interest me. As life’s experience shapes me, in turn I must shape my intellectual work.