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A Simple Mnemonic for Being on Time

Strategies and goals

boarding a train at sunrise

live forex trade Lateness isn’t an enormously complicated problem, but a lot of us have trouble with it, whether from time to time or on a daily basis. A few years back, I posted How Not to Be Late: The 8 Principles of Being on Time, which has become one of the most popular articles on this site. That post covers the most practical information I can offer about lateness. For most of us, I believe those 8 ideas cover everything we have to do to conquer it.

Yet ideas are one thing, and putting them into practice is another. It takes time, effort, and attention to remember and use new behaviors, while for many of us, all three are in short supply. With that in mind, I put together a mnemonic that covers the four steps we can take to master lateness. I still strongly recommend reading How Not to Be Late, which covers both actions and attitude, but from there we just need a single word. That word is EAST, as in where the sun comes up in the morning (a time of day when lateness is especially common, which I mention in hopes of making the word itself a little easier to remember). Here’s what it stands for:

  • Early planning
  • Advance preparation
  • Set aside time
  • Tackle priorities first

binary trading Here’s a bit of explanation for each step:

Early planning: One of the mistakes many of us make is not thinking about being on time until the clock is already ticking. For instance, if I have an hour’s worth of things I really need to do before I leave, and I start 45 minutes before go-time, I’ve made myself late long before I walk out the door. Early planning means being aware of the event, knowing everything I’ll need to do to prepare, and having a good idea of how long getting ready will take.

Advance preparation: We identify the list of things we’ll need to do in the “early planning” step. Advance preparation can cross things off that list long before there’s any danger of lateness. Some examples of things that can be done in advance are gathering information, packing, preparing food, finding items that need to be brought along, planning routes, figuring out travel time, looking up telephone numbers, and picking out clothes.

Set aside time: This item isn’t needed for any task for which we can walk out the door (or pick up the phone) at a moment’s notice, but if we need to get cleaned up or dressed, get information, gather items, take care of things around the house or office, eat, or complete any other tasks before being free to head to the thing we want to be on time for, it’s necessary to set aside enough time to get those tasks done. It’s crucial to identify the true total amount of time that will be needed and to avoid cutting time we’ll need or being overly optimistic. Failing to handle this step well probably causes most incidents of lateness.

Tackle priorities first: When getting ready, starting with the most important tasks can let us be punctual even if something goes wrong or if preparation takes longer than expected. For example, if leaving to catch a train, it makes sense to ensure the ticket is at hand before, say, having a leisurely breakfast. The lower-priority items at the end of the process can often be sped up or skipped, but if we leave the most important tasks for last, that option disappears.

Putting EAST into practice
Using EAST will take a little effort up front: it requires fully understanding each of the points and memorizing the four terms. It won’t help me much to remember “EAST” if I forget what “S” means, for instance.

online forex charts I’d recommend bookmarking this article, printing it out and putting it up somewhere you can easily refer to it, or to saving it to a smartphone or other device you’ll have on hand when you need it until you have the terms down and you’ve used them a number of times.

As always, please share this article on Facebook, Twitter, or other networks if you find it useful.

Photo by David Ashford

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Analyzing the Living Tar out of Novel Beginnings

Writing

Dawn

I’ve been researching and outlining my current novel for quite a while, but it was only this past week when I sat down to write the beginning of the book. Before doing that, I decided to try something intended to wake me up to what makes a good novel opening: I read through the beginnings of eight of the best novels I could think of–or more specifically, eight of the novels I was originally most engrossed by and continue to be most impressed by.

I didn’t worry about choosing my “eight favorites of all time,” and I strongly favored mainstream (that is, not romance, SF, Fantasy, mystery thriller, etc.) and adult over speculative and/or young adult (YA) because the novel I’m writing is a mainstream, adult novel. Otherwise I would have included The Lord of the RingsThe Golden CompassThe Amulet of SamarkandThe Hunger GamesHarry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, etc.

