Last week I shared three pieces of advice from Amazon chief Jeff Bezos. Here are some more Bezos “proverbs” and my random writerly thoughts on them.
If you only do things where you know the answer in advance, your company goes away.
This quote reminds me of the universal conflict between plotters—those who plot out a story before writing—and pantsers—seat-of-the-pants writers who embark on a story journey with no plan except that final destination required by the conventions of genre (crime solved, true love found, world saved).
Two authors I know who started out as full and complete pantsers have told me that the demands of writing under contract forced them to plot. Another multi-published friend swears that following a preplanned outline would take the spark out of her stories. In other words, if she knew the “answer in advance”, the story would be boring–and everyone knows, boring stories go away very quickly, no matter how much the NYT reviewers love them.
I guess the key word here is “only”. Some planning is vital, but surprise can be a really good thing.
Any business plan won’t survive its first encounter with reality. The reality will always be different. It will never be the plan.
Though this seems like a no-brainer to me, having been schooled in liberal arts and the world of Uncle Sam, I wonder if business school grads learn a different lesson? All one has to do is watch stocks rise and fall unpredictably, or unsuccessfully pitch a brilliant manuscript at a writer’s workshop, or see the great book your mother loved sell a lot less copies than you expected.
In the old world, you devote 30% of your time to building a great service and 70% of your time to shouting about it. In the new world, that inverts.
Maybe writing 30% of the time was true in the old world of literary stars. I doubt that it was ever true for mid-list authors with no trust funds and no day jobs. Those writers, I imagine, spent 99% of their time on the writing. In the new world, once I open up Facebook, I find myself spending 99% of my time there.
For writers, there’s no traction without products, and no products without writing, so Jeff’s inversion of the 30/70 rule is spot-on.
When competitors are in the shower in the morning, they’re thinking about how they’re going to get ahead of one of their top competitors. Here in the shower, we’re thinking about how we are going to invent something on behalf of a customer.
Like most writers, when I’m in the shower, I’m solving plotting problems. (p.s. I’m alone. I hope Bezos was using the royal “we”.)