I'm going to write the novel of the future
And re-imagine the future of publishing while I'm at it.
In 2018, I did a reverse Marie Kondo. Instead of going through all of the things I already own and asking myself whether those things sparked joy, I started from scratch. I asked myself what would bring me joy? Then I got rid of everything that wasn’t that.
At the time, all I wanted to do was to work at a magazine and write a novel. So I quit just about everything else I was doing, deleted all of my social media accounts, got a job at a magazine and got to work on a gothic novel. It was the perfect cocoon of existence, truth be told, and I wrote about that here, and when the pandemic deepened that experience, again here.
Then in 2021, I reached a natural end to that phase of life—I’m at a good place in my editor position and I finished my book—and my initial inclination when I sat down to write this next phase of my life was to keep working the magazine job and settle down and write my next book—only then I had an existential crisis about that.
Is that really what I want? After all that I’ve learned? To sit down and do the exact same thing all over again? Or do I want to do something else? Something that might push my craft a little further? Something that might propel me to a new plane of existence as an artist? That might even, dare I suggest, push the publishing industry into a new plane of existence?
I figured it was time for another reverse Marie Kondo, so I asked myself: what will bring me joy now? What do I want to spend the next several years of my life devoted to? The answer is that I want to build the future of fiction, and I want to write for it.
That “build the future of fiction” bit is tricky. At first I thought I might need to get a job at Wattpad to accomplish this—and honestly, I still think it would be a dream to be part of what they are building because, in my opinion, they are doing a lot of things right (more on that later)—but then I wondered if I might also be able to accomplish that goal as a writer.
This Vanity Fair article about Grimes really lured me into this idea—in fact, I became absolutely enamored (to put it mildly). Grimes is so future thinking about her art. She isn’t limited by the constraints of the existing music industry and that allows her to be wildly experimental with her music. The way the Gordon describes her next album, Book 1, is tantalizing:
“The album takes place in the distant future, at a stage of technological advancement when you can upload your consciousness into a robotic body and essentially live forever as a Cymek… Grimes is still hammering out the plot, but one key thread is a kind of cyberpunk spin on Swan Lake. There’s a white swan (an exaggerated version of Grimes—the dark king’s dream girl, a simulated courtesan who grows weary of being a muse) and there’s a black swan (an A.I. menace who wreaks havoc in the simulation), except in Grimes’s feminist reboot, the swans ditch the Cymek, fall in love, and fight for each other instead.”
In other words, she wrote a sci-fi novel and is publishing it as an album. Oh and she plans to drop NFTs, perform in the metaverse instead of in-person, and release digital merch instead of actual merch—it’s probably the future of music.
I crave that. I want to be the Grimes of writing. I don’t want to be limited by the constraints of the existing publishing industry and I want to be wildly experimental with my art. And I want to re-imagine the future of fiction while I’m doing so!
After all, I already wrote a book that takes place in the 18th century and published it in a very 18th century kind of way—by serializing it. What if my next book takes place in the future and I publish it in a very “future of publishing” kind of way?
This idea has be lighting me up with excitement. I know I want to write a utopian something in a sci-fi/fantasy/surrealism world. I know I want to call it Oblivion—and I’ve even written seven chapters already. But I also know it’s not a book. If I’m going to have the tenacity to imagine a future utopia, I also want to imagine a future utopian way of publishing it—and that starts with deciding the ideal way to publish fiction.
I’ve had some ideas about that before, but I plan to take those a step further. I’m going to imagine a world where millions of people read fiction every day. Where writing and reading and being part of a writing and reading community is one of the most popular forms of social media. And where, as a result of creating the ideal, utopian place to read and write, writers actually earn a living from their craft.
I’m working on a piece that dives into all of the strategies that are working really well for fiction writers and readers right now—and that is going to be my starting point. From there, I’m going to layer on new technologies and platforms that could strengthen those strategies and make them more “everyday accessible” to readers and writers.
My mission isn’t as clear cut as it was last time—I’m still figuring out how “building the future of fiction” will work in practice. But I’m not going to wait until I have it figured out to write about it. Instead, I’m going to build in public and learn by doing. I’m going to write the novel of the future—and I’m going to design the future of publishing while I’m at it.
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