By the way, except for Life of Pi (which I can’t recommend because I haven’t read it all the way through), I highly recommend any and all of these novels. To whatever extent your reading preferences are close to mine, I think you’ll love them.

My goal was to look for any specific tactics I would want to use in the opening of my own novel. I believe that beginnings are crucial, even more crucial than endings, because they signal what kind of book it will be and because readers often judge whether or not to read on from the first few pages or chapters. A bad ending may make the reader throw the book across the room, but a bad beginning will prevent the book from entering the room in the first place.

Of course, you can go back and redo your beginning any number of times, but as long as it’s not going to bog you down, why not start with your best effort? With that said, if you think it is likely to bog you down, this approach is probably no good for you. Some of us need more drive while others of us need more thought. I’m in the second camp.

The books I chose may or may not have been ideal for my purposes, since these books tend toward the “literary,” whatever that means when we’re talking about novel that were also commercially successful, and I’m trying to write a novel that offers a huge amount of real-life information in the form of an engrossing story, which is a bit of  a different intention.

The results of my casual review were eye-opening for me. Here are the lessons I drew from the process, which may or may not be useful in your writing. I believe they apply in some measure not only to novels, but also to short fiction.

  • I do seem to love me some first person POV, which is too bad, considering the book I’m working on, after sober reflection, should be in third person. It surprised me, though, that most of the books I chose as favorites were written in first person.
  • All of the books gave a lot of information early on, but they varied enormously in what kind of information they gave and how pertinent it was to the story. Niffeneger gives a clear and understandable picture of a confusing and unusual condition (involuntary time travel) that is at the center of her story, for instance, whereas Martel drops a few vague hints of what his story is about and then starts spouting facts about tree sloths.
  • All of these books implied or stated that something significant and terrible was going to happen but (possibly with the exception of Niffeneger’s book) didn’t go into the details of what that thing was for at least a little while. This ranged from the subtle (beginning the chapter by quoting a poem dealing with blood and destruction) to the extremely blunt (“I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.”).
  • All used sharp and unusual metaphors and/or similes
  • I hadn’t previously imagined this would be a key point, but all made highly opinionated observations and philosophical statements. Of course, this may be partly a product of the predominance of first person stories, but even so, I was struck by how outspoken the narration was.
  • Most seemed to labor energetically early on (though not necessarily immediately) to explain anything that might be confusing or unusual about the story, but to do so in a way that seemed like a natural part of a story rather than stop-and-lecture. For example, Niffeneger demonstrates the time travel situation, Adams reveals that we’ll be reading a story about talking rabbits, and Stockett clearly depicts the structure of relationships in a household where a white woman hires a black woman to take care of her child.
  • Something bad is happening or has already happened to the main character pretty much right away; we have a reason to sympathize and take that character’s side. This is different than the “significant and terrible” thing. It’s the difference between Harry being locked in a cupboard under the stairs (which wins our sympathy) and having to face Voldemort (which is the key conflict of the book).
  • The first person narratives very often felt like being taken wholly into the person’s confidence right away: Holden Caulfield and Aibileen and Delores and all the rest feel like they’re telling all of their secret thoughts to the reader, implying a relationship of utter trust and confidence.
  • All bring up large and meaningful issues right from the start
  • Some of the books started with observations, reflection, and summary rather than diving right into a scene

Here are the raw notes I jotted down about each book as I went, in case you’re interested in the details I noticed.

Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible
· Immediately gives you reasons to both sympathize and be suspicious of the main characters
· Very “literary” in style, and first person, neither of which is well-suited to what I’m trying to do in my own book
· Surprising and gripping imagery
· Situation first, then explanation (not the other way around)
· Strong use of metaphor and vibrant description
· Brings up large issues (Africa, race, entitlement, guilt, privilege) in the first few pages
· Makes ethical/philosophical statements (“Most people have no earthly notion of the price of a snow-white conscience”) and controversial ones
· Strongly foreshadows
· Starts with reflection on everything (philosophy, metaphor, meaning, foreshadowing) and only then gets to the story of things

Audrey Niffeneger, The Time Traveler’s Wife
· Starts with personal reflection and immediate reference to danger and difficulty
· Ideas, philosophy, and generalization at beginning, not an immediate scene
· Startling premise given out in an incomplete way very soon
· Metaphor, simile
· First person again (still not applicable to what I’m doing, though)
· Second character introduced after only a few paragraphs, with vivid images of how time travel feels and specific examples that are half-summarized, half in-scene
· establish relationship immediately, in a meaningful way
· still a lot of reflection and summary in Henry’s part
· Beginning has an especially high proportion of effective poetics, sort of a demonstration of skill. Later in the book the descriptions and comparisons are still vivid, still lots of simile and metaphor, but the rest of the language is more transparent.
· The same is true in The Poisonwood Bible: later the story is still carried by metaphor and simile, but the intent is more narrative and less poetic and philosophical

J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
· Starts with character, giving us an immediate and clear idea of who this guy is and how he sees the world. We also get a lot of detail about his life–where he goes to school, what he values, what his parents are like from his point of view (in general terms), his brother, etc. Long first paragraph that kind of runs on. Voice dominates.
· Then fragments of scenes, mostly told in summary, that continue to illuminate what his life is like.
· First person again, of course. That just kills me, all that first person.
· There’s a palpable warmth and feeling of trust: you immediately start feeling like a confidant, that Holden might not be very reliable to most people, but for some reason he’s chosen you as someone with whom he’s going to be absolutely, 100% candid. The same thing at the very beginning of The Poisonwood Bible.

Richard Adams, Watership Down
· Title of the first part is “The Journey,” which foreshadows, and then there’s a quote from a Greek play about death and the stench of blood, so before you read even a word of the actual story, some tension has been created.
· Starts with a traditional kind of “lay of the land” description, with specific plant names and object names, the layout of things, and so on. It paints a pretty fair picture and only gradually focuses our attention on the rabbits. Once it does that, it starts by showing them as we would see them, then implies some personality, then begins to refer to rabbit culture in a way that technically could maybe still be considered realistic if it were based on zoology rather than sociology, and then finally crosses the line into explicit talking rabbit territory.
· He gives a character sketch of each rabbit in kind of a static way, but the tension he has built up for us tides us over durng this uneventful (though pertinent) material.
· Story picks up with a scene fairly soon, with several more reminders of something dire to come (probably more necessary because the scene is only rabbits out nibbling, though there is conflict early on with the pushy Owsla members). There is even foreshadowing in the footnotes.
· He establishes the “rules” of his world very early on and imparts a surprising amount of rabbit cultural information quickly. The omniscient voice helps with this, as do the footnotes. The style is traditional or even antiquated by modern American standards, but not far out of expectations and very suitable for the book’s original time and place.

Yann Martel, Life of Pi
Disclaimer: I haven’t read this entire book: I picked it based on reputation and the movie.
· Begins with broad statements that suggest great troubles but say nothing about them, and instead focus on the narrator’s academic studies. Quickly focuses on sloths, with interesting comments
Some broad and philosophical statements that suggest a wide scope of meaning for the story
· Goes on for quite a while about the habits of sloths, then meanders onto religion and science in an apparently undirected way–still not revealing why there would be any great woe in store
· Gets even more poetic and philosophical as it proceeds
· Descriptions are vivid, surprising, and opinionated, and imply larger parts of the story that are not stated outright, e.g. “… but I love Canada. It is a great country much too cold for good sense, inhabited by commpassionate, intelligent people with bad hairdos.”
Continues with hints and hints … who is Richard Parker? Why were you in a hospital in Mexico? What brought you to Canada? What story did the other patients in the hospital come over to hear from you? etc.
Chapter 2 is a single paragraph, an outward character sketch of the narrator.
· Chapter 3 launches into the narrator’s personal history. Clearly we will have to wait a long time before finding out about Richard Parker and what the story was that the patients came to hear.

