As I’m putting together this series of articles about becoming a Minimum Viable Writer, one thought keeps coming back to me: why bother?
I briefly touched on this in the last article, but feel it deserves more explanation. On some level, MVW might seem like just another backup strategy or a guide about how to work more efficiently on the road. The MVW concept covers that and more, but it has also grown into a mindset for me. This became clear as I was working out what would become the MVW definition:
A Minimum Viable Writer is someone who successfully writes and publishes for value while maintaining their output regardless of location or circumstances.
As the defintion took shape, I found myself starting to implement my own MVW strategy. Doing this made a part of me feel like I was building a Y2K bunker. One that was full of cool stuff, but eventually proven unnecessary.
But then I though about the times I’ve been caught unprepared while traveling. This led to me to either not doing much while on the road or bringing back a mess of half-finished files.
Not having a proper strategy cost me valuable time. The was true for both ends of the deal. The time lost while traveling, and the time it took to put everything back together once home.
Travel might be the number one reason to implement the MVW concept.
I’m sure experienced road warriors have implemented something similar out of sheer need. But the MVW concept is specifically tailored for freelancers not beholden to a corporate mandated set of equipment and services.
It's All About Mindset
The difference between a MVW and writer with a laptop is one of attitude and mindset.
A MVW knows that no matter what, the words will flow.
A person with a fully-evolved MVW mindset is independent. They are capable of walking away with nothing but a few memorized passwords and the knowledge they’ll be up and running in no time.
The Traveling MVW
Working while traveling is one of those things that can spark a lot of arguments. For most freelancers, the answer is simple: if there’s downtime, there’s time to work.
We’re both victims and beneficiaries of not having fixed office hours. With a fully-realized MVW practice, working on the road is no different than working at home. The tools might change, but the output or its format shouldn’t.
This means even if a MVW is off the beaten path of US/EU hyper-consumerism the writing will still get done. This is one of the main reasons I advocate for not becoming reliant on propriety hardware or software. Being able to grab a cheap Android tablet or loaner PC and get back to work is something that can’t be understated.
It’s also worth noting that some travel isn’t voluntary. As I write this, torrential rains are threatening a dam in Northern California. The area downriver has been under an evacuation order for multiple days. I would guess that a majority of those affected weren’t prepared to leave their homes on such a short notice, and a lot of the news stories reference this. While I was editing this, a levee overflowed in San Jose. I have no idea how many were run out of their homes there.
Freelancers who work at home and have to leave that home for whatever reason, are harder hit than someone that commutes to a job. A home office can become something of a nest. One that is easy and comfortable to work from. Doubly so when factoring in large monitors and other things. But should it get disrupted, productivity goes out the door.
For those of us that live in shared housing like apartments, condos, and townhouses, can we ever be sure that our neighbors won’t set the place on fire? Disasters happen, no matter how secure we feel.
Having a MVW mindset will prevent the emotional turmoil associated with being kicked out of the home-office nest. That mindset paired with a proven MVW strategy provides the writer with the resources needed to maintain their productivity.
For a MVW, an evacuation order is no different than getting ready for a planned trip. In fact, a MVW with a journalistic bend could find opportunity to work.1 There’s always a story to be told, and with the large news organizations cutting back on local coverage, an on-location freelancer is an asset.
So with proper preparation a MVW doesn’t care if the travel is voluntary or not.
A MVW is able to work with even the cheapest hardware, but it would be silly to not spend more money on the tools used most. Maybe this means spending a few dollars more for an iPad Mini over a generic Android tablet. Or using a paid writing app like Scrivener or Ulysses instead of a free one. The comfort is in knowing the choices are voluntary upgrades, and not having to buy high end hardware because a bloated word processor needs the latest operating system.
As with anything, planning for the worst makes enjoying the best a lot easier.
A prepared MVW can quickly recover from most computer disasters. But at the same time, the recovery usually isn’t free. One of the advantages of being able to continue working with even the lowest spec hardware is that it won’t cost as much.
This matters for several reasons. In a disaster situation (either natural disasters or simply hardware failures or thefts) money can be tight. I’ve never heard of someone who had a hard drive fail on payday. Murphy’s Law says that those things will happen at the absolute worst time. Being able to pull things back together on the cheap means the writing can continue.
Or someone might be considering setting up a writing environment while on a very tight budget. From the stats provided by WordPress, I can see that I have readers from all over the world. I would imagine the Apple-based workflow I’ve built over time would be out of reach for at least some of my readers. Plus, on a more selfish note, should I have to replace any of my stuff, I might not have the money to replace it directly.
This is why I’m focusing on low-end hardware.
Writing with a plain-text workflow means a lot of computing power isn’t needed. This helps to lower the budget needed to setup or rebuild after a disaster.
Archives and Works-in-progress
A MVW is by definition a plain-text writer. This keeps all of the working files readable on any computing platform currently available. This also means a MVW treats non-plain text files as something used for export only. The PDFs, DOCXs, and ePubs are disposable and are easily recreated from the universally readable plain text.
This sounds easy, and it is much easier than it was in the past. But the siren song of proprietary formats (even if they carry an “open” label) with their built-in formatting and other features are always there to tempt a MVW. It could be a personal desire to use a certain feature. Or it might be external demands to conform to an established workflow (track changes, anyone?).
Here, the MVW with a plain-text workflow is protecting their files with more than a backup. They are ensuring the files are readable no matter what operating system they use. This is especially important when it comes to future proofing what is written today. File formats and writing apps come and go. At some point every proprietary format will become obsolete.
Having to rely on older versions of software to access an obsolete format means possibly delaying needed updates to the operating system, other software or even the hardware. This could open up the writing environment to viruses, malware, and even ransomware. It could also lock a writer into a platform they no longer wish to use.
The MVW has no such worries.
By treating the writing as a programmer treats source code, the MVW will always have readable files to convert into usable output, no matter where it needs to go.
Each of these topics will get more explanation as I continue to develop the MVW concept and the strategies to implement it. But I felt it was important to address the “why bother?” question early, and do so in a way that clearly explains the benefits of becoming a MVW before diving into the details.
In the end, a writer makes a lot choices about what software and hardware they use. Doing so with plan is what separates the MVW from the “guy with a laptop.”
Every person who reads this and decides to pursue a MVW strategy will build something different. But no matter the configuration, a personalized MVW workflow will let the writer have a comfortable and productive system that works best for them. It will make them a more productive writer and provide a comfortable writing environment no matter what might happen to their current setup.
And that’s why we bother.
- This might sound crass to those without a nose for news, but being in the middle of something horrible can turn into a huge opportunity for the prepared. Everyone's response will be different, but some will always see disaster as an opportunity.↩