Long Form to Nano Form

As my newest book, Startup Opportunities: Know When To Quit Your Day Job, has begun shipping on Kindle (order now and give me feedback, leave a review) I’ve been thinking a lot about writing lately. Startup Opportunities took 18 months to write and most of the slowness was me, not my co-author Sean Wise. It was an interesting struggle to get done which I’ll write about at another time.

I love to write. It’s the way I put my thoughts together. I’ve never really understood the phrase “I’m thinking about it” – I never consciously sit and think, but when I’m writing my brain is often doing the job of thinking.

I also love to read. It’s the way I put my thoughts together and learn new things. I’ve never been an auditory learner. I remember sitting in classes at MIT, listening to the professor lecture, and understanding almost nothing. But then, when I sat down and read the course notes, or whatever reading material was assigned, it all became clear. I’m sure the verbal stuff entered my brain somehow, but it didn’t really turn into something I understood completely until I was able to sit and read.

Fortunately, I’m a fast reader. And after writing millions of words, I’ve become a fast writer. When I’m asked how I read or write so fast, I have a simple answer – practice.

I continuously read essays that talk about the end of books. The end of the publishing industry. How humans are reading less. Crap like that. While it makes for nice self-referential essays in magazines like The Atlantic, or books by authors about how Google is making us stupid, I think it’s all wrong.

I think the fundamental thing that is changing is the distribution of written information. This is nothing new – it’s been going on since the Egyptians created the writing systems 4,500 years ago. And, it is going to get really interesting in the next twenty years as humans become much more integrated with machines, as I’m completely ready to jack in to the Internet full-time.

When I think of the different forms I read and write, it ranges from what I call “the long form” (books) to “the nano-form” (tweets). On a daily basis, I consume books, essays (posts on Medium, magazine articles), blogs, emails, Facebook posts, Tweetstorms, and Tweets. While I don’t use Yo anymore, you can bring it all the way down to the human-nano level.

When I look at the activity in my Goodreads feed, it’s clear to me that the book is not dead. Many of the people I respect, follow, and have relationships with are deep thinkers and love to read – both for learning and recreation. Sure, the book is competing with a lot of other media types, but reading (and writing) seems to persist quite successfully.

Is the book really dead? In 20 years, will we still be calling them books, or will they be something else, in the same way that no one under the age of 10 knows what a record is.

  • mark gelband

    “Caxtons are mechanical birds with many wings
    and some are treasured for their markings –

    they cause the eyes to melt
    or the body to shriek without pain.

    I have never seen one fly, but
    sometimes they perch on the hand.”

    the beginning of Craig Raine’s “A Martian Sends a Postcard Home” tells the story. whether our children, grandchildren know what a record is or not, they know, will know the pleasure of music.

    sharing ideas, knowledge through the written word, pictures, pixels or any combination thereof – whatever it is called or however it is perceived 20 years from now – will continue. the name doesn’t matter much. just ask Mr. Caxton.

    i suggest the rest of the poem and much of Mr. Raine’s work, which largely deals with looking at what we see as the ordinary from the eyes of what might be extraordinary to someone or something else.

    • Wow. fun – good tangential thing for me to dig into. Thanks!

      • John

        What happened to Startup Metrics? Are you going to launch it? I Preordered it a year ago…

        • We cancelled it. Amazon should have sent out a cancellation notice.

  • Can you elaborate more on “writing fast”. agreed that practice is part of what gets you there. any other tricks, best practices?

    when you say I’m going to write about “this”…then do you start writing right away, or make cliff notes of the key points, then write? do you write straight into the WordPress admin or into Google Docs then move it?

    I’m looking to increase my writing output x4 while increasing the speed as well. I find I chisel before I write, and that takes a long time, although when I’m writing deep thinking pieces, the research has to take its course, I can’t just spurt it out.

    • I just start writing. I go back and do one proofread pass, usually after I’ve hit post and am committed. I no longer do outlines or spend a lot of time agonizing in advance.

  • On this subject an awesome read is Bill Moggridge ( sadly Deceased ) Designing Media and Designing Interactions and when you lay the hardcopy on the Desk / table and interface with smart devices you see WHY the book will never die and how it all works together ( albeit just at different speeds ( as you have noted )

    • Moggridge’s book is amazing. I read it carefully cover to cover several years ago.

      • Isnt it , especially when you do this http://goo.gl/VzGpJU then when you get to Dickens movie you pause and go watch it , American Life and who the guy was and how he developed the story , Gapminder and data on and on , it teases you to go one speed with the book , nice diversion on the Ipad for a movie then brief check on data to the smart phone the back to the hardcopy . I have never had more fun with media than this .

        • To warm the cockles on a VC’s heart .

          Its a begat thing . Mogg Describes how Chris Alexander ( Pattern language of everything in life including happiness ) begat Sims when the founder read CAs work , Then it begat Dave Kelly at Ideo with some incredible pattern logic work in healthcare. All these then begat a project we are doing with Swiss-Re . http://www.ideapete.com/risonanza.html

          A Billion bucks and more with Moggs work

  • Lisa

    Brad seems to be the MIT AI as no human can be that smart and fast.

  • I think you’ll enjoy this read: http://whoo.ps/2015/02/23/futures-of-text

  • paulbennetts

    Great post – big fan of your books. Reading your Startup Boards one right now.

    • Hope you are enjoying it. Feedback welcome any time!

  • Until we come out of the womb having already learned everything, we’ll need to read, listen or consume things in one form or another. Plus, the context keeps changing which opens new opportunities for sharing knowledge.

    I don’t like the phrase “I’m thinking about it” either, but I’m reminded of something Fred Wilson said about letting our brains work on a problem while we’re not consciously thinking about it. I think that’s a powerful concept and I’m surprised the solutions that will come when I input a bunch of data about a problem and then give the brain some time and space to process it.

    Finally, I once read a journalism professor who said that the best writers are the best readers. I agree and I think it’s the case because reading gathers the raw materials you’ll need to be able to be a better writer. If you don’t have those raw materials at your fingertips, then you can only create so much.

  • I have tried digital books-and like the traditional books better. That could be my age. But books will never be dead. Even if all “hard information” gets put into blogs, and other forms-people love to read a good story and the book is the best way to do that-digital, physical or otherwise.

  • Sarah O’Keefe

    Good read (sorry).

    For a scholarly yet comprehensible perspective, refer to Terje Hillesund’s text cycle: https://journals.tdl.org/jodi/index.php/jodi/article/view/62/65
    (very short article as academic articles go)

    The emerging discipline of content strategy is concerned with a lot of these issues. Here’s a excerpt about that: http://contentstrategy101.com/contents/getting-started/a-historical-perspective-on-content/

  • Are you going to release the book in audio/audible format?