Wally Lamb, She’s Come Undone
· Starts with a memory full of personal details and clearly marked as having unreliable parts. Fills in family details, personality, and how she was raised and treated. One scene, then another. First person again.
· By the end of the second scene, a broad reference to something very bad coming. Earlier on, hints that signing on with Mrs. Masicotte was a bad decision that will cost the family. Lots of period detail.

Kathryn Stockett, The Help
· Rotating first person POV again. Yikes, all this 1P!
· Establishes voice and role immediately, and the delivery clarifies that racial issues will be central fromm the first paragraph without anything about that being explicit.
· By the second paragraph, a situation and a scene are forming, with the white lady employer unable and possibly unwilling to take care of her child
· Narrator immediately focuses on the child’s needs, even though a screaming child is hard to care about, and earns our trust and admiration–and then she is very quickly effective in her role and we come to attribute competence and intelligence to her as well
· Metaphor, simile, and voice. “Her legs is so spindly, she look like she done growed em last week.”
· Some daring statements that begin sketching out the big issues the story will tackle. “I reckon that’s the risk you run, letting somebody else raise you chilluns.”
· Then begins filling in a little of her personal tragedy (her dead son), laying out the details of his death with all the clarity and candor of everything else she’s said.
· We feel here too that we are getting the full, frank story in a way that none of the other characters in the book will get it.

Alice Sebold, The Lovely Bones
· A one-paragraph preamble that’s both sweet and ominous. We don’t know it, but it foreshadows the whole situation of the book.
· Once again first person and voice and the extreme frankness.
· She dispassionately describes her murder in the second sentence.
· A few paragraphs later, makes the first reference to “my heaven”
· Spends some time sketching out a character who will have zero role in the novel but does have emotional impact.
· Occasional sharp and well-observed metaphors and similes
· Very soon launches into the scene in which she is killed. Wastes no time.
· However, interrupts it with personal reflections and thoughts about her family–as is appropos, considering it’s a book about Susie’s relationship with her family.
· Still in the interruption of that murder scene, a fragment of a scene in heaven, observing a scene on earth in which the murderer talks to Susie’s mother.
· Family observations and fragments of scenes in Susie’s heaven continue to be interspersed with the murder scene, as well as reflections on what she did and should have done.

Photo by Let Ideas Compete

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You Change Your Brain; It Changes Back

Habits

Long Walk

Some readers may already know that I’m a big fan of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a branch of psychology that deals with changing our emotions, choices, and experiences by changing our thoughts. There are two things I like especially about CBT. First, we can get a lot out of it on our own, without professional intervention (although good cognitive therapists can be worth their weight in iPhones), for instance through learning idea repair. Second, it really makes a difference. CBT has been known to work better than drugs for depression, for example, and works just as well for many other kinds of issues, big and small.

These two advantages are probably why researchers at the University of Chicago launched a study to see if teaching some basic CBT techniques to teens at high risk for committing violent crimes would make a difference in their lives (“Preventing Youth Violence and Dropout: A Randomized Field Experiment,” by Sara Heller, Harold A. Pollack, Roseanna Ander, Jens Ludwig, May 2013).

Did it work? Well, it was hugely successful … and then it was pretty much completely unsuccessful.

By “hugely successful,” I mean that in the first year of the program, incidence of violent crime was reduced by nearly half (44%) among teens who had taken the program–yet as NPR reporter Shankar Vedantam points out (“Therapy Helps Troubled Teens Rethink Crime“), the effects faded to nearly nothing within a year after the program ended. In other words, CBT techniques made a huge difference while they were in use, but the teens in the study seem to have forgotten or rejected the techniques after they had been away from them for a  while.

