Yesterday I echoed the following on my facebook page.
Of course, long time readers of my blog are giggling and going “How Sarah” though I assure you I don’t make these mistakes on purpose. I make them through a combination of two things: incipient dyslexia and the fact that these posts are normally made either late night or early morning.
Needless to say no more had this comic gone up than someone chimed in with that hoary old chestnut of “Anything worth doing is worth doing well” and someone else came in to defend her vigorously on the grounds that “not proofreading or spell checking your blog shows a lack of respect for yourself and your readers, and whether its paid or not, I should be offered the best the blogger can produce.”
Um… ’Mkay. So, let’s examine the economics of my life, particularly now that indie publishing has come into “how I make my money” even if, so far, in a very minor fashion. And that Indie publishing takes time. And then we’ll explore that lovely Puritan aphorism about what is worth doing.
To begin with – and by way of confession – I haven’t done any indie publishing in a couple of months. The conjunction of my trying to finish overdue books with the end of year stuff that affects even parents of young men (as in, graduation ceremonies, award ceremonies, making sure they have their stuff for finals, making sure they don’t forget their own heads while very busy with other stuff) has joined with a spate of breaking stuff in the house, and odd health stuff to rob me of the five hours or so a week that I need for my labor of putting up my short story (and novella) back list.
I’ve also been, I’m sure you noticed, more laid back with the blog, having got more guests in and such to fill in my inability to blog every day.
This is just as an illustration of how close to the bone my time management is. Throw in a wobble in one area and other things have to give. They have to, because I still need to eat, go to the bathroom and — occasionally — sleep.
However, most of the year – when not in crunch time – I do blog every day. I blog for three reasons.
First because I suspect a lot of you would never have heard of me except through this blog. In that sense this blog is like an extended meet-the-author chat session which will, hopefully, lead to better sales for my paid work. Eventually.
Second I blog because I’m a kinetic thinker. I know that sounds weird, but I’m the sort of person who can’t figure out how to assemble a piece furniture, except by doing it. I learned my letters through copying them, memorized stuff by copying it, and think best by typing. Sometimes the sort of moral/philosophical stuff I blog about here is me trying to unknot a dilemma in my current book.
Third, I blog as a sort of free-writing exercise. Lots of disciplines advise this as a cure against the block. Five pages in the morning, or whatever. This blog serves that principle for me.
Having found over my years of keeping a blog at livejournal and writing in it only when the spirit moved me that the only way to develop a following is to make it into an habit for the reader – and for that it needs to be daily – I strive to post something every day. Having given up on the idea of just echoing things, because what I have to offer is more analytic than breezy, I tend to make rather long posts.
So, every morning I roll out of bed and write 2 to 3k words at a sitting. (Unless I have time to do them on Sunday afternoon, and then I burn the entire afternoon writing five posts.)
I try to make sure of several things as I’m posting them: that they’re interesting or quirky – which is judged by whether they interest ME – that they make internal sense, that I check any obvious references (though sometimes one escapes me mostly through my knowing something that just ain’t so), and that my spelling and grammar are understandable.
This last involves my running a spell checker, then reading over twice – once before and once after it’s posted. (Don’t ask me why, but some mistakes only become glaring when it’s posted.)
Contrast this with the process I go through before I send a short story to an editor (let alone publish it.) There I not only do the spell checker, but I print it out, go over it carefully not just for typos but for flow of language, then enter the changes, then print it out and do it again, then have a friend or ten read over it and see if he/she/they can catch any other typos or places where my logic went awry. Even for a very short short, this will take something like three hours not counting friend/s time (which I pay back by doing same service for them.)
Now imagine me doing this, every morning, with my posts. They take about an hour to write, even short ones, and maybe half an hour to check. This means I’m working on them 10 hours a week. Add in even just two prints/checks and the friend pay-back time per blog, and I’d be working 30 hours a week. For free.
For free, you say? But I thought you did it for publicity. And besides there’s that button up there for donations. Uh. yeah. The button nets maybe $25 a month, on a good month, most of it, incidentally, for the fiction. As for the publicity, I THINK it’s working, (if I ever think it’s not, the blogging stops, of course) but it’s an indirect and slow process. What do I mean by that? Well, most people – understandably. Would I be complaining? – will first buy my books used, to try out. On those I get nothing. Then, because I still don’t have any indie novels, they will buy the traditionally published ones. Again, not complaining. But I get at most a few cents per book.
