I don't understand how the internet works. I don't understand why bananas give me heartburn, but Buffalo wings do not. And I still don't understand why it's a struggle to get Crash to eat his dog food, but yet he will lunge for every stray piece of goose poop on the sidewalk.
Sometimes it's best not to overthink things. To accept something at face value and not try to figure out all of the logistics. For the three things above, overthinking doesn't matter; it's not like I will lose appreciation for the internet the more I learn about technology or lose the enjoyment of bananas (or buffalo wings) the more I research heartburn. And I know Crash isn't thinking about nutrition when he dives for another goose pellet.
With writing, which is equally mysterious, I don't care to learn how it all works. I want to find out how to get better, sure, but I don't want to overthink the science behind sitting down on a couch, staring at a screen, typing, and that process somehow turning into a blog post, or a chapter on the NBA, or a fictional story.
I don't want to think about it because I don't want to mess with the flow. It's like playing basketball, if I caught the ball and thought through every step of shooting, I guarantee the shot will miss. When I write, I want to use every part of my brain except for the overthinking area. I rope that section off, sorry sir; your name's not on the list.
There are many challenges in writing, the most popular one being "Writer's Block," which is the inability to shut off the overthinking part, or letting doubts creep in (this sucks, this idea is terrible, I have nothing worth saying).
The less common challenge, but one that I think can be equally difficult, is the opposite issue; instead of the slow trickling faucet, you get the full blast fire hose spray. An idea becomes 100 words becomes 1,000 becomes 3,000+. And, if it's a blog, it leaves you with a couple of options:
- Trim it down. Try to get it under 1,000 words, maybe 1,500 tops.
- Break up the post into Part 1, 2, 3
- Post as it is
I have done all three and don't know which one is better or worse. I remember one time I was feeling a solid amount of writer's block and decided my solution was to open the fridge (literal, not metaphorical), find an item, and just write about that thing. This turned into a crazy long fictional story about how ideas work (kind of like what Inside Out did with emotions) leading up to this final epic battle with "The Middle School Monster," which is that annoying piece of software in the brain that thinks everything is lame.
That blog was way too long, so I turned it into a 7-8 week saga. Which is fine, except for any readers who were ready for something else or were annoyed by this quasi-fictional story. Ultimately, I don't think this blog was the right venue for it. Which is ok. Some stories will work better in a book or on a Kindle where people are willing to sit down for an hour vs. on a blog which will be mostly consumed during a break at work or on a phone while commuting.
Here's what I wish I would have done with that story, and what I ultimately chose to do with a similar situation last month.
Two months ago, my wife and I were down in Austin, Texas celebrating my cousin Becca's wedding. Typically I try to combine vacation-vacation with a writing vacation. No sense getting up early when there's no work and no Crash. But this time around I brought writing with me and would go downstairs, throw on the headphones, get to work.
I don't remember what day it was exactly, but this was definitely a fire hose morning. I had this idea about how hard it is to find a good buzz cut. Some options are way too expensive. But the really cheap buzz cuts I'll end up with several stray hairs. At-home cuts lead to arguments. The hot towel/backroom massage places feel oddly sexual. The nice hair salons it feels shameful to even ask for a buzz cut; that's like asking a world renowned painter to draw you a kindergarten hand-turkey.
I kept typing, and the story became another piece of quasi-fiction. Something like 4,000 words long. Too long for a blog, too short for a book. Time to edit it down? Split it up? Or just post as is?
I went with a fourth option: turn it into an ebook. Here's the surprisingly easy and cheap process:
I sent the story over to my friend and loyal editor, Jon Oldham. Asked for his feedback, what needed work, what could be buzz cut right out of there. This is the most important part of the revision process.
I think writing takes a weird balance of ego; we need enough ego to believe our ideas are worth writing, worth sharing, but not enough ego to believe everything on the page is a work of art. When Jon says, "This part needs work" I don't say, "Hmm, I don't know, I think you might just not, like, get it, you know?" hell no, I go, alright, sweet, I wouldn't have caught that, you just saved me a bunch of time.