Unfortunately, this pattern is all too familiar to anyone trying to change habits: we have a behavior we want to change, we fumble around until we find an approach that works, we make a big change, we eventually become very confident and stop working at it so hard, and then often–not always, certainly, but often–we lose all the ground we gained. It certainly has happened to me. Unfortunately, while we can reprogram our brains, overwriting years and years of habit usually requires years and years of new behavior.

But all of this is good news. Why? Because it suggests one obvious, easy explanation for why we fail so often at habit change. It’s not the only reason we fail–habit change is hard–but it’s probably a key one, and it’s that once we see ourselves acting in a new way, it’s easy for us to think that we’ve changed for good and don’t need to do all the hard work any more to keep the change going. Apparently, we do need the hard work. I’m sure that sounds depressing, but think back to a time when you’ve made a positive change in your life, when things were going well. What sticks with you? I can’t speak for your experience, but for me, thinking back on those times, what sticks with me is not that it was a slog, but the happiness at what I was achieving and pride that I was achieving it. Hard work isn’t really so hard when we’re seeing real results, and while we can’t count on great results all the time, any approach that works in our lives is worth sticking with long after it seems to have had its effect. It’s the difference between tasting success and locking it in.

For the teens in the study, tasting success has already made a big difference in their lives. Quite a number of them have avoided imprisonment, injury, and even death just from that one small study. Even if the effects are temporary, the study is worth far more than it cost–but the techniques they’re learning, like the techniques we can learn in our own lives, will mean the most if they and we find ways to stick with them for life.

Photo by JonoTakesPhotos

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On Alex Shvartsman’s Blog, a Guest Post About Fiction With a Message

Writing

Fellow Codexian and editor of the Unidentified Funny Objects anthologies Alex Shvartsman recently invited me to write a guest post for his blog at http://alexshvartsman.com/ . We talked about possible topics and came up with this question: what are the dangers and unusual opportunities of writing a novel that tries to convey non-fiction information as well? The resulting post was Really? A Novel With a Message?.

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Randall Munroe Tells You Whether or Not It’s Worth the Time

Strategies and goals

It’s no secret that I think Randall Munroe often presents things through his XKCD comic that are not only well worth knowing, but that pertain specifically to living a better life. His most recent (as of this writing) is an especially practical example.

Is it worth the time?

A couple of useful things we can do with this chart:

  • Consider areas in our lives where it might be worth some time thinking about improvements.
  • Consider things we’re doing to make life more efficient that might not be worth the trouble.

 

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Luc to Be Interviewed on Vermont Public Radio Today

Society and culture

vteditionThis is nothing to do with writing or habits, but at about 12:45 Eastern today, I’ll be on VPR’s Vermont Edition talking to host Jane Lindholm about the new CSA Matchmaker on our Web site, which helps Champlain Valley residents find the perfect CSA. In case you’re not familiar with the term, a CSA (“Community Supported Agriculture”) is an arrangement with a farmer to pre-pay for a season’s worth of food, often picked up weekly. The CSA member gets a good deal on great local food, and the farmer gets financial stability and regular customers. If you know anyone in the area who might benefit from joining a CSA, please send them over to the site. We’re coming up on 1,000 visits so far based on word of mouth, an article in the Free Press, and other exposure, so I think it’s working.

Anyway, I’ll be talking a little bit about the CSA Matchmaker and Localsourcers. In future we plan to expand the CSA Matchmaker to many other areas, and on May 1st we’ll be launching the Localsourcers Online Forum, a community for anyone anywhere interested in sharing information and connecting about local resources, local food, sustainability, and resilience. Come join Localsourcers (free) if you’re interested in taking part.

Later addition: here’s the link to the segment.

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Rick Novy Interviews Luc at Entropy Central

Interviews

Writer Rick Novy (FishPunk, etc.) interviewed me for his Wednesday Writer series at Entropy Central: http://www.ricknovy.com/2013/04/wednesday-writer-luc-reid/ . In the interview, we cover subjects like the origin of Codex, why I gave up music, influential writers, and what new projects I’m working on.

