Digging in the archives…

From time to time I go stumbling through the vast pile of electronic paperwork I’ve generated for myself over the years looking for one or two particular nuggets. I generally find what I’m looking for because my filing system, to some, might seem to verge on the anal retentive. It works for me so retentive or not, I like it.

Warehouse.jpgOccasionally during one of those trips down into the archives I come across material that’s been out of sight so long I’ve rather forgotten about it. This week’s trek back into the files was one such occasion. I’ve discovered a set of posts I wrote long ago and far away. Some of them are quite good. Then again some of them are pretty bad. Unlike the great effort several years ago to compile my entire “official” blogging history onto this one site, these posts never ended up published under my name and I think it’s probably time to bring them home.

I haven’t gone through the whole package yet, but I’m guessing there could be as many as 50 previously unseen posts just waiting for fresh eyes. Most of them will probably make the cut, though a few will likely remain private due to the nature of the topic, a clear linkage to an actual person either living or dead, or just because it’s a poorly formed though. Even saying that, I expect most of this particular treasure trove will be suitable for wide release.

Starting tonight and running every Friday until I exhaust this freshly turned earth, http://www.jeffreytharp.com will feature one of these gems from the archives for your reading pleasure. With the exception of correcting grammar, spelling, and punctuation issues I expect to publish these posts without editorial revision as they were originally published.

I hope you’ll give them a read and let me know what you think.

Editorial blues…

I’m editing. That is all. As essential as I know it is to putting out a good, readable product, it’s the part that I hate the most. I know it’s at the very center of the creative process, but there’s something about recovering the same ground two, five, a dozen times that, to me, makes it feel like the most non-productive thing I could spend my time doing.

Add to my generalized hatred of editing the fact that at the moment, I’m trying to do it on a beautiful, blue-skyed, spring day and I hope you can start to see why at this very moment, my heart just isn’t in it. Not to take anything away from the work in progress, but on days like this sitting inside and doing the work is damned hard. I know it’s only going to get harder as the weather gets nicer, though. It’s going to get harder right up to the point I realize it’s 93 degrees and I’m sweating my balls off. Then there’s no place I’ll rather be than in front of the air conditioner getting some long overdue work done.

In this part of the country there isn’t always a long time between frozen tundra and baking asphalt. I’m doing my best to keep the momentum up, but I’m giving up all promises not to get distracted for these few weeks while the weather is nice enough to enjoy.

Editorial control…

I enjoy almost everything about the writing process. I like that, for me, it’s a solitary effort. I like that it forces me to live inside my own head. I like that it demands a focus and discipline that I don’t always want to demonstrate in other aspects of my life. Most of all, I like that when the final period is added, I can sit back point at the screen, and have the deeply personal satisfaction that I put all those words on all those pages. Even though I spend most of the day writing at the office, there’s no sense of ownership. A finely crafted email or policy letter just doesn’t have the same feel. Most of that kind of writing is set within strictly proscribed left and right boundaries. You can pretty the words up a bit, but I’ve never finished rewriting a section of policy and thought, “damn that’s good.”

I’ve left my work in progress sit for a little more than a month. It’s a much needed cooling off period, so I can try to read through it with a little bit of objectivity. And therein lies the current problem. I love the creative process of writing. I love it right up to the point it becomes the editorial process of reworking all the bits and pieces into a more cohesive and understandable whole. It’s maybe the most necessary step, but there’s nothing at all in it that I find enjoyable. In fact forcing myself to sit down and do it is far more difficult than expecting myself to sit down every night and create brand new material.

Exerting editorial control is a necessary evil. It’s an evil that I started tackling last night. It’s an evil that I’m going to spend many more nights wrestling with… mostly because it reveals that the story that I thoughtfully crafted over the winter is full of plot holes, grammar and punctuation problems, inconsistencies, characters that go nowhere, and generally shows that all I’ve done so far is finish a first draft. I knew that intellectually, but the intervening days gave me the space to realize it with more than my brain.

It’s time to get back to work… and by “work” of course I mean that activity that takes inordinate amounts of time and shows absolutely no promise of ever paying for itself. Even knowing all that, a bad day editing is better than my best day doing most anything else I’d consider work. So yeah, it’s time to get back to work.

Recycling…

If you spend any time reading the recommendations about “how to be a bestselling author in 978 easy steps” one that they come back to time and again is how important it is to get new material in front of readers as quickly as possible. That sounds well and good until you really start to think about the sheer amount of time and effort that goes into something as seemingly simple as publishing a “short” 150 page book. The reality is that I don’t see any way to do it in less than 18 months that doesn’t involve either giving up my day job or not sleeping. While one of those options would be temporarily awesome, it would inevitably lead to poverty and starvation. recyclingThe other would probably lead to some kind of REM-deprived psychosis. Neither is an option I find particularly attractive for the time being.

