10 December 2009

Seven-year itch

It was seven years ago that we came to France and found this house we now live in. Seven years. Is that lucky? Or unlucky? Either way, it's a magic number.

I've been blogging every day, with very few exceptions, for two years now. Blogging is an aberration, you know. It is publishing, or quasi-publishing. It reminds me of the days when word processing and page design first became available to le commun des mortels back in the 1980s and 1990s. Anybody with a computer and a desktop publishing application could suddenly produce documents using many fonts and many font sizes, in italic or bold or underlined... and all of the above. A lot of pages that looked like ransom notes resulted.

Blogging is definitely publishing, though it is only digital. What am I saying? Only digital! What isn't, these days? Print publishing is in serious decline. But there are some elements missing from the new digital publishing modes. One element is editors. In no other type of publishing does an author write, format, and release for public consumption articles and thoughts and sentences and spellings that are not revised by even one other set of human eyes.

I was an editor for more than 20 years. I edited English and I edited French. I edited for audiences that went from ambassadors and politicians, government officials in the U.S. and elsewhere, to high school teachers, business executives, university professors, computer programmers, various magazine readers, and le commun des mortels of computer users. I'm not saying I always did a great job. But I believe I "added value" to the texts and documents I worked on. That's what editors do.

Now here I am without an editor myself — I who always firmly believed that writing and editing were two fundamentally different processes, both of which were necessary to the production of truly publishable material.

A good editor doesn't make a writer feel dumb for writing a defective sentence or not noticing a typo. Other readers are not so kind, because they don't understand the complexities of writing words, thoughts, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and articles — not to mention books. That's why editors are employed: to protect the writers from silly errors, to get the best out of them, to help them express what they have to say.

If you think writers just write and publishers just publish what they write, think again. Writing is nearly always a collaborative effort, especially writing for publication. It takes many brains, many pairs of eyes, a clear vision, and many revisions and corrections to get any writing ready for publication. It costs money.

Well, you get what you pay for. That's the thought that comes to mind when I think about blogs. The stuff I write is free. Not only do you get words, typos, misspellings, and silly errors — you get pictures too. And once in a while, you might get something interesting or entertaining.

Already, the emphasis in digital communications seems to have shifted from blogging to twittering or facebooking. I've tried them all, but not for long. Twittering and facebooking are not really publishing. That mode doesn't suit me. Blogging is publishing, or at least could or should be. Good, serious editing is the only thing missing.

Bloggers, like other writers, need editors who can stand back from the written work, assess it, and push it in the right directions. Who can edit out the silliness we are all prone to. Who can fix the typos, refine the sentences and paragraphs, and give the writer not only encouragement but a shove or a kick in the pants when needed. Who can ask the hard questions: Aren't you getting carried away here? Are you seriously expecting people to believe what you're saying? Have you thought this through? Don't you see the contradictions in your own writing and ideas? Have you lost your way? Your mind?

Maybe what I'm having is not the seven-year itch, but the sixty-year itch. Sixty years old, I mean. I just saw on the Washington Post web site that CBS is canceling its "As the World Turns" soap opera after a 54-year run. That makes my four-year run as a blogger seem pretty insignificant.

Some days I think I need a new hobby.


  1. So you were an editor for many year. That explains why your writing is so good. But what explains why your photographs are generally so good?

  2. You're wise to eschew Facebook and Twitter. Neither is a medium for people like you who think in complete sentences and, dare I say it, paragraphs. Some enjoy the challenge of distilling a complete thought into 140 characters, but most tweeters are simply too ADD for anything else.

    Not sure I agree with your characterization of blogs, though. One of the most attractive things about blogs is the unique voice the blog's author brings to the effort.

    And it's doubly true for you because you're such a good observer and writer. In no small part, the charm of your blog is the way your personality infuses your reports about day-to-day life in a small French village, your adventures in the kitchen, your ruminations on language, and your commentary on French politics. You bring it all to life in a way that's uniquely yours and a delight to read. Not too many people can make grocery store circulars entertaining, but you manage.

    And clearly your reading public finds it interesting. Just look at the outcry every time you so much as hint that you need another hobby.


