Writing stories in the age of reddit

Nobody ever did anything great by chasing the herd

"Monoculture" describes the farmer's practice of focusing on one crop at a time.

Coming from a business perspective, monoculture is a good thing. There's riches in niches, if you haven't heard.

Plus, focus is its own reward. The more you drill down, the more depth you discover. A question that looks shallow from the outside often contain unseen dimensions.

So it is with art and stories.

The steady hedgehogs tend to win against the wily foxes. If you have the choice, knowing one thing so hard that it hurts almost always wins over shallow dabbling with many things.


Specialization comes with a price

The tunnel vision that wins a highly-prized skill set blinds you to the wider reality outside that small patch of vision.

That's by design. It's neither good nor bad in itself.

Lack of context is not always a killer.

But what happens...

When context is exactly what you need?

How much of the world-wide fiasco since 2020 has been brought about squarely due to the tunnel-vision of "health experts" who see every problem as a medical problem?

Who cannot even see that people care about other things besides optimizing the response to an airborne virus?

Who seem utterly oblivious to the very idea that people value and care about other things besides their toy models and obsession with one miniscule facet of public well-being?

What goes for academic specialization also goes for art.

Why data-driven optimization "for the market" optimizes for garbage

You want to know what the readers want.

There's lots of ways to do that. You read comments on forums. You find the FB groups and hang out for a couple of days. You look for the useful Amazon reviews that leave helpful feedback. You send out surveys. You look at sales trends.

You chase the herd.

Only thing is, nobody ever innovated by following the herd.

Here's the thing about optimization for data.

Optimization focuses your attention on the past. You decide the future based on what's already happened.

The best you can do is incremental improvement. You make a "better" mousetrap.

There's no space for real innovation. A better mousetrap is great and all. Making a mousetrap unnecessary is a game-changer. Radical shifts in the frame of reference aren't optimal. They are revolutions in thinking.

All the energy goes to "better"...

When the real game-changers focus on "different"

When you focus on optimizing the parts, you lose sight of the system. The major, definite purpose that gives purpose to the whole enterprise no longer plays a part in the decision making process.

It's willful, intentional blindness to any forces or factors outside the self-imposed tunnel-vision.

If only more people understood what the system theorists have shown us, that optimizing for the parts takes away from the major goal. An unintuitive finding, which is why so few are capable of comprehending it. It's easier to "get data" and crunch it in the old spreadsheet.

Most writers, most artists, most creatives didn't show up to work so that they could "see what's working" and ship knock-offs with a few added tweaks.

They came to create.

A monoculture of art is a death rattle

Maybe I'm a cranky old codger, but it's hard to find popular culture today that isn't data-optimized drek.

If you've got the stones to visit any online places where writers hang out, you'll see it in full glory even among the next generation of creators.

Derivative work stacked up on derivative work, all copies of copies of copies of mainstream pop-franchises. So watered down and bleached out that you can't even recognize the originals.

No sensitivity to history, no understanding of what came before or why, little cultural contact with anything that came before.

It's not just the creators. It's the consumers that you have to watch. The "fandoms" that spring up around these intellectual properties are their own sort of bloated gluttony.

Listening to the fans is one of the worst things you can do as a creator.

If you listen to the fans, great and innovative works like Dune will end up in the scrap pile because "too long, boring, didn't get to the action fast enough, overrated".

That's the caliber of non-thinking that happens on reddit and other places where nerds gather to ruin the Good and the Beautiful.

All of them, creators and fans alike, they're all blinded by the same Big Media franchises which have kept a stranglehold on the culture for the last 40 years.

Just blind machines copying blind machines.

Unfortunately, these communities have such a mass of opinion behind them -- being factories for producing consensus on stupid ideas -- that creators mistakenly believe they have to "listen to their fans".


Destroy the fans.

Is it really that bad?

The "monoculture" is not made up fantasy, that's for sure.

I'm hardly the only one to notice it. Even a quick search on Google ain't what it once was. There was a time when you'd find all kinds of interesting blogs and unique articles with new ideas, different points of view, and even the occasional original thinking.

Now? Once you get past the full page of paid ads and whatever custom results Google wants to show you, you're presented with a buffet of Wikipedia and SEO-optimized titles that give you the same list of 7 Weird Things! that don't tell you anything you wanted to know.

But know that I am not a real pessimist, not even with all the complaining I do. Negatives focus the attention and fire up the emotions. Then the real work can begin.

Here's a rule you can use all over your life:

The existence of downside doesn't mean there's no upside.

Rarely is a choice all-or-nothing.

The "Web 2.0" internet made space for many ugly, wicked, and false things.

But the potential to create, publish, and find an audience remains unparalleled even so. And the pendulum swings away from walled gardens on the big platforms. We're living in a revival of decentralized tools, semi-private and under your own control.

If you're any sort of creator, you have access to tools right now that artists, writers, and freelancers would have killed for just 20 years ago.

There are creators out there right now, working under the radar, to create true, good, and beautiful things.

Support 'em.

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