Monday, January 3, 2011

Still a 75% Man

I recently reviewed an edited version of my first novel, Island Song, which is being republished by Dreamspinner Press next month. The process is that they highlight all my mistakes, and I step through the pages approving or disapproving each change. This exercise is always a humbling experience for me. It points out quite clearly how lazy I am with punctuation and spelling rules. It’s not that I don’t know the rules. I get so drawn into the story and the characters that I pay little or no attention to the details of where to place the commas and dashes.

This editing process reminds of the time I worked as a software engineer for Charles Schwab & Co., a brokerage firm in San Francisco. During the last half-dozen years before my retirement, I was the highest paid non-officer in the company. The reason? I was, what my boss once referred to as, a 75% man.

My VP explained, they had literally hundreds of engineers and managers who could take an existing set of programs and make them better. That is, they could start with a system that was running, a 1.0 release if you will, and make it tap dance. They excelled in modifying a 75% system to make it a 100% system.

But the company had relatively few – less than five – engineers who could start with a blank page, and design, budget, interface, and build that 1.0 version. I was one of those five who could go from 0% to 75%.

Of course, I was lousy at polishing an existing system, that task so many others reveled in, simply because the details bored me. I was especially bored with all the red tape it took to modify a system that was already in production and that users counted on. No, I was a cowboy, and cowboy’s don’t want to be pinned down by fences like rules and red tape.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying one is better than the other. They each require a different skillset, one as important as the other.

This editing process reminds me once again that as hard as I try to learn and apply the details – to create a 100% product – that I’m still a 75% guy, trying to push it to 80%.

One step at a time, baby, one step at a time.

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