MVW: The Concept of the Minimum Viable Writer

The MVW is a writer who can work in any situation while maintaining almost full productivity. The question becomes how to get there and what’s needed along the way?

I envision the MVW as someone who is hardware agnostic as possible. There’s no harm in having a favorite platform or writing app, but when the chips are down, the MVW can get by without.

Also lurking around the edges of the MVW idea is the question, why bother? We have all of this technology at our fingertips, and for the most part it’s not going anywhere. With a basic laptop as a working environment, it’s only a matter of closing the lid and stepping away from the desk to be mobile. With good backups, even the laptop becomes disposable. So why make all of these changes when things are working just fine?

In some ways, this might be considered much ado about nothing. In others, it could be the ultimate disaster recovery guide.

After my initial article outlining the idea of a MVW, I’ve had more time to think about the definitions and expand on them. Along the way I’ve clarified the concepts surrounding the idea.

What is the Minimum?

This isn’t minimalism for it’s own sake. It’s the minimum needed to do the job of writing and publishing effectively.

Every MVW will have different writing and publishing needs. A blogger might only need a tablet with wifi, while an academic might need a statistics package in addition to the normal writing tools. An indie author will need some way to build ePub files, and so on.

The core function of a writer is to write—no matter what their “job title” might be.

To be contrite, one might say the absolute minimum a writer needs to write is a pen and paper. Sadly, that’s not enough anymore. No matter how neat a writer’s penmanship is, it’s not publishable until it’s digital. For good or bad, this is the world we have.

The hows and whys of the writing process will be as individual as each writer. Some may type, other may use a voice recognition system to dictate, and a few might use a typewriter and OCR software to get the pages into the computer. But the end result needs to be digital text.

There’s no way for me cover all the options, so I’ll have to stick to the simpler ones. This also an important part of the definition of minimum. Having a simple workflow makes it easier to recreate on alternative hardware.

My preferred way is to start with handwritten pages and then move to the keyboard. This is the simplest way to have an efficient workflow with a minimum of equipment. It also allows for an intermediate editing step a pure typist wouldn’t otherwise get. Of course the handwriting can be skipped for short pieces or in time-sensitive situations.

Also, it’s important to understand I’m not talking about writing a complete near-final draft by hand. It might be as simple as jotting down a brief outline as guide for the typing to come. The method I describe in my book, Stop Typing and Start Writing, uses multiple handwritten drafts to clarify ideas before heading to the computer. There, the goal is to minimize typing so more time can be spent thinking. When the goal is to maximize output, handwritten rewrites should be skipped. The STSW process can be short-circuited by only doing a brief outline and loose first draft before grabbing the keyboard.

The handwriting step is easy to skip, but the act of translating it into type gives a chance for the author’s creative brain to kick into gear. One handwritten sentence can yield a paragraph or more at the keyboard. My guess is that in the time between the handwriting and the typing, a writer’s brain is chewing it over. When it’s time to type, those handwritten sentences have grown without the conscious mind realizing it. Maybe it’s the act of writing with a pen. But I’ve noticed I don’t get the same effect if I start with typing.

No matter how a writer starts or finishes the result will be digital text. With some planning that text will saved to multiple places and and accessible no matter the hardware or software used.

What is viability?

The dictionary definition of viability is “the ability to work successfully.” Not only is that spot on, it sums up the the ethos of a MVW. I’d also like to expand the definition a bit to make successfully include a certain amount of comfort. Because unless the writer’s position is receiving incoming artillery fire, a comfortable writing environment should be a priority.

We may not always have a glass of expensive Scotch and a roaring fire, but a decent chair and a solid surface goes a long ways towards making sure the writing doesn’t hurt. Just because it’s possible to work on an airline tray table doesn’t mean one should mimic that at home. As anything, the definition of comfort depends on the needs of the writer. So anything that protects the wrists, back, and eyes of a writer should be considered part of what makes for a successful writer.

Distractions are also something that needs to be considered when discussing viability. A distracted writer is a poor writer. Both in output and income lost from the words not written. Someone that can concentrate regardless of environment has a unique gift. I imagine if I could squeeze one of those people and bottle the extract, I could buy an island within a year.

For those of us that don’t have it so easy, taking charge of our writing environment will make us more productive. This can be done by altering our time or our location.

Time-shifting a writing session could mean something as simple as getting up an hour earlier and working when the house is quiet. Or to go the other direction, a writer might find that quiet time late at night. Location-shifting is a bit more involved as it requires the writer to be in a different-than-usual place when writing. A different place in the house might work, or a trip the coffee shop might be enough to provide a productive working environment. The crowd noise might be just the thing that’s crazy-making at home, but is soothing when it comes from strangers.

Finding a time and place to write is the most valuable skill a writer has. Because without writing there’s no way to have a viable career as a writer. But it’s not just the occasional writing session that matters, it’s a steady output of words that is the most important part of the job of writing.

The Writer

The “W” in the MVW concept is the most important.

Without a writer regularly putting words down in ink or pixels, nothing else matters. There’s no need to consider writing tools or strategies to succeed. The definition is also simple, a writer is someone who writes. But just as a grocery list is indeed written, it’s unlikely to have the impact of a great novel.

For the purposes of the MVW concept a writer is someone receives value for the words they write.

The value can be monetary (the best kind), or it can be goods or services in trade. I’ll also include writing on spec because that’s where blogging fits in. The words go out as a way to promote my brand and find other like-minded people. No money changes hands, but with the use of affiliate and direct sales links the words might eventually convert to cash. Most novels are also written on spec, as they need to be finished before they can be sold. But again, the goal is to sell it when it’s done.

Other writing, like journaling for insight and therapy, can have personal value to the writer. But without the transactional aspect, there’s no need to keep up a steady output of words. A daily writing habit is wonderful. A daily writing habit that contributes to the success of a project that pays is exceptional.

As we used to say about the Army, “it’s not just a career, it’s a job.1” The MVW is on the job any time the words are flowing.

The last piece of the puzzle to consider is what happens to the writing when the writer declares it done?

To fit with the above definition of writing for value, the words must be published. Locking them in a trunk to be discovered by future generations doesn’t count. They have to find a home where they are read by others. This can be a hardbound book from the finest New York publisher or a simple blog post. If the writing is out “there,” it’s published.

Now we can put all of the pieces together and deliver the full description of the MVW concept:

A Minimum Viable Writer is someone who successfully writes and publishes for value while maintaining their output regardless of location or circumstances.


More in this series:


  1. This was a play on the the Army’s old slogan, “It’s not just a job, it’s a career.”