Writers and the World of Start-ups

So a friend of mine sent me a link to Jason Cohen’s blog A Smart Bear. Apparently, Cohen is the founder of WP Engine and Smart Bear Software. I say apparently because I have no idea what WP Engine or Smart Bear software is or if my life is made better by its invention.

But here’s what I do know: after reading his blog, I can tell you that writers and people who do start-ups (start-uppers?) have a lot in common. Both of us invest huge amounts of time, energy and resources in a vision, as yet unformed, with the belief that what’s in our heads is worthy of existing in the world and touching many, many lives. For me, it’s characters and their stories that will touch peoples hearts. For them, it’s software or a site that will make our lives easier or better. Both of us dream of riches and recognition. Both of us spend many, many hours toiling in complete anonymity to make our vision come alive.

Don’t believe me? Check out Cohen’s post: It’s tortuous chaos until it isn’t. He gives examples of several start-ups’ growth charts which have this stunning curve when they finally take off. Then he points to the beginning, the very flat part of the curve, that time when start-uppers (why not?) are worried about making payroll or showing enough progress to get another round of investors or considering which products aren’t working. All the while “Staying bright and cheery on the outside for the press, customers, and even employees but with Damocles’ Sword hanging overhead?”

Reading Cohen’s blog felt eerily familiar to me as a writer.

And then he cites George Orwell’s anguish over his yet unnamed manuscript “.… I am not pleased with the book but I am not absolutely dissatisfied. I first thought of it in 1943. I think it is a good idea but the execution would have been better if I had not written it under the influence of TB. I haven’t definitely fixed on the title but I am hesitating between NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR and THE LAST MAN IN EUROPE.  …” Yes, that book.

Cohen closes the blogs with these words(the links are to former blog posts):

“The fact that you’re in over your head, that you almost cannot will yourself to continue, that you’re completely in the dark, that you’re working yourself to an early grave, that you seem to slide two steps back for every one forward, that nothing’s ever good enough, that that your friends and family can’t understand why you’re turning yourself inside out with no apparent progress, that you yourself doubt whether you’re even capable of this…These things don’t mean you’re failing. It’s always like this, until it isn’t.”

Hmmm…sounds like a writer’s life to me.

4 Responses to “Writers and the World of Start-ups”

  1. Jason Cohen

    I agree completely, thanks for writing this. Of course the example from Orwell drives that home.

    In fact I think it’s the same with any difficult, long-term pursuit. Is learning soccer any different? Or the piano? Or painting? Or mathematics?

  2. Lindsey

    Yeah, I was thinking the same as I wrote this post. I think cooks/chefs have quicker turn around times of satisfaction and appreciation. Still probably the the same wait time for renown, however.

    I like your thinking, Jason. I’m glad that Sam shared your blog with me.

  3. Meredith Davis

    I don’t know why, but it’s true, misery loves company. When I’m in the “misery stage” of writing, which isn’t very often but it does come, it’s nice to know I’m not the only one who suffers. That we all have to pay our dues. I love that startups and creative types can identify with each other, we are on the same road in many respects. My husband, who knows a bit about computer programming, likes to refer to “elegant code.” Code can be elegant? There is beauty in code, and suffering in creating, no matter the product. So we aren’t all that different, across life’s genres. Thanks for adding a new voice to the conversation, Lindsey.

  4. Lindsey

    You’re very welcome. It’s important to build common ground, I think. And common ground is more present than we think.

    Elegant code=elegant stories.