Xerox Explores the Modern Work Habits of Major Writers as They Create a Book Together

Who needs an office anyway?

Bad Feminist author Roxane Gay is among the participants in the Y&R campaign.
Headshot of Angela Natividad

The workplace is changing—expanding and contracting, sort of like the universe, taking on whatever shape is needed for a growing number of untethered workers to do their jobs.

A big reason for this is technology, which has evolved so dramatically that even timesheets, that bane of 9-to-5 existence, can be distributed and measured remotely.

In an effort to explore this, Xerox is working on a massive collaborative project. Created by Y&R New York, “Set the Page Free” will be composed of 14 award-winning writers and creatives, who together will produce a book about the modern workplace.

Miniature documentaries from the first four writers went live today. In each, you’ll get a strong sense of where they do their best work. But these also serve as a masterclass in the creative process—its volatility, and the quirks and methods that seek to harness it, which are as varied as each person. Of course, there’s a lot of reflection about how technology has changed the professional writing process, too.

(That’s something we know about. Half of us wouldn’t be able to eat if online writing, editing, publishing and even programmatic ad delivery didn’t exist. We couldn’t all become Margaret Atwood, could we?)

First off, hear from Lee Child. The creator of the Jack Reacher novels explains how to deliver suspense in the haven of his home office, plagued by a mysterious knocking.

“How do you create suspense? Its about withholding information,” Child says bluntly. “You ask a question in the beginning, or imply it, and you do not answer it until the end. It feels meretricious and cheap … but you can’t, you’ve just gotta keep it going.”

Meanwhile, Roxane Gay of Bad Feminist reflects on architecture and love affairs. “The personal and the professional are often blurred for many of us,” she observes. “My modern workplace is very transitory. I work from wherever I am.”

Joshua Ferris, author of Then We Came to the End, likes to disappear. “To some extent, I don’t matter when I’m writing,” he begins. “What matters is, I try to become invisible, so it’s like I’m not even there.”

Ferris frequents strip malls and diners, oases of anonymity and weird humanity, to sprinkle inspiration onto note cards.

Lastly, author Gary Shteyngart of Super Sad True Love Story appears in his most fertile workspace: bed.

“You gotta have a soft robe,” he counsels. “A lot of people don’t know how to use their bathrobe belts, and that’s why they are not good writers.” While dispensing this invaluable information, he entertains a visit from his editor via hologram and gets his food delivered by drone.

The purpose of the campaign is to underscore Xerox’s focus on innovating the culture of work, making transitions from the physical and digital world as easy as possible. And throughout the project, Xerox technology will help contributors collaborate to complete the book. Languages will be translated via Xerox Easy Translator Service, and voice recognition and scanning will also play a role.

“We are at the heart of the changes happening in the modern workplace,” says CEO Jeff Jacobson of Xerox. “No matter if you are an author penning pages, a salesperson prepping for a customer visit or a small business owner looking to expand, people need to work seamlessly wherever they are. This project brings those connections to life.”

“Set the Page Free” was developed alongside the 92nd Street Y, a nonprofit community and cultural center that sourced many of the authors and artists involved. It is also editing the completed book, which will be released internationally as a free ebook in late October. A French and Spanish version of the website will roll out on Sept. 19, ending in a program rollout that includes 22 countries.

“What a thrilling opportunity to commission the brilliant writers who grace our storied stage to explore questions of work today, and together create our very own modern workplace in the process,” says Bernard Schwartz, director of 92nd Street Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center.

Along with Worldreader, which promotes digital reading in underserved communities, the 92nd Street Y will receive donations from Xerox to champion global literacy.

“’Set the Page Free’ brings together a remarkable group of acclaimed writers and artists to tell the story of the ever-evolving modern workplace,” says chief creative officer Leslie Sims of Y&R North America. “What better way for Xerox to celebrate their commitment to fueling creativity and setting the page free?”

Client – Xerox
CMO – Toni Clayton-Hine
Vice President, Global Brand, Advertising and Media – Barbara Basney
Director, Global Advertising and Media – John Fredette
Manager, Digital Advertising – Linda Bandith
Marketing Coordinator – Kirsten Foulke

Agency – Y&R
Chief Creative Officer – Leslie Sims
Executive Creative Director – Joao Coutinho
Creative Director – Fern Cohen
Creative Director – Margot Owett
Director of Innovation – Catherine Patterson
Head of Integrated Production – Greg Lotus
Executive Producer – Mathieu Shrontz
Associate Producer – Brit Hager
Executive Producer/ Head of Music – Lauriana Zuluaga
VP, Account Managing Director – Britta Dahl
Account Director, VML- Seth Galena
Account Supervisor – Arantza Urruchua

Production Company – Ghost Robot
Executive Producers – Mark DePace, Zachary Mortensen
Head of Production – Kacie Barton
Directors – Benjamin Dickinson, Alex Markman, Christina Wadsworth
Producers – Zachary Kislevitz, Judy Craig, Amber Schaefer
DPs – Matthew J. Santo, Milos Jacimovic, Justin Kane, Jon Peter
Production Managers – Allegra Isenberg, Caroline Conrad, Richard Theisen
Post Producers – Jill Ferraro, Katie Meyer
Editors – Alex Amoling, Jae Lee, Liz Bilinsky
Design – Griffin Frazen
Animation & Compositing – Chris Mennuto, Kim Dulaney
Assistant Editors – John Mattia, Emmett Ashton
Sound Design / Mix – One Thousand Birds
Color Grade – The Mill
Colorist – Damien Van Der Cruyssen

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@luckthelady Angela Natividad is a frequent contributor to Adweek's creativity blog, AdFreak. She is also the author of Generation Creation and co-founder of Hurrah, an esports agency. She lives in Paris and when she isn't writing, she can be found picking food off your plate.