Sunday, December 18, 2005

Christmas Gift Project: A Cautionary Tale

Upper middle class kids gets all the toys they really want from Santa Claus. Most everything else is detritus, which fills up toy closets and basements until it overflows into the house proper.

I had an idea to write a children's book for my seven year old nephew. It would be about 500 words and 25 pages - illustrated with pictures from Google. I imagined the entire process would be about 5 hours of enjoyable project; as opposed to 2-4 hours of detestable shopping; for a gift my nephew didn't even know he wanted, and which would only swell the impressive toy overflow already spilling into his house. Writing a book looked like a genius idea!

With a loose outline in my head, I began to write on Thursday night. I love to write. When I'm really into it, I lose all track of time. I was really into it. I arose after 45 minutes, and it was over 4 hours later. Over the next 48 hours, I would easily spend 90 minutes rewriting and editing what I had already spent 4 hours rewriting and editing. The thing is, its not War and Peace. Its a children's book! And I kinda knew what I wanted to write before I began! I don't know why it took so long, but I couldn't have written what I wanted to write any faster.

Friday night, I began Googling pics to match the words. Its pretty hard to think of pics which illustrate concepts such as pride and hubris. Even when you know what pics you are going for, its pretty hard to find just the right ones. I am something of an idealist. I searched through pages and pages of Google pictures.

When you find the picture you want, you must determine an artistic placement for it on your page. If the action is exiting the right side of the picture, you don't want the picture action to be exiting the right side of your page, and vice verse, plus up and down.

I decided to make some pages simple and sparse; and to complicate some pages with groups of pictures and multiple sentences. By Saturday afternoon, I had finished color printing the pics into their proper page locations. I was happy with the pics. I was getting excited.

I began(low-tech style!) to print the text into the white space on the pages. I arranged the text by visual estimation, printed it onto a practice sheet, held the practice sheet and the picture sheet against the light, estimated corrections, and repeated the entire process as needed. I abused Print Preview to an obscene extent. It will never be the same.

I was surprised by the impact of the pictures upon the words. Lots of words were rendered unnecessary. I deleted a lot of words, changed a lot of words, and rewrote entire sentences. Where the pictures were fun, I often toned down the words. The finalized text, read without benefit of pictures, can seem dry and disjointed. Yet, together, the words and the pictures flow in a fun way.

The pages were finished late Saturday, and it looked like a good book. I had put an unexpected 15+ hours into the project. On the plus side, I had enjoyed the process, and was excited about the almost finished product.

I began to think of other 7 year old friends who might like the book. So, off to Office Max to bind a few copies, when, whammo! - color copying costs 69 cents per page! Still, I was excited enough by now that I spent $35 to make two bound copies for gifts. I don't think children would dig the book in black and white. I kept the original color copy for the future - just in case.

And that's how I turned a good and good hearted idea for a 5 hour project into 16+ hours of labor, $10+ of expended printer ink, and $35 of vanity spending at Office Max.

In future, if I print one pic per page, with simply arranged text, maybe I could produce the 25 pages in an hour. Add a 40 minute run to Office Max for a $4 binding, and there would be a gift for another 7 year old friend. Its a new plan!


Merry Christmas to All!

If you read my blog(and some people do!), all best wishes for a wonderful and loving holiday season.

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