Ask me anything…

​I try my best to keep a pretty extensive list of ideas I want to write about on the sideline just in case I run into one of those bad days when ideas just stop flowing. Over the last few months I’ve been cheating a bit and dragging ideas off the list. I find that quiver becoming uncomfortably empty at the moment and I’d really like to start adding things back to the list of potential topics rather than continuing to draw it down.

You, my dear readers, can do something to help. Although my personal pride would never let me ask anyone for cash donations, I clearly have no shame about asking you to help me out with ideas.

As I do here from time to time I’m opening the doors wide and encouraging you to go ahead and ask me anything. Is there a subject you think I should talk about? Do you want to know my thoughts on man-rompers or fidget spinners? Do you want to know my favorite food, color, and shoe size? I won’t sell this as a once in a lifetime opportunity, but if there’s anything you’ve been dying to know, this would be an awfully good chance to get an answer.

You can leave your questions in a comment here on WordPress, or on Facebook, or Twitter. Since I’ll be focused on answering your questions, that will give me the chance to refill my own pool of ideas, so really everyone wins here. You get the inside scoop about what’s rattling around in my head, I get to sharpen my writing chops on ideas I would otherwise be thinking about, and maybe we all get to learn a little something in the process. Really, what’s not to like about that?

A picture and a paragraph…

 

More and more often I’m running into links on “news” sites that dump you off at a video rather than at an article. For me at least, if I’m interested enough to click on a link, I’m interested enough to learn more than whatever can be offered up in a 13 second video clip. Call me a curmudgeon but I like my news stories to have a little bit of depth, maybe some background, and even a touch of analysis if the editors are feeling a little froggy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of digital media, but there’s a big part of me that still likes getting my news in the written word format. I’m not advocating for an immediate return to running newspapers in a morning and evening edition, but I don’t think it’s too big an ask to expect generally reputable news sources to include a little more meat on the bone. Then again, maybe that’s just another art form dying in the modern age.

With that said, a few weeks ago a friend turned me on to a site that specializes in collecting a sort of “best of” series of long form articles from across the web. Longform.org tends to be a bit eclectic in its offerings. It’s certainly not all the news that’s fit to print. What it lacks in width on a day to day basis, it almost always makes up for in depth. Right now on the main page articles range from campus activism to nursing to Swiss banking. I check in a few times a week when I’m feeling myself fall into the normal routine of things being a thousand feet wide but only three inches deep. It’s a helpful reminder if nothing else that somewhere, someone is practicing some deep thinking skills – even when I reject their premise or conclusions.

Sometimes a picture and a paragraph just aren’t enough. Mercifully there is at least a small group of people on the internet who agree.

Fundraiser…

I was reading an article today. The subject of the article isn’t particularly important unless you have a particular interest in Antarctic tourism. It was well written, articulate, and humorous. This blogger was ticked off all the appropriate boxes for what make a post enjoyable reading.

As the author regales us with tails of expedition ships and Russian sailors, and researchers who seem ever so slightly “off,” there was a thought lurking in the back of my mind. I wondered who the hell has the time or money to take off on 38-day cruise to the bottom of the world just to have something to write about. The blog itself was a fairly run of the mill affair without many bells or whistles – the kind of think you build when you’re more interested in writing than working in web design.

The answer to most of my questions came when at the end of the post, when the author thanked all of his supporters for donating to his Kickstarter campaign. Kickstarter. Sonofabitch. This guy was crowdsourcing his writing and travel habits by taking online donations. I didn’t know that was even a thing people did, but it is… and it’s apparently far more lucrative that selling short stories $.99 a copy on Amazon.

With trepidation in my heart I sought out the Kickstarter campaign for the blogger in question. I wish I would have let it go, because I can’t unsee what I saw. I’m never going to be able to forget that 900+ people donated a total of almost $38,000 to this heroic blogger to go out and play advanced tourist. I’m amazed and jealous and sunned all at the same time.

It’s given me more than a moment’s pause as I wonder how I can coax 900 people out of $42 a piece – or more importantly can I coax 3000 to donate that much. Is it possible that someone is out there now using Kickstarter as their primary source of income? If there is, can that person please give me a bit of “how to” coaching?

There’s a quiet little corner of beach on St. Thomas I think would make a great spot for writing. Send me there and I’ll tell you all about it.

A more gullible mark…

I’m not an ad man. Marketing is the very last thing in the world I would turn my considerable brain power towards. I’m just not that interested in begging and pestering people into doing things. Being a cynic by nature and long habit, I’m always a little skeptical of what people who do marketing for a living tell me. Actually that’s not true. I have a tendency not to believe any words that slither past their forked tongues. I just assume they know that’s an occupational hazard of being professional liars.

How I know you’re not a very reputable (or at least a very good) marketing firm is when you call my mother trying to reach me to discuss “exiting opportunities for marketing your book.” I lived at the old homestead long enough that I’m sure my name will forever show up in the public records next to a phone number where you haven’t been able to regularly reach me since 1998. However, there are surely plenty of other bits of information in that same public record that indicate that hasn’t been my phone number in quite some time. I’d expect even a half-assed marketing firm to be able to noggin that out for themselves before picking up the receiver.

