Writing for Money, Writing Just Because
Writing “just because” feels like one of the most innocent, humble human activities. Just like making up games to play as a kid. If you step back to view our manufactured world from the frame of what is human vs. non-human, this is clear to me.
We have our screens, and our great technology and economic systems, far removed from the natural world we came from — they’re “human” in the modern sense of the word, rather than the ancient meaning. But we also have this “old humanity” left in us, even as it’s slowly squeezed out of us with ever-encroaching modernity. We still mimic each other in empathy; we still recognize a smile and a laugh; we still gain social connection through touch.
From this vantage point, we can see how lonely it might be to sit in a room and constantly create “content” so that we might one day reach financial success or high status. We’re each lonely individuated language machines, pumping out words (no matter what they are) for a far-off “audience” to easily digest. We mentally live in the future where we’re successful and recognized, instead of the present moment where real creation happens.
This is nothing like sitting around a campfire telling a ghost story, or having a deep conversation with friends, or building a physical object in person with others. It’s not even like working through your thoughts by writing in a journal, or sharing a personal story in a small group. It’s either a cheap imitation or a complete departure from any past social activity.
So where does this leave me, as a product designer, if I’m thinking about a purpose beyond writing “just because”? I’d say it’s less “earn money writing” and more “connect and build with others.” In other words, I’m not building our platform to enable some far-off goal, like a sustainable income, but rather to kick off something bigger, more concrete and complete today, like an idea jotted on a napkin, or a thoughtful article published.
As a comparison, there are popular platforms for paid newsletters, and blogging, and fan pages that strive to be the only platform a “creator” needs. They simultaneously provide the software capabilities for building a digital content business, as well as the business limitations for such an enterprise. Choose a platform, and you get not only their software, but their terms of service, their business model, their commission fees, their community, their moderation policy, their features (or lack thereof), and so on.
When tech oversteps its mandate as a tool and tries to be everything, you get this all-in-one convenience we all know and love. But you also accept a platform’s entire worldview, ideals that might not even align with your own, and even a brittle foundation for your business. Indeed our love for technology often disarms our deeper thinking, helps us absorb new ideas without question, and forget quiet presumptions about our own human nature.
So if I’m considering the up-close view of “What does this software do?” along with the global view of “How do we preserve our (ancient) humanity?” then I think I have to design something that is small, gentle and humble — as humble as writing for the love of it — and the rest will happen as it should.
It needs to lack the grandiose “better world” bullshit that so many products shove down our throats, and stay grounded in what’s real and true today. We would all laugh if an art supply company claimed you would become the next Rembrandt just by purchasing their paintbrush; why do we keep a straight face when tech companies do the same?
More human software doesn’t make such crude attempts to pull the wool over your eyes. It recognizes your independent intelligence and free will, from its user interface to its marketing copy. It recognizes its actual utility as a tool — not a way of life, not the only way to socialize, not the only way to find knowledge, and not humanity’s only future.
In all the software we build, from Write.as to the rest of our suite, I hope to hold these values of doing it for fun and doing it just because above all else.