  3. I love your new look blog :-) and yes if you were an editor that explains your blog, very easy to read, with lots of easy explainations, great photos etc..I second Bob and Susan .

    If you got a new hobby, we would not have the good fortune of reading about life in Saint-Aignan :-)

  4. If you find a new hobby, please make it one that you can blog about. I come here every morning with coffee to see how things are going in Saint Aignan. I do this before I read the paper on line or other.

    I agree with you about Facebook and Twitter. They lack the relationship that I find in abundance here. I have a friend who reads everything but never leaves a comment. There are people out there who will be blue without your blog, believe me since I'm one of them.

  5. Hi Susie, I'm 150% behind you. Couldn't say it better even if I tried to say it in French. I also agree with Bob, Anne and Evelyn.

    I'm glad to see that much younger people than me do not especially like Facebook or Twitter. I tried Twitter once and was impressed by the triviality of daily occurrences.

  6. Once again I was too fast and my initials didn't record. Sorry about that.

  7. What a wonderful post. Of course, as an editor myself I'm not impartial. :-) But it's nice to hear from someone else who can articulate so well what and how editors do.

    And, yes, far too many blog writers need the guidance of an editor. For that matter, far too many people writing for print media need a good editor.

  8. I thought of CHM this afternoon coming back from Burbank. There was a car in front of me with a bumper sticker "MDR, mojave desert racing".
    Susan write very well and I agree 100 % with her.

  9. Well, first of all, I'm all confused to find a second entry for the same date :)) I'm not used to coming on at 8:45 p.m. Central US time, and seeing an additional entry... with 8 comments already!

    Everyone has expressed the same thoughts I have. Your blog is like a wonderful daily magazine, with the added bonus of the interaction with other readers and the author. Ken, if you're tired of writing, we won't fight you, but we'll sure miss you.

  10. I agree with all of these comments, but Susan, in particular, expressed it so well - I especially loved (and agree with) her comment about not too many being able to make grocery store circulars interesting. And you absolutely do!

    I marvel at your writing, and I thank you for it.

    Donna in SF

  11. Judy, you've put your finger on what happened. I published the Seven-Year Itch topic by accident! LOL, as we say. I wrote it a few days ago, and I think I revised it later. The time stamp reflects that, but I even think that was a mistake.

    Anyway, I probably would have published it this morning, so it's done. I hadn't decided for sure. I'd better go re-read it to make sure it doesn't have anything too crazy in it, or too many typos or defective sentences. I wonder when it was that I actually clicked the "Publish Post" button?

    Don't take me too seriously, at any rate. Those are just dark, damp December scribblings — well, hunt-and-peckings.

    Bob, the only thing that explains my photographs is a nice little digital camera. I never enjoyed taking pictures before the digital age, and I've learned a lot about photography by watching how Walt does it.

  12. Susie, thanks. Coming from you, this means a lot. You and CHM are people who know what I'm talking about when it comes to writing and editing, and Emm obviously is "one of us" too. By the way, everybody, Susie is the author of many dozens of complex technical publications.

    My first editing job came along in 1977! Can you believe it was that long ago? Then I worked with CHM from early 1983 until I moved to California four years later,and Susie and I worked together from 1992 until about 2001.

    I forgot to say that I know my blog gets about 200 "hits" a day, so I know that people are looking at it. I'm so long-winded that I wouldn't dare say those people are actually reading it all.

    OK, back to business. We're off for a shopping expedition in the big city of Tours this morning.

  13. I've figured out what happened. I published the Chicken and Dumplings topic yesterday and then went back to add an index label to it. I accidentally opened the Seven-Year Itch topic and put the label on that one. Then I clicked the Publish Post button.

    I was going too fast. I had ended up scheduling the "Itch" topic for publication at the bogus date and time I had put on it.

    Did you notice that the topic about editing was labeled "Cooking: Duck/Chicken/Turkey"? I've fixed it now and changed the time stamp so that the post appears on Dec. 10. (TMI, I'm sure.)