There is another option I’ve been kicking around for the last few weeks. I’ve got a blog just sitting here with seven years worth of more or less untapped material. Most people read a post once, maybe twice if it’s really epic, and it’s never seen again. With a little editorial effort, a few thousand words of fresh content, and some flashy layout, I could conceivably have two new books set to press in short order. It’s extraordinarily tempting, if for no other reason than it buys me time to work on something completely fresh while I’m editing these together.

It’s an idea still very much in its infancy, but I’m starting to outline two lines of effort:

1) What Annoys Jeff this Week: 2012 was a Bitch. This would be an anthology of 52 weeks of what is generally the most viewed posts I publish each week. Some I’d freshen up and expand a bit from what appears on the blog, but mostly they could be plucked root and stem and used shamelessly for retail purposes. It has the decided perk of also being a self-licking ice-cream cone – as long as Thursdays each weak feature WAJTW, every year I’ll have popping fresh new material for the next edition.

2) Epic: The Best of jeffreytharp.com. Over the last seven years I’ve posted more than a few epic rants covering everything from work to neighbors to random people at Home Depot. I haven’t dove into the research yet, but I’m betting that there’s more than enough here to turn into a respectable ebook maybe something in the neighborhood on 25-30,000 words. It’s definitely going to require some polish – if you haven’t been reading the Sunday archive updates, take my word for it; some of the early work is pretty rough hewn. Still, I think there’s plenty of meat on the bone.

So will either of these ideas come to pass? Honestly, I don’t know yet, but it does seem like a waste to sit on what’s got to be upwards of half a million words of content and not do anything with it. It would be like running my own personal recycling program… and that’s a good thing, right?

When is good enough good enough?

One of the hardest things, especially when it comes to writing, is deciding when something is good to go. In the print world, once the type is set, format, and layout is done, it’s really, really done because somewhere you have a warehouse rack filled with printed, final products. Find a mistake in one of them and it’s tough shit until (if) you get around to printing a second run. The ebook is a different animal. Even though it’s published and available for purchase, you can change it innumerable times by simply uploading a new file to your retailers. I’m afraid the tendency there is to make editing an ongoing process and never let the book “just be.”

I think I’m getting closing in on that territory now. I’m happy-ish with the formatting and layout, happy-ish with the cover, and happy-ish, with the content. There’s a lot of –ish in there. Mostly because I’m not complete satisfied. I’ll probably never be completely satisfied, though, so at a point sooner rather than later, I’m going to have to give it up, hit the “publish” button and turn this little project loose on an unsuspecting world. Wanting to get it all exactly right on your first go around is probably excessive, but hey, that’s just part of my charm, no?

If nothing unexpected crops up, I expect that’s going to happen in the next week to ten days. I’ve been secretly shooting for an Ides of March publication date, but for several reasons (mostly involving my need to continue working at my day job), that goal is all but out of reach. With that said, I’m still finding the occasional error that needs fixing, but the period of wholesale changes and rewriting seems to be at an end. Hopefully those of you planning on picking up an early copy will also feel up to sending in some constructive feedback once you’ve had a chance to see what I’ve been up to for the last eighteen months. I think you’re all in for a treat.

So here’s the deal…

I took every spare minute I could scrounge up over the last six months and wrote a book. Thanks to the generosity of a few friends, What You Didn’t Learn in College: A Field Guide to Surviving the Cubicle Wars is now working its way through the editing and “beta” process. In a couple of weeks, the plan is to have this little gem available as an ebook through three primary retail channels: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords. Eventually, Smashwords will spread that distribution out to other retail outlets like the Apple iBooks, Kobo, Sony, and others smaller venues. I’m still looking into ways to bring the book to market in print that don’t require a) dealing with a publisher or b) cost a small fortune and result in boxes of inventory sitting in my basement.

Rest assured, as soon as the editing is finished and the retail side is up and running, you’ll be among the first to know. In the meantime, there are a few things you can do to support the cause:

1. Follow me on Twitter – @jdtharp

2. Like my new “official” fan page on Facebook and share it with your friends

See how easy that was? No fuss, no muss – Just a few clicks and your good deed for the day is done. Now all you have to do is sit back, relax, and stay tuned.

