Adaptivity or acracy?

i am the gravedigger of the project graveyard

Adaptivity or acracy?

I was talking to my brother the other day and he told me that Patrick Rothfuss has published something recently. I was agog, but apparently it's just a novella, and based on a short story he wrote years back for a collection edited by George R.R. Martin, which might be one of the funniest things he could've done. The reason why that's funny might not make sense to anyone who's normal, so: Rothfuss is an author who wrote two fantasy novels about a decade ago that got good notices and has, to all appearances not done much writing since. Per Wikipedia:

In July 2020, Rothfuss's editor and publisher Betsy Wollheim responded publicly on her Facebook account to an article speculating on reasons why The Doors of Stone, the concluding volume of the trilogy, had not been published, saying she had "never seen a word of book three" and that she didn't think Rothfuss had written anything since 2014, despite having already been paid.

Three years ago he said he'd release a chapter from the novel to the public if his charity met some donation goal, and that it would be performed by a bunch of people that nerds like if it met some higher donation goal. It met both, and the chapter still hasn't come out, performed or otherwise. Now he's published something else that also isn't that. It's doubly funny that this thing he's published, is a novella based on a short story he did back in the day for a collection by George RR Martin, because that guy is the king of putting off writing the stuff people actually want to read from him to do Wild Cards or whatever (except he seems to be doing it deliberately to wind people up because he's a legend).

The reason this is quite so funny is that it doesn't seem to just be a case of writers block or whatever. If you follow his online presence at all, Rothfuss clearly just wants to spend his time talking about the writerly art of writing on podcasts, playing D&D with other similar ghastly 'nerd celebrities', streaming himself playing videogames, etc, rather than actually writing. He wants to have people post image macros of things he's said about the magic of libraries or whatever like Neil Gaiman, but while I might take the mick out of Gaiman for being cringe, you can't deny the man cranks out the work in a way that Big Pat seems to struggle to.

You might ask: why care? To be clear: I don't want to read this book. I haven't read the other books he wrote since I was a teenager and I doubt they will have gone up in my estimation since. I don't particularly mind that he took a bunch of money for charity and then didn't get Will Wheaton or Felicia Day or whoever to read something he hadn't read—that actually makes him go up in my estimation. It's because he's a peculiarly developed example of a phenomenon that seems to afflict a lot of people on the internet.

Akrasia, or acracy, is a Greek word which means something like "weakness" (literally 'a-krasia', the 'krasia' bit having the same root as 'kratos', which means 'power', as well as being everyone's favourite grumpy videogame dad) but more specifically something like "weakness of will" or "acting against your better judgment". Alex Harrowell talked about it a couple of times (here and here) in relation to Boris Johnson, who is a very apt subject for the description; he will blow about like a shopping bag in whatever the current political and media winds may be.

There are certain people online who always seem to be trying new initiatives that don't last. You will likely be familiar with them: bouncing from (to take one flavour) crypto to Urbit to AI, but just never quite sticking the landing, always looking for the next thing to strike it big. They try a lot of stuff out but it doesn't seem to go anywhere, it doesn't stick. Podcasts or blogs or Youtube series with one, two, three episodes, no views, no farewells.

I identify, at least to an extent—sure, I've been doing the same podcast on and off for nearly a decade, but there's plenty of things I try to get going that I either just don't do or I make a good start on and just crash and burn for boring life reasons. Rothfuss is an interesting example because he was able to crank out two books before he got his head turned by Twitter and Twitch and stuff.  

But some people move between projects without the stench of inconstancy attaching to them. Why do seem folk seem instead to just be rolling with the punches, changing plans on the fly?

Perhaps obviously, some people who do a lot of projects actually finish them. Some of them do a lot of little defined-scope projects, like Craig Mod and his pop-up newsletters. But you don't have to set defined scopes for everything up front. Some people don't "complete" everything they start—but they tend to note when something is done with, and demonstrate their constancy in other ways; keeping an "anchor project" going for years at a time.

Framing is another thing: if you say "I'm going to try [x] for a bit", that obviously has a different vibe to "[x] is now my whole thing, here's my five-year plan" etc. Sometimes people manage this, but it's rare. It has the ostensible virtue of social commitment to make you stick to it, but in most cases it leads to overwhelm if you've not adequately judged your capacity, then dropping things, usually quietly.

One way (perhaps the most telling) in which acracy announces itself is that the new thing is always the biggest, most turbo-important—that last thing was trash, forgotten about, yesterday's news. I'm reminded of an anecdote on a very old episode of Chapo where they went to CPAC and saw conservative grifter child Jacob Wohl trying to do a press conference to smear Ilhan Omar with some Big Revelations. The reporter Will Sommer asked Wohl about the Big Revelations about Robert Muller he'd been peddling the month before. Wohl replied "oh, we're done with that".

I think it's generally good to be marking the conclusion of things, rather than unceremoniously dropping them for the next thing, whether truly "finished" or not.  If you follow someone for long enough, you pick up that they drop things a lot. Even if you don't it often doesn't take much for people to sense when they're walking over unmarked plots in your project graveyard.

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