To my regular readers, I hope you’ll excuse how unusually quiet the site has been over the past two weeks while I’ve completed and launched the  CSA Matchmaker, which helps residents of the Champlain Valley of Vermont and New York connect with farms to get deals on great local food, and then went on a brief family vacation. The articles will start flowing again this week.

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Why People Won’t Apologize

Handling negative emotions

apology

There was an interesting story by Shankar Vedantam on NPR’s All Things Considered this morning about a new study on apologies: “Why Not Apologizing Makes You Feel Better.” Most of us have been given to believe that apologizing makes things better for the apologizer as well as the apologizee, but participants in this study tended to feel better about themselves when they flat out refused to apologize.

From that factoid we might begin to think that apologizing isn’t such a great idea after all–until we start digging a little deeper. Of course, if not apologizing makes a person feel more empowered, then it makes perfect sense that it’s often hard to get people to apologize even in life-or-death situations, like when two ethnic groups can’t make peace because one won’t apologize for what they’ve done to the other.

So feeling better in the short term is all very nice, but in the longer term not apologizing hurts relationships, loses support and understanding, and creates grudges.

That alone might be enough to keep us in the apologizing mindset, but another fact is especially striking: the people who aren’t willing to apologize tend to be the people who are more insecure or who feel more threatened in the first place. So apologizing may make us feel less empowered, but it tends to mean that we already are more empowered.

To put it another way, apologizing makes us vulnerable, and as Brené Brown points out in the TED talk I mentioned in my last post, we tend to feel like vulnerability makes us weaker–and yet other people often see voluntarily vulnerability as strength.

Not to beat this idea to death, but there are some clear illustrations in what we know about body language. If you’re feeling relaxed and confident, you’re likely to leave the front of your body exposed, physically more vulnerable to harm, by not crossing your arms or holding your hands together. The “crossed arms in front of chest” pose and even the “clasped hands in front of genitals” pose are often used as though they’re “power positions,” yet what they actually communicate–and we tend to pick up on this subconsciously, even if we don’t consciously–is insecurity. If you’re interested, take a look at some of my other articles on body language for more information.

Fun post trivia: in looking for a picture to include with this post, I couldn’t find any clear, Creative Commons-licensed picture of someone apologizing for something. The closest I was able to come was this picture of people doing general apologies to people they didn’t know for no reason having to do with themselves, while wearing paper bags over their heads. (Thanks, Neal Jennings!)

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The Power of Vulnerability

The human mind

Social work professor Brené Brown gave a startling TED talk a while back, and her basic point was this: we usually want things to go a certain way. We usually want to be able to predict what happens and for it to be something we’ve identified as good. What we don’t want is to screw up, to look bad, to open ourselves up to pain, loss, or embarrassment, or to invest ourselves in something that doesn’t pan out. Yet Brown makes a compelling case that without the willingness to be vulnerable, we shut ourselves down and make it impossible to enjoy or make the most of our lives.

To tell you the truth, I’m especially enthusiastic to share with you Dr. Brown’s following TED talk, but it’s important (and rewarding!) to see this one first. If you’re not already one of the roughly 8.5 million people (at the time of this writing) who’ve heard what she has to say, please find 20 minutes now, or as soon as it’s practical, and hear her out. I’ll follow up with a related post soon.

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My Never-Ending Project Is Now Finished

Luc's writing projects

Talk the Talk 2006

My First Published Book–and Publisher Problems
My first published book was Talk the Talk: The Slang of 65 American Subcultures, a dictionary of and guide to subculture slang in the U.S., appearing in bookstores in 2006. I received a small advance and an education in traditional publishing. My publisher’s royalty statements tended to be late when they came at all, and they didn’t appear to be very consistent or accurate. Eventually the publisher put out an entire separate printing, a hardcover version, that they neglected to mention to me–or pay me for. I didn’t know about it until I walked into my local bookstore and saw a bunch of copies of my own book. “Hardcover?” I said. “This was never released in hardcover!” Of course, it had been.

