Gay romance fiction

Desire Path… of workarounds and walking where we need to go

by Damon Suede

(A-game Advice was a monthly column offering practical tips for winning promo that fits your personal style, strategy, and measure of success.)

There's an old bit of ranch wisdom: give a job to the laziest person and they'll find the easiest way to get it done.

That's just human nature. The more slothful the worker, the fewer steps they’ll take, the less effort they’ll invest, the shorter the path from Alpha to Omega on any project. When someone is completely opposed to effort on principle, they'll always look for the wasted steps, flabby planning, and unnecessary bother that can go bye-bye.

Because of evolution and neuroplasticity, humans are hardwired to create “desire paths.”

Literally, a desire path (also known as a footpath, goat track, game trail) is a crude walkway created by the erosion via regular usage of the shortest or easiest distance between two points. In other words, it’s a user-created solution to a design flaw or creative opportunity in an environment. The wild alchemy of ingenuity and our natural aversion to pointless complication and drudgery saves us hours of pointless work.

Desire paths are organic workarounds and they tend to offer logical shortcuts that work around sanctioned or artificial roads and structures. When kids cut across the grass or animals wear a hole through a hedge, they’re creating a desire path. They know where they need to go; it’s only the well-intentioned dummies who designed the road who got it wrong.

The more people use a desire path, the more permanent it becomes as passage erodes the soil and widens the egress through plants and obstacles knocked aside to clear the way. That’s just basic primate behavior. Folks tend to want what they can’t have, and as soon as they can have it easily they have less incentive to find sources further afield.

Often landscapers and architects will incorporate existing desire paths as a matter of efficiency: if folks have already told you where the road goes, then for best results follow their lead. Desire paths allow use to dictate design, so there’s a commonsensical, on-the-fly elegance to them.

There’s a hive-mind quality to desire paths, an invisible hand that reveals the will of the community regardless of fences or shrubbery. Like water, people will follow the path of least resistance to travel where they must. Trends are desire paths across pop culture and genres reveal the shifting foot traffic of fandom moment by moment.

Of course, not all paths cut across an unweeded lot with creepy clowns hiding in the trees. Workarounds come in many shapes and scales. Sometimes desire paths traverse shores, relationships, negotiations, systems, or trauma. In our problem-solving monkey mind, we instinctively seek out the path of least irritation.

Buying habits, outsourcing, crowdfunding, and dynamic programming all operate as virtual desire paths by memorializing popular solutions to common problems and improving on systems responsively. Most consumer decisions and marketing efforts involve exploitation and redirection of desire paths, reducing the friction between intention and the desired outcome. When you want people to do stuff, you remove every possible impediment so that compliance is a matter of convenience.

Readers follow desire paths constantly which is why certain genres explode “out of nowhere.” The audience already existed and the once those readers found the books they wanted, the back and forth of enthusiastic customers and creators cuts a wide swath across the market floor. Savvy acquisition can set a publisher or agency up to capitalize on an explosion of foot traffic, but only if they pay attention and can act swiftly.

Learn to spot the organic flow of attention and enthusiasm in your vicinity. As an author, you should always be on the lookout for desire past that cut across your intellectual property:

  • Who has created this desire path and why?

  • Where is the traffic coming from and where is it headed?

  • What elements of your voice and your work provides egress and access for this group of people?

  • How can you satisfy the relevant desire and establish authentic relationships with them?

  • What opportunities can you identify that would allow you to adapt to the organic traffic crossing your niche or turf?

Desire paths are also why oversaturation kills a genre or subgenre: when you can get what you want everywhere, effort isn’t required and its desirability lowers. You don’t need a shortcut to acquire something that’s constantly underfoot. Every marketing disaster and product fiasco resulted from folks ignoring desire paths, often in plain sight.

The tidal wave of box sets and freemium titles has taught readers books can be had for less. For name-brand authors that’s a plus, for folks starting out, that’s indentured servitude to the Muse. If anyone can get published, almost no one will get noticed because those desire paths simply reroute to avoid what audiences already have or don’t want. Tough noogies. Worse, the perception of easy money also creates a desire path for lazy writers ready to grind out dreck for a buck…until the audience dries up and that path to E-Z lucre fades. #SorryNotSorry

For that matter, desire paths also explain the challenges of pirating and plagiarism. To people with few scruples, DRMs and takedown notices are just another fence to jump. Folks who don’t want to pay or work for stuff they want decide to simply cut across the lawn wherever and whenever they feel like it. Others will inevitably follow in their footsteps, which is why copyright law and stern warnings have done so little to discourage piracy and plagiarism in the era of electronic media.

Desire paths also affect your output and promotional efforts. Every artist learns workarounds that make the most of their unique skill set and inherent weaknesses. Knowing your strengths and flaws, your opportunities and threats, makes you more efficient and encourages creative risks.

  • When writing and promoting, what steps do you find yourself skipping and why?

  • What benefits do you forfeit because of those shortcuts and sidesteps?

  • What unexpected allies and assets can you access because of the time and energy you save?

  • Have respected colleagues already identified useful desire paths that save steps, improve results, or boost productivity?

  • How do your desire paths shape the projects you choose and the success they find?

Like landscape architects who simply formalize informal footpaths, our industry has begun to address these challenges by experimenting with price points, release calendars, and fan access to exclusive content. If anything desire paths are reshaping the way entertainment does business and how fans find content creators. The time required to read a book, to actually sit down and decode a text and find pleasure in the act of literacy, has become one of the greatest impediments to audience development.

Places to go, people to be.

With limited time, energy, and resources to devote to this wacky career that's chosen us, we inevitably navigate bizarre and unfriendly landscapes on a daily basis. The next time you're presented with a ridiculous chore, an annoying roadblock, an elaborate complication look for the desire paths left by experienced colleagues that can move you along with less effort and get you there in style.

A professional development article for writers by M/M author Damon Suede

Copyright 2017. Damon Suede. All Rights Reserved

Originally published as part of A Game Advice for the Romance Writers Report.

If you wish to republish this article, just drop me a line.