Visakan Veerasamy is the author of Introspect. Paul Millerd is the author of The Pathless Path: Imagining a New Story for Work and Life (explore this topic now in an upcoming salon!). Below, they discuss thinking and writing online, how they imagine their readers, and how they see publishing a book within the sort of ongoing, expansive work familiar to many Interintellects.
You write extensively online in constant smaller outputs, and already work at documenting the development of your thoughts. What continues to excite you about the format of a book – in all its lengths and constraints – for your thoughts?
Paul: When I first started my book, I didn’t really know what I was getting into. I had the sense that it was a whole thing from the way people have talked about writing books but still was a bit naive. I originally called it a “collection of essays” and was inspired by talking to a few people who wished they had a more concrete collection of some of my ideas. Within a month of starting the process, I knew I had stumbled into a deeper journey – one involving my continued growth as a writer, a personal trying to understand why all my ideas mattered so much to me, and, a creative project of figuring out how one writes a book in these early days of these new digital worlds.
Visa: Well first of all I would say that I’ve always loved books, ever since I was a kid, so it’s always felt quite inevitable that I would eventually write books myself. I’ve already written loads of blogposts, some of which are quite long, and my first ebook (Friendly Ambitious Nerd v1.0) was effectively a curated collection of threads and blogposts – although, I will say, not yet quite a “book” in its current form. When we talk about any medium, I think the important question to ask is, “what can be done with this medium that cannot be done in any other medium?” What can you do with a book that you cannot do with tweets, blogposts and so on? And the answer I think is that you can take the reader on a much longer journey, and get them to consider a much wider range of things. You get to inhabit a mood or a vibe for a longer period of time. This is exciting because you get to go much deeper with readers in a book than you can with tweets or essays.
Visa, you frequently reference back and loop together earlier thoughts. How do you view more ephemeral discussions such as in your salons or fireside chats within your ongoing work?
Visa: It’s all connected. I don’t remember every single detail from every single conversation – sometimes I wish I could, and I do try to take some quick notes of whatever was most compelling, salient, etc. – but even if I don’t remember the specifics, I do find that every conversation functions like a walk through a grassy field, but the field is my mind. Over time, the desire paths emerge, which help me make my points with more clarity and conviction.
Paul, you also say you don’t see anything you’ve written as finished, but once libraries order print copies of your book, that’s pretty set. How does this milestone feel within the context of more immediately responsive work, such as consulting?
Paul: This feels like the most complete thing I’ve ever produced, yet it’s also true that within the first month after launch there were a couple quotes and ideas I wish I could have added to the book. I could see doing another edition down the road but it’s not something I’m thinking about right now. The spirit of the book is also much less about the actual ideas and much more about an energy and feeling I aspired to unleash throughout the book. It’s really my own shift from ambitious to cynical to frustrated to confused and finally to aliveness. So in that sense the book is complete and finished. I really feel like I poured my heart out and did not leave anything behind.
Relative to work like consulting, this is on another planet. Consulting work is purely pragmatic work to pay the bills. Writing this book was an explosive creative journey – perhaps one of the most important of my life.
Both your books deal with gaining better self understanding to open up one’s life. This involves accepting many possibilities, but what is one way in which you like to imagine a reader utilizing your book? Where does the reader go from there?
Paul: In some ways it’s out of my control. I’ve noticed a wide range of responses. I’ve had people tell me that the book helps them be happier in their job, while others told me it made them decide to quit theirs. Others told me that it helped them double down on their unconventional journey. I wrote the book with the intention to share a lot of different ideas, models, and reflections such that people could pick and choose what resonates with them the most. Part of why I wrote the book in the first place was that I wish there were more books like this when I had started my journey – so really the best thing I’ve heard has been “this book made me feel not so alone or crazy.” If it can do that, I am humbled and honored.
Visa: It’s really up to them. It might sound like a bit of a cop-out, but truly the point is that our imaginations for other people are limited, and we should really invite and encourage them to use their imaginations, to dream their own dreams, to do what makes their hearts sing. I do broadly encourage people to try and have a communitarian spirit – I truly believe that the point of strength is to nourish, support and encourage others in turn, because that’s how we can get to mass human flourishing. And it’s just plain more satisfying and joyful than trying to “hoard” all that growth for yourself. So I hope Introspect gives people the clarity and headspace to first help themselves, and then help someone else. Sometimes both those things happen simultaneously.
Is there any idea or line you decided to include in your book that you feel is especially niche in application, but you wanted to have in there for those few readers anyway?
Paul: A lot of the book actually! I quoted a lot of internet friends, obscure books, and people because its the style I’ve been embracing for years. There is so much advice about writing non-fiction online that just felt awful for me – I ignored most of it and wrote the book I wanted to write. I think Twitter probably influenced this a lot – learning how to let ideas flow on twitter and simplifying ideas down to short little nuggets is something I tried to inject into my book. Too many books are about 100 pages too long – I don’t need to read seven paragraphs on the Marshmallow test again! I tried instead to drop ideas, quotes, and references in the flow of the text and then to move on. If people want to investigate, they likely have their phone next to them. It’s much more fun to write for readers if you assume they are geniuses than if you write for the least common denominator.
Visa: I rewrote Introspect multiple times – I think I had over 10 drafts in all – trying to figure out the right frames, the right narrative, the right information architecture. I had to leave a lot on the cutting room floor so that the book could breathe. Many of the sections in the book could be expanded to be entire books themselves – how do you just have one section on “storytelling”?!
But I think when I step back and look at the book as a whole, a thing that I did that runs contrary to conventional wisdom is, I made the second act of the book really long. I just couldn’t bring myself to cut any part of it. It has 14 sections in it – an editor might suggest compressing it down to 7, so that the reader can get to Act 3 sooner. But I was quite adamant on keeping every single section, because I believe that they’re all important. Imagine a 2 hour movie where the “training montage” sequence takes up almost half the movie. It seems to be bad pacing, narrative-wise. But I think it’s important.
If you really want a sort of specific thing… oh! At the end of each Act, I include a section of unedited rambling, where the text is aligned to the right rather than left.
Do you have plans for your next book project? Or what big task most excites you right now?
Paul: No future books planned! This one was very emergent – from hundreds of conversations and years of writing. I can’t imagine I’d write anything personal for a while. Would need to live a little more life!
Visa: I have a whole bunch of drafts that I’m working on that I’m making accessible to public right from the get-go, but having 2 ebooks for sale I think is enough for now. My current plan is to instead update each of the books every 6 months. In the meantime, I also want to get back to writing essays, which I completely didn’t have the headspace to do while I was working on my book. It might be finally time for me to try and finish my @1000wordvomits project, which is to write a 1,000,000 words of stream-of-consciousness (currently 80.7% complete). Also, like Paul, I’m excited to just… do nothing for a bit, hang out with my wife, my friends, catch up on whatever I’ve missed.