I’m not going to call out this company by name, because I won’t give them the benefit of even the barest level of free publicity for themselves and whatever scam they happen to be running this week. Suffice to say I’m not interested. I might have at least been willing to look at options if they had availed themselves of any of the 647 other ways to get in touch with me, but since they opted for the easy and obviously wrong approach, I’m afraid they don’t even rate sufficiently to justify a personal rejection.

Although I appreciate your contacting the Jeffrey Tharp Childhood Home, Library, and Gift Shop, it’s not owned and operated by complete effing morons so I’m afraid you’ll have to go out and find yourselves a more gullible mark.

Spooling up…

If anyone has been following along my “official” Facebook page, they’ve probably seen that I’ve spent the last few nights getting my research on. Conveniently, in the modern world it’s easy enough to research from the comfort of my own home. It’s made even easier because the primary sources I’m interested in are all things I wrote between 2008 and the present day.

If there’s anything I’ve noticed while wading through thousands of my own words it’s that some of the writing has been extraordinarily bad. For those of you who have been with me for a while now, I’m sorry about that. Apparently I really do need an editor to follow me around full time. Fortunately, I’m getting the chance to clean some of those issues up as I go along.

The good news is that even though I’m less than two years into the material, there’s also some really good, cheeky stuff in there. Way, way more than enough to build on. Way more than I thought I’d find. When I kicked this off I assumed the research was going to be the hard part. The more I get though I’m realizing that the hardest bit is actually going to be deciding what stays in and what fades back into the mists of the last half decade. Admittedly, that’s not the worst problem I’ve ever faced.

If I had to guess, optimistically I probably have a month’s worth of material left to go through. More realistically it will take me closer to two months after you allow for all manner of what conspires to distract me from making forward progress. After that it’s back to the grind of 300-500 words a night until something that reads like a first draft magically appears on the screen.

Reading back over that last bit, this would be one of those times when I wonder whether I’ve lost every bit of sense I ever had.

Research…

There’s always a fine line when a project starts between wanting to just do the work quietly and wanting to blog about every step along the way. In the interest of not giving away the store before it’s even written, I’ll try to keep my discussion points fairly general in terms of the next product in the jeffreytharp.com pipeline. Suffice to say it’s not going to be quite like any of my previous efforts.

I haven’t set down to a writing effort yet that didn’t start off with research… and that’s where the lion’s share of my self-imposed writing time is allocated at the moment. I’m doing my best to spend an hour a day sourcing background information in the hope that once I have a stack of notes, I’ll actually be ready to sit down and put words on the page.

What I supposed you need to know now is there is a fresh work in progress. What I hope you’re going to see at the end of this trail is a deeply personnel (and intensely sarcastic) look at my relationship with life, work, and social media. It may not be of interest to anyone. It may not sell a single copy. But from the preliminary research I’ve done so far, I’m wholly fascinated by the ground this effort will end up covering.

The inevitable leggy brunette…

I think I know why Hemingway went to places like Havana and Key West to do his writing. I can put more words on the page sitting in a dive bar perched at the end of a ramshackle pier than I can most days sitting in the comfort of my own kitchen. Working at home offers the distraction of the familiar and the hundred other things that need to be done to keep the household running. The dive is full of any number of exotic distractions, but they’re different somehow – almost inspirational in a way that your tired old Mr. Coffee and the hum of the refrigerator will never be. There’s something about being away from the familiar that lets the ideas come more freely. Who knows, maybe there really is something to being outside your normal box.

Plus, if only in my own deluded fantasy, when the inevitable leggy brunette slides in next to you with her CrossFit body and a voice of a 1940s Hollywood starlet asking what you’re doing, you can tell her you’re writing a novel… or a novella in my case… but you’re going to want to say novel because no one really knows what a novella is. Besides, chicks dig writers. Quiet down. I already pointed out this is my own deluded fantasy and not the real world where people stare at you blankly when you tell them your grand aspirations as a writer. Sadly, neither the fantasy brunette nor the writing career is really the point.

The only reason I bring any of this up is I’ve spent the last six weeks writing from notes I put together while I was at the beach. That’s six weeks working from material I put together in my spare time over three days and nights. I’d hate to think what my daily word count could jump to if not saddled by such trivial matters as having bills to pay and a full time job. Reality is an often troublesome taskmaster.

Tonight, much to my chagrin, I realized my bag o’ ideas was empty and what I reached for as a substitute turned out to be something I wrote extensively about in 2011. In fact that old post was so close in phrasing at some points that it was genuinely creepy to look at them side by side, but written almost exactly three years apart. I’ve always said that I value consistency, but in this one small area, I worry it could be too much of a good thing.

Aside from being damned inconvenient, it also means from now on I’m apparently going to have to search my own website to make sure what I’m having is a legitimately new idea before spending any time rehashing a chestnut from the past. New ideas get harder and harder to come by when you’ve strewn opinion online for as many as five nights a week for almost eight years. I’ll either need to change up the routine, start seeing different parts of the world, and interacting with new people. Or I’ll just have to spend more time at the beach coming up with ideas. When I put it that way, there doesn’t really feel like a contest about which I should do… because changing up the routine, seeing different things, and meeting new people sounds just awful.