Saturday, September 1, 2012


People: I am writing this post wearing my Firefly t-shirt. Meaning: it is a Day of Great and Courageous Challenge. (Yes I am that much of a nerd.)

Today, after many months of toil, I finally released a more-complete-yet-still-incomplete version of my monster of a book, Working with Stories. The two catalysis chapters (basic and advanced) are in it, coming to about 120 pages together. All the chapters now have summaries, questions and activities for self-study. Many parts have been re-read and cleaned up. References have been collected and an improved "further reading" section has been written. The Scrivener-Word-PDF mangle has been dealt with, for better production next time.

What's left to do? Chapters on sensemaking, intervention and return, all of which should be far shorter than what I have written so far. More notes on case studies to be cleaned up into prose. A few more diagrams and pictures. Indexing and preparation for print and Kindle self-publishing.

If you like this book, or you like the idea of this book, or you have told me in the past that you would like to help me finish this book, now is the time to step forward. As I finish the book over the next (cough cough) months, I am in desperate need of two things, which only you can supply.
  1. Encouragement. To a person undertaking a years-long effort like this one, the work can seem like mining deep in the dark for jewels that may or may not exist when brought into the light. My biggest obstacle at this point is the need to maintain belief in the book's right to exist, which rests entirely on its utility. I know the book itself still wants to be finished -- it has told me so -- but I am no longer sure the world wants the book to be finished. If the world were to tell me it wants the book to be finished, I would gain much energy to keep mining.
  2. Discouragement. Self-published, self-edited books are always too long. At more than 700 pages, even without the several chapters yet to come, I know the book has grown into a monster. But I just can't choose parts to cut out! All the sections have such cute little faces! You, my readers, can do what I cannot. Please tell me which parts are not useful, because I am incapable of performing this service for myself. Clarity and utility are at risk, I tell you. The book is poised to eat itself. Someone must take an axe to it, for its own good. All reasonable opinions will be gratefully, greedily accepted.
That's it! I would say "watch this space for updates" but really, you must have far better things to do. When I have more to say I'll make some noise. Count on it.


Unknown said...

OK, new version downloaded to Kindle, awaiting next plane flight to dig into!

Cynthia Kurtz said...

Many thanks, John!

Dave Snowden said...

Also downloaded (and I learnt how to move to the Kindle), looking forward to reading it

Cynthia Kurtz said...

Thanks Dave, I appreciate it!

Unknown said...

Cynthia, I read through about 200 pages of the book - focusing on the new material. I liked it all... especially the step by step working of the catalysis process using hardcopy, Excel and stats package.

I don't know how you plan to position the book, but I see it (use it) as a reference. In other words, when I need to dip in and understand something or figure out how to do something, I can open the book to that section and use it for that.

As a reference, length is not an issue - it's an asset. The book's completeness and comprehensiveness means that it has nearly everything a story worker needs in one place. Everything is easily found and, again, everything is demonstrated clearly. As such, I believe it should get a wide audience over time and, most importantly, will have utility long into the future (as opposed to so many books I read these days with shelf lives in the weeks or less).

So, stick with it and get it done! The community needs it.

Cynthia Kurtz said...

John, this is VERY helpful, especially since it is based on actually looking through the book. I have been thinking of the book more and more as a reference work myself. It wasn't that at the start, but it seems to want to be that now. Maybe I should stop worrying so much about length (which does make it harder to write MORE) and think about (a) getting it done and (b) getting all the parts clear and accessible when needed. Thanks again! Sticking with it :-)

Cynthia Kurtz said...

Replying to my reply to say that I forgot to say: The community also needs YOUR excellent book idea for a Mistake Bank book. Mutual support and encouragement!

Tom G said...

Hi Cynthia - apologies if I'm a bit late on coming in to this.

(Love the Firefly reference! Yes! :-) )

Duly downloaded, and will comment in more depth later. Before I even do that, though, an urgent plea: DON'T CUT!

Remember you once sent me a comment about how angry you were at Tolstoy (I think?) for destroying a manuscript-novel and depriving you of his story? Same applies here: cut for the purpose of clarifying the sense, sure, but don't cut for the sake of 'saving space' - because you don't need to do so, and for our sakes you really shouldn't. Please?

One of the main points about e-books is that - unlike paper - they don't need to be linear. They can also be any size at all: there's no immediate sense of thickness, as there is in a physical book, so a pamphlet looks much the same as a 700-page 'doorstop'. And unlike a physical book, the cross-references can be active: click on a link to jump to another place, and back again. If we combine those three points, there are quite a few ways you could structure / restructure the book to make it 'feel' smaller / less-intimidating whilst keeping all of the material in one place.

For example, split it into more explicit parts: one section per major theme / tool, with cross-references to other related tools elsewhere in the book, as appropriate. (That would also let you do a kind of inverse-Dickens, where you split the whole thing into serialised chunks or 'mini-books' for physical print, but keep the whole together for the fully-cross-referenced e-book.)

Or split it into theory / story versus step-by-step how-to, with all the how-tos as crosslinked 'appendixes' following all of the theory / story part. That way people can _read_ the much shorter main chunk in one go, but _reference_ or dip-into the detailed how-tos on a more ad-hoc basis.

Plenty more ways to do this: I'll comment more when I've had a chance to read the current content, but do email/Skype me in the meantime if that would help.

Congratulations on getting this far, anyway - well done! :-)

Cynthia Kurtz said...

Hey Tom! Thanks for the advice. I don't read many books on the computer, so I guess I still think of a book as a printed book. I'm also trying to reach people who might not use computers often, so I want to keep them in mind. Serving the under-served, including possibly with reliable access to computers and the internet, is part of my motivation. Most of the estimates I see for computer and internet usage still place the percentage at somewhere between twenty and thirty percent of the world's population. A printed book can reach further. Or at least I have always thought that. The book I have used as my model for this work (Where There is No Doctor) is available on the internet, but from what I read it is not often used in that way where it is needed most; and that's where I want my book to reach. I suppose I am being too idealistic and unrealistic in this. Hard to say.

Confidence is not a problem; I don't doubt that every paragraph I write could be useful to somebody somewhere. Believe me, my problem is on the other side, of thinking too much of my own precious writing. So I'm not likely to throw anything into the fire, virtual or literal. And I agree that lots and lots of texts can exist on the web or in an e-book without restriction.

But I still have the problem of wanting to end up with a "package" people can use without the aid of electronic devices, a package that doesn't undermine its own utility through excessive volume. I feel painfully aware that a good editor would be able to help me trim the thing down to something more practical. I've tried a few times to split up the book into basic and advanced volumes, or even into three parts, and I may end up doing that finally, but I'm not sure it's the right thing to do. I'd be grateful for any insights on that point.

As always thanks for the encouragement! Sticking with it!