“Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that.” ~The Red Queen to Alice in Through the Looking Glass.
The Red Queen effect means that staying in the same place is falling behind. Surviving to write another day means we have to co-evolve with the systems we interact with. And the systems in our writing world are evolving in a fast-paced race.
Think about the changes in writing and publishing over the past decade. We’ve moved from the Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope (SASE) submissions to digital rejections. Most of us write electronically—maybe a few die-hards still draft in cursive longhand—and most use some form of app to help with spelling and grammar.
And now we have Artificial Intelligence (AI) coming at us in the high-speed lane. We’ve had tools like Google and Word for some time, but this ChatGPT thing is about to rewrite the rule book. When you get on this bus, there is no stop and you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.
I suppose all writers (being human) tire of running fast. However, to be “successful” in today’s writing world—success being defined as “they with the biggest backlist win”—it’s vital to accept change and work with it, not against change. Here’s a quote I dug up while researching this piece and, no, I didn’t prompt it through Chat:
Applied to our careers, we might think about adaptation and evolution as embracing change and pursuing continuous learning and development. In this realm, the imperative to evolve comes not from aspirational pursuits, such as a promotion, but from the need to continue providing value in an environment where even running our fastest as per the Red Queen effect might not be enough.
Adaptation. Continuous learning. Development. Embracing change. Providing value.
Given that change can affect a writer’s sense of value and belonging, why is it that so many of us are resistant to the community’s natural flow of evolution and are content to run with the Red Queen? Maybe these bullet points from the Journal of Applied Psychology sum it up:
- Reluctance to lose control.
- Unwillingness to think differently.
- Lack of psychological resilience when coping with change.
- Intolerance of the adjustment period involved in change.
- Tendency to perform poorly outside familiar framework.
- Reluctance to give up old habits.
Now, I admit to being an old dog trying to learn new tricks. But I also plead (somewhat) guilty to all the above. What’s really driving me forward, though, is the concept of value. Creating something from nothing and repeating as necessary.
I look at writing and publishing evolution not as a linear process but rather as a dynamic and ongoing race. It’s like an infinite game that never ends and whose purpose isn’t to win, but to keep playing as long as possible. The key to surviving in this game is proactive evolution where you anticipate future changes to fundamentally transform your products and/or strategy before you’re forced to do so. And by doing so, you don’t just survive—you also benefit from it.
So, all this “Blah” is fine and dandy. The question is how to beat the Red Queen. Here are some practical Queen-beating tips I sourced.
Continuous Learning — Committing to life-long learning is essential to staying ahead of the Red Queen. Fortunately for writers, there’s a pleasantly overwhelming amount of material to learn from.
Adaptability — The Red Queen effect highlights adapting to perpetual change. It’s the core survival principle in the evolution of every species, including the writer.
Persistent Practice — Developing routines, setting goals, and meeting deadlines are part of the business. Missing these is a sure sign of falling behind the Red Queen.
Networking and Collaboration — The saying “we’re all in this together” definitely applies to writers. The Kill Zone is a good example of collaboration and networking where we regularly discuss changes and advances in the writing world.
Embracing Feedback and Criticism — Can anyone say “Arc” and “Beta”? Ask these guys how you can better your work and stay ahead of the Queen.
Resilience and Perseverance — This isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon. Pace yourself, accordingly, but do not get behind the Red Queen.
Embrace Technology — This part of the game is moving faster than the sum of all the parts. And it shows no sign of slowing down.
Personal Brand — There’s a lot of misconception about what a “brand” really is. I think it’s simply how others see you and, in this race, it’s critical to be seen.
Innovation and Experimentation — Have some fun during your evolution. Try new things. Explore other writing forms and see what you can work into your WIF (Work In Future)
Standing Out — Do you know how Alice beat the Red Queen? She teamed up with the Queen and used the combined momentum to push ahead. Alice made up her mind—took the mindset—to stand out. And she won.
Kill Zoners: Where do you run in the race with the Red Queen? Please share some thoughts and some tips! BTW, what changes in writing and publishing do you foresee on the horizon?