My goal is to grow the audience so that eventually when I bring novels out indie, the money comes to me and is significant. It’s worth a gamble. BUT right now (two kids in/entering college, four cats, and in a precarious job market for both writers and mathematicians – I’m not seeing a huge influx of pocket money from this endeavor. As is it is costing me money because when I’m blogging everyday I’m not writing my non-fiction articles, which do pay (even if not crazy amounts.)
Ten hours unpaid a week and a small financial loss is doable, given what else it serves. I consider it a loss leader. Thirty hours means my output of the stuff I DO get paid for is cut in half, or I give up sleeping – I’m sorry to disappoint perfectionists, but I don’t feel a need to kill myself to please them.
So what about “Whatever is worth doing is worth doing well”? – note the well, not PERFECTLY. A friend of mine who is a professional editor, and one of the best editors I know (I hire him when I can afford to. It isn’t often) once told me that even if you have a team of copyeditors working for you (which he did at one point, since he worked in scholastic publications where the scientific writing had to be checked and rechecked a number of times) and have each copyeditor initial each line, to ensure they didn’t just glaze for half a page, a careful reader will still find typos.
Having had over twenty novels published, which go through WEEKS of my checking them, then paying someone to check them, then sending them to my (sometimes excellent) editors/publishers, who then pay someone to copyedit and have someone else in the office check the copyeditor’s work, AND finding any number of typos in the printed book, I’m here to tell you it’s true.
If you definition of “doing well” is “Perfect” you’re going to do one of two things. I’ve seen both among writers, and they’re both deadly. One is to forever rewrite the same novel (or, heaven help us, the same short story) over and over and over again for years. The other is to do nothing because you can’t “do it well.”
Either of these in fact are illustrations of “The perfect is the enemy of the good.”
Does this mean I don’t have respect for my work or my readers? Oh, please. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t even spell check what I put up. (Okay, sometimes I typo the titles because I type those directly into the browser. I usually catch it, though.) I certainly wouldn’t try to make sure it makes internal sense. And my readers would be my four cats and maybe my husband when he has time.
Look, it takes a certain amount of work to get something 90% done. And then another equal amount of work to get it the other 5% to 95% of perfection. (You’re never going to get to 100%. It’s part of the human condition. Deal.) For the books I do the other 50% of the work. (It takes me as long to check/edit/polish as to write a book. And I’m a relatively clean first drafter as my first readers can attest. But the final pass is detail work and FUSSY. I’m willing to do it for books – and stories – because those are hopefully going to be around a long time. Blogs? It’s a daily page, and even though the old ones are there, they’re pretty much only read when someone hits it through a word search. They’re also usually read by people in the same spirit newspapers or opinion columns were read. 90% is usually enough.
I’m not saying this as an excuse for sloppy writing. Of course I do my best in whatever time I have to devote to the endeavor. And so should you.
I’m saying it to remind everyone that the “perfect” is the enemy of the good – it is the ENEMY of HUMAN, period – and unattainable anyway. If you feel disrespected because there’s a word missing from one of my blog posts (or three words missing. Or two typos) you probably have other issues. It is the equivalent of going off into a froth because your mom made you an omelet for breakfast and didn’t plate it perfectly, with a little bit of orange and a sprig of mint, just like your favorite chef at your favorite brunch place does… Instead of being happy your mom rolled out of bed and made you an omelet at all, before she had coffee.
Most of the people who devote themselves to obsessive typo hunting in other people’s blogs are people who feel inadequate – perhaps because they don’t think they can blog, since they can’t be perfect – and the typo-hunt is a way of attempting to bring others down and elevate themselves. “Well, I might not blog, but if I did, I’d catch that typo.” To them I say, “Give it a try. Find out how hard it is. Get your self-esteem by doing it, not by pointing out flaws in the product. Mote, meet Speck.”
Then there are the ones who simply feel entitled. Nothing but the best will do for them, and how dare you put an inferior concoction in front of my exalted self? It reminds me of the Far Side Cartoon where the dog has mowed the yard all in a scramble of lines and the owner is saying “bad dog” instead of being amazed and grateful the dog mows at all. To those people I say – like people with a fine palate who must eat only at the best restaurants, you sir or madam are too refined to read mere unpaid blogs. You should confine yourself to writing that’s not published till after it’s checked by layers of proofreaders and fact checkers. (SNORT.)
If we get to the point you think a lot of my posts are well nigh incomprehensible or typo riddled to the point of inanity, then I will have fallen below my definition of doing it well and find it not worth doing.
On the other hand, until/unless such a time arrives, or until/unless I decide that my compensation is simply not enough for the labor involved, I’ll go on doing it “as well as I can in the time I have.” Hopefully that is enough for most of you.