I had already installed the Grammarly app, which is like the red squiggly line in Microsoft Word on steroids. I use this to help with blog posts and other writings. It's not perfect, a professional editor will still be better, but professional editors are pretty expensive. If you buy Grammarly for the year, it's like $12 a month. I put the story through the Grammarly check, fixed the punctuation mistakes.
Formatting / Book Cover
I highly recommend bookmarking the site www.fiverr.com.
For the cover, I reached out to the user "Graphic011" and said, "Hey, so I want the cover to be blue, have the words be 'Too Old for the Buzz Cut,' and could you put some scissors, clippers, and/or one of those candy cane barbershop things?" They sent back a draft, I asked for an edit, they made the change. Order complete. Total cost: $6. Six, as in like one Subway footlong sandwich.*
*I think he's raised his rates to $25, which is fine, that's still pretty inexpensive for a book cover. The $5 was way too low for the quality he does. I just ordered a $25 one from him yesterday for an upcoming project.
I then reached out to "thebookformat" to convert my Word file into Kindle format. Total cost: $6.
A few weeks earlier, I spent $16 with "Benrittmann" to make a cartoon logo of a chicken nugget [more on that for another post, but the general idea is these types of stories are called chicken nuggets since they are not a full meal (book) but more than a snack (blog)].
You could also reach out to a freelance editor on the site. This will not be the $5-15 variety, but it's not absurdly high either.
And that's it. Spent what, about $30 total + the Grammarly subscription and had the short story ready to go. From there go to Amazon.com, go through the self-publishing portal thing (really straightforward, just upload the files, follow their steps) and next day Too Old for the Buzz cut was available for less than a buck.
Why NOT to do this
I haven't been able to come up with a good reason. Cost wise, even if I didn't sell a single copy, the cost (besides time) was only 30 bucks. That's a Chicago breakfast + a Bloody Mary.
Should I have submitted it to a traditional magazine or online publication? Maybe. But three things to consider:
- If it's a money thing, most magazines that publish fiction are in that $0 (the payment is being able to say you're published) or low hundreds range. The $3,000+ payouts (and I'm basing this off pretty shaky research) are only with a few magazines (think New Yorker, The Atlantic, GQ, Playboy). The odds of getting into these magazines are low, and it takes a long time to hear back.
- First off, Too Old for the Buzz Cut had no chance of running in The New Yorker. Zero chance. But, had it run, I'd have to tell people to buy the copy, flip through to find it, or search for it on their website if it's up there. With the Amazon approach, just Google "Too old for the buzz cut" and there it is. It's not going to make anywhere close to "ran in the New Yorker" money, but by setting the price at 99 cents I get something like 30 or 35 cents per sale. Not really a get rich quick plan, I'd have to sell a thousand copies to barely afford a Playstation 4, but hey, it's better than nothing.
- And we should allow ourselves to dream big here, why not. Let's say a million people read the New Yorker/Atlantic/GQ article. You won't collect any royalties on that. But if a million people download your ebook, you just made $300k. You can now take the next few years off of work.
- And you keep making money on it. It's like your own personal penny stock. Someone might randomly stumble on your ebook 20 years from now. #LowScalePensionPlan
- You could still submit the story to magazines. A lot of magazine or contest criteria will say, "This can not be published anywhere else." If you get back an email that says, "Congratulations, we want to run your story" then de-activate the ebook. You control all the rights. I don't think the publication will suddenly freak out because you already made it available via Kindle. That's like getting mad at a girl you meet on Tinder because you found out she also had an eHarmony profile. If the publication is going to freak out about that, they are probably also going to want to edit a lot of your story. Not worth it, in my opinion.
So those are the steps I used, feel free to add this to your toolbox. If you'd like any help along the way, just email me at email@example.com or message on LinkedIn, Twitter, whatever's easiest. Happy to help.
Speaking of vacations, though, I will be disappearing from the blog for the whole month of July. My hope is to provide you with one or two guest posts during that time. I'll be back on August 2nd, ready for that August - Thanksgiving push. If you're a basketball fan, check out the new "MediumRareBasketball.com" and look for a short ebook called "Super Team" coming out in August that chronicles the Golden State Warriors gradually building a dynasty. One last plug for the ebook, Too Old for the Buzz Cut is available here. I'm going to list it for free today and tomorrow, save you that dollar. Makes a good read over 4th of July weekend ;)