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.

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.