Beta…

I’ve been working on a book. That’s not exactly been a secret. It feels like I’ve been tinkering with it since just after the dawn of time and I’m sure you all feel like you’ve been hearing about it for even longer than that. The good news is that the actual writing is (for the most part) finished, I’ve made the first pass at editing over the last few nights, and earlier today I seeded the text to a handfull of people who have graciously volunteered their time to be beta readers. Once they’ve finished and gotten comments and suggestions back to me, I’ll take a few more swings through the editing process, address some layout issues, and come up with a cover that doesn’t look like I designed it using PowerPoint.

So yeah, the good news is you’re going to be spared the pain and aggravation of listening to me bitch about writing for a while. To compensate I’ll be ratcheting up the volume on my complaints about editing. I mean, I want everyone to feel like their part of this process right along with me. I mean who doesn’t want to know fun facts like the first draft contained 137 separate instances of the word “likely” and 27 sentences that started with the phrase “Go ahead…” Let’s just say that first draft version 1.1 showed some significant improvements.

This blog was very clearly the inspiration for the book and if you read it, I think you’ll notice the same tone come through almost immediately. Where the blog ranges out over whatever topics happen to strike my fancy, I limited my efforts on the book to a topic that’s near and dear to my heart. With a working title of What College Didn’t Teach You: A Ground Guide to Surviving Your First Big Job, I’m going to do my best to deliver 35 chapters of observations, generalizations, and snarky commentary about the lessons I’ve learned from navigating big, bureaucratic organizations for my entire professional life. Mostly, it’s just a collection of things I know now that I wish I’d have known in the Summer of 2000.

For now, it’s all about editing, cleaning, figuring out if I’m going to get wrapped up with the US Office of Government Ethics, and reminding everyone repeatedly to read the disclaimer.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The IRS. So apparently no one told the IRS that it’s tax season. I mean that’s all I can assume since they haven’t bothered to publish the form you need to fill out if you’re depreciating rental property. If they’re going to set April 14th as the arbitrary annual celebration of screwing the taxpayer with his pants on, the least they can do is make sure to give you all the proper forms so your paperwork can be in order when they do it. I want my money. Asshats.

2. The men and women of the United States Congress. While our friends in Congress have been enjoying their week long sabbatical for Washington’s Birthday, the two million odd federal employees that aren’t Members, have only gotten a week closer to their furlough notice. The difference, of course, being that the Members were paid for their time back in the home district, where as the poor schlubs who decided federal work as a good idea will be going home without pay once a week for the next six months. You’ve got to love a group of people delusional enough to say that taking a pay cut themselves would diminish the dignity of their office while simultaneously telling the people working for them to take a 20% cut and thank them for the opportunity. Since I want to hang on to my soon to be part-time job for a while longer, I’ll refrain from saying how I’d really like to resolve this fiasco.

3. Editing. I love writing. Editing, the handmaiden of writing, is an evil soulless bitch from which there is no hope of escape. In that moment of ecstasy when you think you’ve written something really, really well, Editing shows up and reminds you with swift fury that no, no you didn’t and that it’s time to get back in your hole and write some more… except this time pay attention to grammar, punctuation, style, and usage.

The end of August (2006)…

In keeping with our new tradition, the next five archive posts from MySpace are now available for your reading enjoyment. That brings August 2006 to a close. The first couple of posts from September of that year deal with an even that was, and remains, a painful topic for the family. Between now and next Sunday, I’m going to have to make a judgement call on whether those become part of the public record here or if I save them back to my own archive. Yes, before anyone asks, I’m practicing a bit of revisionist history when these posts go live, but for the most part I’m working hard not to change the substance in any way. Most of the changes are for grammar, punctuation, and clarity. One thing I can tell you for sure is that my writing has definitely improved in the last six years. I’ll be interested to look back from 2018 and see if I can say the same about the posts I’m putting up now.

Decimating whole forests…

I can’t imagine how this process would work back in the olden days when books were written and published on paper. Every time I turn around, there something I want to change, an error that needs fixed, and a new draft version number going up on the big board. If I were trying to do this even ten years ago, I would have slaughtered entire forests single handedly… and that would have still been with the help of a good solid word processor. The thought of what it might be like using a typewriter is just too sad for me to contemplate.

I think I could do nothing but edit every day for a month and still find things that aren’t quite right. As it is, I’m hungry, my eyes are sore, and my fingers hurt. And in the back of my head I know there are still mistakes out there that I missed, but will be sure to find next time I read through a draft. It’s infuriating, really, but at the moment, I can barely focus on the screen so the chances of anything productive happening for the rest of the night are between slim and none. Clearly, Hemingway drank because his editorial staff was not nearly large enough to get the job done. What hope does someone way fewer editors and much, much, much much less talent have at getting it done right?