Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

I Think I Need a Chainsaw

Working on my neglected project.
For anyone who's wondering, no, I haven't abandoned my financial memoir. I'm still plugging away at it, hoping to finish it by the end of summer.

It's called "Too Small To Succeed," and it covers the year our Ann Arbor house was on the market (March 2007-2008). That was also the year the Great Recession began (December 2007), plus the housing crisis, the subprime mortgage collapse, massive credit card defaults, and yes -- the year Ron and I moved to San Francisco. It is primarily a financial memoir, following how Ron and I made every financial mistake in the book and still managed to dig ourselves out of trouble. (And stay out of trouble -- so far.)

The memoir has been in hiatus, but now that I have a studio to write in, it's easier to keep the momentum going. One of my role models is Robert Caro, who writes enormous, meticulously researched books from his small office in New York City. His writing process is discussed here. In true Caro fashion, I bought my own big corkboard for my office wall and started filling it with index cards and printed charts.

As I return to this project, I have to admit: It's a mess. A big, overgrown, 50,000-word mess overrun with weeds and rotted undergrowth and nasty little critters. A big help has been the writing software program Scrivener, which I impulsively bought years ago and promptly ignored, writing my chapters in Microsoft Word. Scrivener reminded me of that horrid software I used in 2007-08 to produce the Business Times' Real Estate Deals of the Year. I can't remember the name of the software, (Yay! That means I've healed from the trauma, right?) but it was accounting software -- it wasn't designed to track multiple real estate deals and nominations. It had confusing fields and tiny type and the text always printed out with strings of strange characters, like the software was swearing along with me.

But Scrivener is different, I finally admit. It helped me break up this book into four parts:
Ann Arbor
Past Recessions
San Francisco
The Great Recession

 Each part begins with an intro, laying out what's happening. The book has a prologue (describing the morning we left our house to fly to S.F.) and an epilogue (describing what happened after we sold the house).

I doubt I'll keep this structure in the final draft, but this rickety scaffold at least gives me the confidence to keep going.

As I dig deeper into my messy memoir, I've been feeling a little deja vu. 2007 is starting to sound a lot like 2015, at least enough to make me nervous. I'll expand on this later, but for now, I'll end with a Stat of the Day:

April 2007: 
"The Fed’s news that Americans’ collective credit card balances rose almost ten percent in April to $900 billion."
-- from the memoir, NPR's "Marketplace"

April 13, 2015: 
"The Federal Reserve Bank of New York notes that credit card debt increased by $17 billion last year, to $700 billion. The Federal Reserve, meanwhile, put total revolving debt at $887.9 billion in January.

TransUnion puts the national average in the middle at $5,234 per person, which is still less than the pre-recession high of $6,276 in 2008. That debt has crept steadily upward, though, even as the percentage of U.S. households with credit cards carrying revolving debt has decreased from 44% in 2009 to just 34% today, according to the National Foundation For Credit Counseling."

-- from financial web site Main St.


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