Attacking the giant blog beast
I’ve been talking about this for far too long. It’s a monstrous, scary, bewildering job. I’m talking about turning the three years of the Tour of America blog into a book.
Time and again I’ve said I wanted to encapsulate that epic into something portable and readable, but every time I looked at the task it was so intimidating that I found something else to do instead. Once I actually wrote about 80 pages, and then abandoned it as a terrible effort. At another point I published a series of three essays on the blog in the hopes that going “public” would embarrass me into completing the job.
But nothing has worked. It has been three years since we stopped full-timing, and probably five or six abortive attempts at re-writing the story, and it continues to be a sort of literary Don Quixote-windmill that thwarts me.
I am taking another run at it now. This time I’ve approached it by downloading the entire contents of the blog to use as notes.
This has already turned out to be tricky. See, I was rather prolific in writing about our travels, to put it mildly. This is normally a good practice for a writer, because the blog entries and 10,000+ photos comprise all the information I need to augment my memory. But I wrote six days a week, averaging about 900 words per blog entry. Multiply that by three years and the result is smothering: over 800,000 words in total. That’s the rough equivalent of a 1,600 page book. It’s almost double the length of The Count of Monte Cristo. At least Dumas had the excuse that his story spanned decades.
Don’t get me wrong—I think our story was mostly interesting, but the sheer size of it is impractical. Not only is it too much information to sort through, to keep it unabridged I’d have to publish it as a three or four volume set —at least— and that’s without any pictures. The cost of publishing would be prohibitive. And it would be boring. So it has to be trimmed down, and therein lies my first challenge.
Just getting the data down from the web was a hassle. WordPress doesn’t have a handy plug-in (that I could find, anyway) to export blog posts to a Word processing format. I finally used a web service that converted the entire blog into a PDF, including the photos. The resulting PDF took about half an hour to generate and massed 155 megabytes. I converted that to text and imported it to my word processor, and now I’m cleaning up the result (removing extraneous detail and spam comments, etc.) So far I’m 600 pages into the document. It will take a couple of weeks to complete the first pass, if all goes well.
This is just the beginning. Then I have to start writing, with a copy of the cleaned-up blog at my side. It doesn’t work to merely publish the blog entries chronologically as a book. In that context it just seems strange and disconnected. So the actual book will have to be mostly new material—a re-telling of the blog story, in past tense.
Still, I think that I would like to retain it as a moderately long travel story. There’s no plot to our travel story, no climax at the end, no whodunnit. It’s just a series of lessons and experiences, the way life is. So instead of trying to trim to 200 pages, which would be a comfortable length for publishing, I will probably let it run quite a lot longer. I want to include lots of color photos, too.
For these reasons, the book will probably never be printed on paper. I expect it to be something you can only read on a Kindle, iPad, or similar device, where there’s no financial repercussions from being long-winded. But I hope—if I ever get this beastie under control—lots of people will read it and be inspired to do things that change their lives for the better, too.