Five Things Naomi Novik Said
|Interviews by Fans
|Five Things Naomi Novik Said
|September 13, 2017
|Five Things Naomi Novik Said
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It was part of a series. See Five Things Said.
Excerpts from a Much Longer Interview
What was the first year of the OTW like? What do you remember most from it?
I don’t remember the high points as well, I find that over time what I remember are the problems. In the beginning there was a lot of work we had to do to reassure people about what we were trying to do, such as that they weren’t going to get into [legal] trouble, that there would be ways to give people control over their stories. The other piece that first year is that some people expected to see something 5 minutes after we formed! You know, where is the Archive? But it all takes time, there were a lot of growing pains you have when you’re putting things together from scratch that the OTW has been left with. But my philosophy is to do the thing if you have the momentum, and it’s better to have done something that was not perfect than to not have anything done at all.There were certain ways in which a sustainable organization doesn’t work on passion, at the same time that you want to be able to harness passion. I think we were struggling a bit with how to get an organization running but at the same time have it grow. A lot of the details are gone for me now — I have a terrible memory for this sort of thing because once something is no longer my problem, I forget about it, it’s just gone.
What do you see as the major turning points of the OTW during its ten years?
We had a huge advantage at the beginning, which is that we started with a small group of people who mostly all knew one another. Me, [current OTW Legal staffer] Rebecca Tushnet and [current Transformative Works & Cultures staffer] Francesca Coppa knew each other, and the other first Board members were in relatively close geographical proximity to one another, so we could get together face to face and discuss things. That was a big help. But we also had enormous expertise in the early group — legal, academic, pro writing, technical experts. The people on the first board were the lynch pins of their respective committees. So it was a small group that could work together closely and develop things quickly in their own areas.
For a while in the middle of the OTW’s growth we fell away from that. Being on the Board is a tough job and it takes an enormous amount of time to do the work well. I have done it well and have also done it poorly. It’s not entirely, but is largely, based on how much time you have to offer, as well as the people you work with, and whether you can communicate with them effectively and whether there’s a level of personal trust among you.I feel there was a terrible low point that we went through. There was a middle wave; there’s been research done on this process among non-profits that shows that what the OTW went through is a common pattern. There is a visionary founder, or team of founders, who bite off much more than they can do. That approach leaves a lot of loose ends. The people who are then recruited and pulled in because of the vision that the founders established see the problems with what was done or with what is happening, but they feel frustrated because they may not have the access to the founders or to ways of solving the problem. So then things turn antagonistic on either a personal or organizational level. So the OTW then had lots of people running for the Board being against what was happening to the Board.
During your time with the OTW, what have you personally achieved that you feel the most proud of?
The Archive of Our Own is there, just, it exists. On a meta level, when I first made the post about building an archive, I wasn’t thinking of it as something I would do. I even said it was something we needed and if someone else would do it then I would help them. But then I saw that no one was volunteering, and I had a moment, I remember this moment, knowing that setting this project in motion would be an enormous time sink, and an emotional sink, and that it would have opportunity costs for the rest of my life. But I did it anyway.That original discussion generated a certain momentum, and we needed to build on it right away. There’s one moment when you can take an idea to the table, and if you miss it, it’s going to collapse, it’s not going to be a thing at all. At the time I made that post I did it because I was mad and I believed it, I believed we had to do something. It’s that whole cliche ‘You have to be the change you want to see in the world.’ And so I went to Rebecca and Francesca and said ‘we’re going to do it, but I can’t do this without you.’ And they said ‘alright, we’re in.’ We’d had conversations before about the problems we wanted the OTW to address and this was the time to do something.
What do you see as the role of the OTW now and do you think that’s changed since it began? How might it change in the next 10 years?
The #1 thing that I feel like the OTW has now that it didn’t at the very beginning was the role of maintaining things, such as keeping the AO3 up and functioning. And now the Archive, and Fanlore too, but Fanlore is much easier to keep up. It’s not easier to grow it, but just to keep it from falling down it’s easier. Even the AO3 is hard to grow over the next 10 years just because you need to bring it up to a modern technical level. There should be discussions going on, and I expect there are, about version 2.0 of the Archive. But the AO3 should not look the same 10 years from now, and we need to start thinking about that plan [of how to get there] now rather than later.We took a responsibility on and I know that — even during the darkest moments of the Board where I literally thought that the entire tech staff would quit and there would be no one to run AO3 — that what kept people on [as volunteers] even though there wasn’t any kind of good resolution to the problems, it was the inertia of not wanting to drop the ball. There can come a time where there can be too high a personal cost in continuing to work on our projects, but if it requires me [personally] to keep working on it then it’s not going to survive anyway. I could not be the one responsible at that stage of my life to continue the maintenance and development of what we had started. I had a small child, my life was changing.