I did eventually get paid some of those royalties, but as the book came to the end of its life cycle and it started appearing on bargain tables, I turned my thoughts to rights reversion. Reversion is when a publisher assigns all of the rights for future editions of the book back to the writer, whether due to a prior arrangement, out of the goodness of their hearts, or perhaps as a peace offering to a writer whose book they have published in a separate hardcover edition without his knowledge or permission. Whatever the reason, Kindle books were starting to make a splash, and I wanted to make a proper Kindle edition of Talk the Talk.

The publisher did, kindly enough, agree to revert the rights for the book to me, and I started on an updated edition that I could release in paperback and for Kindle, figuring that I could probably have it out in a month or two.

Out with the old
Two and a half years later, I’m finally finished with that new edition: after a long time spent editing, updating, programming, formatting, checking, and tweaking, and with a cover based on a design very kindly donated by my talented artist cousin Nicholas, I’ve approved the proof, and the book is available for order.

The new edition is Talk the Talk in as ideal a form as I can imagine. The original edition was beautifully designed, with a sort of Soviet Rodeo aesthetic throughout and I thought it was very snazzy, but unfortunately it was also difficult to read and wasteful of space. Because of that design, I had to cut out a lot of material out from the original edition. I was also concerned that it wasn’t too comfortable to read in large sections (for people who wanted to do that), however pretty the design was.

interior of the original 2006 edition

interior of the original 2006 edition

In the new edition, I’ve dispensed with the Soviet Rodeo design (which I probably wouldn’t have had the rights to use anyway) and made the book much clearer and more comfortable to read. I restored a bunch of material that I’d had to cut out of the original, and removed a section the editor had really wanted that I didn’t feel belonged in the book because it was more popular culture than subculture (I’ve made the original version of that section, on hip hop slang, available for free on the book’s Web site at www.subculturetalk.com). I added some new sections on subcultures like geocachers and scrapbookers and painstakingly sourced and included well over a hundred photographs illustrating people, concepts, and items from the many subcultures in the book.

Talk the Talk 2nd editionThe old edition is 5″ x 7″ and 422 pages. The new edition, which I really like, is 5.25″ x 8″ and 620 pages. The ebook is much less expensive than the original, and the paperback costs a little more than the original did.

Shouldn’t I Feel Triumphant Now?
Completing the book doesn’t feel real to me yet. It’s true, I didn’t work consistently the whole two and a half years just on editing, expanding, illustrating, and formatting this book–but I did spend many months at all of that work. Everything took much longer than expected. Once the Kindle eBook was finally ready in January, I figured it would be a walk in the park to use the database system I had created for the book (which automatically managed cross-references, synonyms, indexing, and alphabetization) to output a paperback version. Many, many working hours later, I realized it wasn’t so simple: I needed to spend a lot of time defining and perfecting formatting for all of the different kinds of information in the book, including “see also” terms, synonyms, warning symbols, terms, definitions, examples, photographs, subculture introductions, table of contents, index entries, photo credits, and a lot more. Also, I was very, very picky: I tried to do everything in the best way I could devise.

There had briefly been a Kindle edition of the first edition put out by my original publisher: someone there had apparently forgotten to tell someone else that the rights had reverted to me, and they had just dumped their original layout into a file that made a terrible eBook. I contacted the proper authorities when that appeared and had it taken down, partly because they no longer had a right to publish the book and partly because I thought their electronic version was a mess.

Thew edition, however, has been available for Kindle since January, and the paperback went up for sale today; it will start appearing on Amazon next week.

