Dojo Summer Sessions: Taking Stock, Going With the Flow


Here’s a post I think all writers should read. It’s got important concepts and questions we need to keep in mind if we wish to succeed. It takes the economic concept of stock and flow and turns it into a metaphor for writing:

But I actually think stock and flow is the master metaphor for media today. Here’s what I mean:

  • Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that remind people that you exist.
  • Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today. It’s what people discover via search. It’s what spreads slowly but surely, building fans over time.
I feel like flow is ascendant these days, for obvious reasons—but we neglect stock at our own peril. I mean that both in terms of the health of an audience and, like, the health of a soul. Flow is a treadmill, and you can’t spend all of your time running on the treadmill. Well, you can. But then one day you’ll get off and look around and go: Oh man. I’ve got nothing here.

But I’m not saying you should ignore flow! No: this is no time to hole up and work in isolation, emerging after long months or years with your perfectly-polished opus. Everybody will go: huh? Who are you? And even if they don’t—even if your exquisitely-carved marble statue of Boba Fett is the talk of the tumblrs for two whole days—if you don’t have flow to plug your new fans into, you’re suffering a huge (here it is!) opportunity cost. You’ll have to find them all again next time you emerge from your cave.

Now, seriously, go read the whole thing. Then you can come back here and continue the discussion. I’ll wait. I’ll even put the rest below a fold so you’re motivated.

That post has stayed with me for some time, now. Very useful stuff.

There’s another aspect of flow, too, that may have been outside the scope of that post, but which I think is important enough for us to jibber-jabber about. And it’s this: flow isn’t only about keeping yourself in front of people. It’s also about inspiration and knowledge. It’s about staying connected to a community that can help you write.

My Twitter stream went from a begrudged necessity for keeping up with Erik Klemetti’s migrations to most valuable resource ever. I’m drinking from a firehose of wisdom. The folks I follow constantly post links to things that make my writing brain go “Oooo I could use that!” If I get stuck, there’s someone around who can unstick me. If I have questions, I can get answers, or get pointed in the right direction. If I run out of motivation, I can ask for a righteous prod to the arse.

My blog keeps me writing even when I haven’t got any desire to write. It provides me readers, Wise ones, who will upon request tear apart anything that needs tearing down in order to be built back up. And it’s a huge motivator: I can see people are reading what I write. I can see my words matter to them. When I fall prey to doubt and despair, the readers of this blog are there to remind me that no, really, I’m a good writer and I can write things people enjoy reading.

If I neglected flow to invest all my time in stock, I’d have none of those things. And it’s possible, although not likely, I’d give up the lonely enterprise of putting one word after another, stop courting carpal tunnel syndrome, and wander off to do something else. What, I don’t know, because without flow, who would I share all the lovely adventures with? Most of my meatspace friends get sick of me showing them pretty rocks after the first dozen.

As in all things, the trick is finding the right balance. The right mix in ye olde portfolio, if we wish to continue the economic metaphor. There are times when flow threatens to take over completely. There are others when stock is nearly all. But that’s okay. I can put a lot of stock in stock while going with the flow, and being kept constantly busy means less time staring in despair at a stubbornly blank screen.

So them’s my thoughts. The floor is now yours, my darlings, and it’s not just a writer’s forum: most of you here have stock (your work) and flow (your Twitter et al). How has each fed the other for you?

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