  14. I love reading you Ken. I have a blog, but only write once every two or three weeks. I tried to maintain a 2-week cycle, but I find that I run late all the time. Your commitment to daily posts is amazing.
    Like you, I wish I had an editor, or at least a proofreader, but you do a good job of self-editing.
    I'll be giving up my Twitter account after the conference in April (STC France and Trans-Alpine chapters' Forum on Content Strategy). It's a great marketing tool, but I don't think I have anything interesting to say, and most of the people I follow, who update constantly, don't have anything interesting to say, either. Facebook is a nice distraction once a day, after I finish reading your blog.

  15. This explains why your blog is so well written. Don't change hobbies please :)

  16. Some days I think I need a whole new life.

    I just spent upwards of 45 minutes composing a very clever, witty, incisive, and thoughtful comment. Then I did something to blow it all away; and there's no more reaching into the wastebasket for the crumpled up piece of paper.

    Sorry folks...dang, it was real good, too. But maybe I was just being edited.

  17. Ken, thanks for going back to labeling/tagging some of your posts-- especially the recipe ones!

    And, as for they double-post mystery, it did cross my mind that this was perhaps a post that you had set up to publish this morning, and that perhaps the clock on your computer had gone kaflewy (whew... how do you spell THAT one?).

    Hope the trip to Tours was eventful!


  18. You can see from the comments that we all enjoy your blog, all the more so since you are such a good writer and editor. These days, especially in mny newspapers, editors are the first to go resulting in poorly written articles and a fading readership.

  19. What a relief !! When I read this post last night I thought it was a bit odd that you published one at night rather than first thing in the morning. The fact that it was a "mistake" and you don't mean it is a big relief.
    We would miss you but hope you don't feel under too much pressure to perform blogwise. If you need to slow down a bit that would be ok with us !! It must be quite daunting to come up with something fresh and fascinating every day. I couldn't.
    But I now understand why your posts are so professionally produced.

  20. People who don't like Twitter and Facebook probably don't understand what they are or how they're used.

  21. Gabby, I know you are right. Editors are seen as a luxury, when it comes down to brass tacks. Oh well. I hope the whole business will stabilize at some point. The transition from paper to digital is difficult. I saw that in the computer software business in the '90s. USIA went through it too. The magazines went away. Now it's the newspapers.

    Jean, most days I really enjoy posting. I just sit down in front of the monitor and keyboard and what comes to mind goes on the blog. Often it's based on pictures I've taken.

    Starman, I don't think Twitter and Facebook are that hard to figure out. They have their utility, for sure. But both are overwhelming because of the sheer volume of trivia you have to wade through.

  22. For Goodness sake Ken,don't find a new hobby. How would I get my morning fix about life in St Aignan!?
    You write very well, and your photographs are a often a joy.
    Just have a little scratch and get on with it.

  23. Just a teensie point of clarification on my earlier comment (and thanks for the kind words). I think Ken is wise to eschew FB and Twitter because I like to think I know him pretty well (and miss our daily chats to this day).

    I, on the other hand, am a devotee of one (FB) and a frequent user of the other. My job is writing about social media, online communities, and the like, so I have to walk the metaphorical walk.

    For me, FB is a convenient way to share news with a large number of people I care about but don't necessarily email with or talk to on a regular basis. It's nice to know what people are up to.

    In contrast, Ken's blog posts tell us not only what he's doing, but what he thinks about it, which is by far the most interesting part for me. Try doing that in 140 characters!

  24. I agree with Susan, Ken. Blogging and FB (and Twitter) are completely different animals. Whereas blogs are (or can be) like little essays, FB is a great tool for keeping in touch with all my friends, and finding out what they're up to. I don't myself Twitter, but do read other's from time to time (e.g., Lance's during the Tour de France is good fun).

  25. Leslie, it's funny that you mentioned Lance's Twitter, because his are the only tweets I read... and I liked them more during The Tour :)


  26. I didn't mean to dismiss either Twitter or Facebook as uninteresting or a waste of time. They are not, and they both are interesting forums. For me, though, they are a time sink. I don't have enough free hours to do them justice.

    I used Twitter for a short while, but I found I just couldn't keep up. I still look at Facebook every few days and I have connected with long lost friends and relatives there. But it too can take a lot of time if you really want to keep up.

    My blog appears to many, I'm sure, as pretty unfocused, but the lack of focus on Facebook and Twitter just about makes my head spin.


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