It’s Hard to Stick With Hard Work
I tried starting several new projects while working on this book, but after a short time on each I always forced myself to stop and go back to finishing Talk the Talk. After all, the book was already “finished,” money lying on the table ready for me to scoop it up–at least, that was the idea. In any case, if I’m going to commit to a project, it doesn’t make sense for me start conflicting projects, no matter how appealing they may be, and no matter how much drudgery needs to go into the current project. Trying to do two such projects at once would only delay both of them. Still, from all of my other writing during this period I now have two mostly-completed non-fiction books in progress, a novel I started and set aside, and many completed short projects (flash fiction, short stories, and plays), some of which were published or produced in this period. I also published a collection of science fiction and fantasy short-short stories called Bam! 172 Hellaciously Quick Stories and a previously completed novel set in my native Vermont, Family Skulls.

Was This a Good Choice?
I’m proud I stuck with Talk the Talk, but it may have been stupid to do so. After all, the amount of work I had to put into the new edition was hugely more than I expected. I’ll have to sell at least a thousand copies to be adequately compensated for all the time I put into just this edition, and that’s getting nothing yet for the value of the book as it existed in the first edition.

When I started, I can’t imagine how I could have known how much labor was going to have to go into releasing this second edition. Given what I didn’t know, the choice to go ahead was obvious. If I had known the amount of work involved, I’m not sure I would have proceeded. Fortunately, I can enjoy having the book out in this form now regardless of how much time and effort it took.

Will I Be Able to Sell It On My Own?
I do have a promotion plan, one that’s quite different from what I’ve done with other books to which I own all rights, but it’s kind of hit-or-miss: it might bring many, many new readers or fail utterly. After all, I don’t have the ins that my previous publisher has. If you have any recommendations for reviewers, magazines, Web sites, or radio shows that might enjoy the book, please comment or contact me through the contact form. If the book gets extra exposure because of you, I’ll send you a free, signed copy.

interior spread from a digital proof of the 2nd edition

interior spread from a digital proof of the 2nd edition – click to enlarge

To my great frustration, the original publisher never sent the book to any reviewers or promoted it as anything other than a writer’s reference. It is a useful reference for writers, but I’d argue that it has even greater value as a surprise-packed thing to browse through for fun; Cory Doctorow on BoingBoing.net agreed, calling it “The kind of quirky thing that is endlessly fascinating and full of odd insights into worlds you never suspected existed.” Still, they did get it into bookstores and offer it through their book club, and by my best guess (recall that the royalty statements had some problems, so I will never know for sure) they probably sold about 10,000 copies–no amazing feat, but the book earned a good deal more than its advance, even though by my reckoning they never paid me some of the money I was due.

What have I gained?
I think there’s some real benefit in having seen the project through to the end, even if the payoffs turn out to be greatly diminished (they might) and although the work was many times longer and harder than I had planned or expected (which it certainly was). What I’ve learned through years of studying motivation and productivity has paid off well in helping me finish this project, and now I can reap whatever rewards may come: I know that I’ve persevered and conquered a difficult task. I know that this strange and arguably fascinating little book won’t vanish, out of print and inaccessible. I can even hope that the book finds a real audience–whether of original readers who want the updated and improved edition, new folks who never saw the original, or both–and that it will actually start helping support my family, as the small advance I received from the original publisher did in 2005 and 2006.

Most amazingly to me, I can now move ahead to my next book project with a clear conscience. Ironically, it’s very likely that finishing these next two nonfiction books, which are each probably somewhere between 2/3 and 3/4 complete, will take less time for both together than Talk the Talk: The Slang of 67 American Subcultures, 2nd edition did for the one book. Heck, I probably could have completed a couple of novels in the time it took to revise and put out this book, especially since I could only work in certain situations due to the need to use the database I’d set up. The idea of just writing in a Word Processor is intoxicating–although both of the non-fiction books, as with most of my large non-fiction projects, are in Scrivener, which is not quite as accessible as, say, Google Docs.

It’s strange that completing a major project should feel more like something I need to recover from than something to celebrate. Still, maybe I’ll start connecting with some new readers, in which case there may be a celebration after all, a little further down the line.

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