Saturday, June 21, 2003


This week marked the "sort-of" completion of the most difficult, hair-tearing, sleep-losing writing assignment I've had at least since my Senior Project at Beaudacious Bard College.

Actually, no, this was worse than my Senior Project.

I'm talking, of course, about my business plan, which was due before close of business this last Tuesday, which has haunted my dreams lo these many weeks, which could be worth as much as $5000 (if by some fluke it wins the Carbon County Business Challenge Contest) or as little as $250 (reimbursement of my tuition for the NxLevel course for entrepreneurs, my reward for [approximately] finishing what I started), but either way, not something to be blown off.

It's had many forms, many guiding ideas, since I allegedly first started working on it early this spring as the NxLevel course began. As the early stages unfolded, I was using an old idea concocted by (among others), myself, My Own Dear Personal Mom, my (former) Enabling Assistant, Martini the Photog, the Secret Cartoonist, and the ex-Sewer Queen, that of developing a news/arts/commentary magazine for our valley. As I did my research, though, most of what I uncovered (that I did not already know) about starting and running a magazine made it perfectly clear that I, Your Humble Blogger, Kate Sherrod, would be much better off just writing stories for other magazines. Become a publisher and I'd never write again, too bogged down in assuring sufficient ad revenues to meet publication costs, keeping my staff from fighting, worrying about circulation, blah blah blah.

Then I stopped being a Chamber Chick, dove into the whole freelance writing thing, and began to slant the as-yet-unwritten business plan towards just my writing career.

Boring! I already knew how all of this worked from doing it before. And another reason I took this class was because I was seeking a new challenge or two.

Then, about two weeks ago, it hit me.

I had a whole stack of fabulously original products of the pen of the Secret Cartoonist – the Platte Valley Zodiac – and a stack of silly, bogus horoscopes to go with them. Gathering dust somewhere. Entertaining no one but me.

And so my current range of silly products and marketing concepts was born. Watch this space for later details, because this stuff isn't what I'm on about right now, and quite frankly I'm just a little sick of explaining it at the moment.

Why sick? And how does that bode for actually running this business if I manage to get it going? That remains to be seen.

But... a business plan really is comparable to a Bard College Senior Project (sort of a mini-dissertation a Bardian has to complete in about a year in order to get his or her Bachelor's degree), at least in that trying to whip out the whole thing in two weeks is not recommended. There is research to be done, prose to be finely crafted, evidence to present to support one's thesis.

And layout, design and typing, of course.

But I, Your Humble Blogger, have never evolved beyond my junior high/high school modus operandi: not precisely procrastination, but a sort of outward idleness between the research and the writing phase in which weird freaky occult unconscious processes in my head and liver go to work on the raw data I've gathered until one fine morning, usually about 20 minutes before the final draft, the finished product, is due, I sit in front of the typewriter or computer and spew.

Hey, I never got less than an A, so why fix what wasn't broken, hmm?

And yes, I did more or less the same thing on the good old senior project. The first semester of my senior year I passed pitching one unacceptable idea after another to my advisor and my department – unacceptable because I was by then pretty damned sick of being a literature major, and had enrolled in a full slate of science classes for my senior year (at a time when most of my classmates were taking maybe one class, as undemanding as possible, something like "Vibrations and Waves" or "Music Program Zero" [don't ask]) – entomology, molecular biology, a history of programming languages and a tutorial on computer viruses. Oh, and the philosophy of language. Heady stuff, and it gave me heady ideas. My favorite, and I still say this would have been a kickass project, would have explored the appropriateness of the whole "computer virus" metaphor, how far it could be taken and still be accurate, whether or not thinking of lines of malicious program code really were best thought of that way or whether clinging to this analogy actually prevented us from dealing with them properly, etc.

But no. Not literary enough.

So, bleah. Finally I stumbled across Edmund Gosse, a Victorian writer whose father was a naturalist and did a hodgepodge piece of crap piece on him in the second semester, following my usual M.O.: A flurry of research in January and February, then frolicking about the science labs, skinny dipping ponds, newspaper office (all four years at Bard I was basically also a full-time newspaper chick) (and EMT, and shuttle van driver, and hash slinger. Insomnia, back then, was my friend, oh yes), pretty much everywhere but my little cubbyhole in the library.

Then for two weeks in May I disappeared, seen only by my pet freshmen who poked food and flowers and home brewed beer through a slot in the door from time to time.

When I emerged, I had about 200 pages of crap (say... I suddenly just had a thought. You don't think the Forest Service...? Nah, nah) that I never, ever wanted to look at again. And for the first time ever, I earned a B+ for something that I wrote.


Now, you're probably expecting some material now about how this taught me the error of my ways, how I changed my way of working, how I learned to pace myself, do a little every day, that sort of thing. Well, you haven't been paying attention to this essay or this blog if that is the case.

I still write all my articles that way – interview my subjects, then sort of wander around in a distracted daze for a week or two while the aforementioned mysterious workings work (I really can't tell you how, and can't afford to examine it lest I run into the Centipede's Dilemma and am never able to write again) until finally just before deadline (this usually happens around 2 a.m., one of the many good reasons why I live alone) it all comes together in one quick, high-pressure gush.

And so, that's how my business plan basically came together.

Except for some nasty, tough stuff that I've never, ever had to do before, like quantifying the unquantifiable. What is my time worth? What is the uniqueness of my idea worth? How many of my various worts and widgets would I have to sell to recover the cost of making them? How many of same could I sell? These look like very simple questions when I type them out in sentences – and indeed, the business plan verbiage itself was some of the easiest writing I've ever done. But this stuff... this stuff...

And I did it all in two weeks, while attending the WAM convention, while selling dustcatchers, while rearranging the Unabomber Cabin so I could establish a functional home office (and yes, this did indeed involve more chalkboard paint; I should make anyone who drops by for coffee or whatever sign a non-disclosure agreement before crossing the threshold and seeing my business plan scrawled all over the walls), while cramming several months worth of research (remember; the preliminary stuff was all about a whole different industry, not even sort of applicable to what I've chosen to pursue) into that time.

Bottom line: I think I earned about a B- on this thing. I'm not terribly satisfied with it at all.

Unlike my senior project, however, I'm not willing to chuck it all. Unlike my project, this thing shows some potential if I keep working on it. Yes, it was a rush job to meet an arbitrary deadline, but I've still got a considerable investment of time and mental health on my hard drive and I'd really like to make it pay off.

So, I'm going to keep researching, interviewing, persuading, and keeping plugging the results of these into my Magic Business Formulas and see where it all takes me.

Am I a businesswoman? We'll see.

Anyway, it's something I've never done before. And that's a bigger rush even than being a hobo.