I am not a shopper by nature, training, or instinct. In fact, I hate it. Groceries aren’t bad. I buy what I need and get out, even at the farmers’ market. But anything else—clothing, furniture, even antiques—tears at my patience. Browsing, strolling, looking, comparing products are all anathema to me. The only exception is bookstores, and those have only a slight advantage. I can last for as long as one hour, but after that I want out! So why would someone who feels this way willingly take on the months-long task of researching, gathering, editing, writing, and linking hundreds of gift items do it?
Cause I’m nice? Let’s say that’s the reason. My mother would agree and it helps my reputation. But now that the Booklovers’ and Readers’ Gift Guide is in its third week (and I have only two more to go) I thought you might like to know a little bit about what went on behind it.
Similar to what I do for my Christmas shopping, I also do for the Gift Guide, that is, I began “shopping” for it around February. I take particular note of items or services mentioned on various websites, in e-newsletters, and in blogs I follow. This year as in previous years I just added the URLs to a simple Word document. It worked except for the fact that it was not organized in any particular manner at first, and its increased size made that problematic. Fortunately, my natural turn for de-cluttering and organization kicked in soon thereafter and I developed some category titles. Everything added afterward went into its proper place.
(While I found it worked fine, I realize it can be further refined so for 2011 I will have a folder bookmarked on my computer labeled “BB Shopping.” This is where the links I’ve found useful in previous years as well as new ones will go. The folder will be divided into sub-folders for the home page of any company whose product will be featured and within that sub-folder I will link the pages for the specific items. The reason is that things can sell or be discontinued, especially as the year goes on. And things are often added as well. So it makes sense to have both pages linked.)
As time makes itself available, I begin to download the item links to the proper category. What I did not do this year but will do for 2011 is to add a one-word note on what the specific item is (“bracelet”) within its category (“Jewelry”). That should help with a problem that cropped up this year, having the same link in more than one category. Another problem I encountered was that in my enthusiasm I would sometimes find the same item in more than one place (and bookmark both links) or even find it in two different searches several months apart with the same result. It’s easy enough to eliminate any duplicates but it’s an annoying step at a time when I am feeling rushed for time.
Then around October I check the calendar. How much do I have thus far? What is the calendar looking like for late November and early December? What day does Christmas fall on? How many Sundays are there? What is the relationship of Sunday to Christmas? When does Hannukuh take place? With those answers I then decide when to begin my series, how many weeks to devote to it, and how many items will make the final cut.
Another thing I did not do this year that will change in 2011 is writing out the short descriptions of each item, suggestion, or experience that make up the paragraphs in the Guide over the months. While it doesn’t really save time, it does make the final part—putting together the actual letter—far easier if I can copy and paste and merely have to tweak at the end instead of creating it under deadline for several weeks in a row.
Finding the best way to do this annual project is not just a time-saving device for me. It will also, hopefully, eliminate or at least cut down on the “yikes” mistakes I see when I peruse the letter after it goes live. In addition to sometimes missing filling in a link altogether, I have found links to dead pages or to items that are no longer available, and once to my horror, a link that I had forgotten to, um, link and now could not for the life of me, find anywhere. It happened during the first of this year’s series. I spent nearly fifteen minutes frantically scouring the web using variations of the phrasing I had but had no luck. In desperation I found a suitable replacement—actually a lovelier one—and quickly linked that.
And that, I think, is what made me determine to instill even more organization into this Guide. Proofing the issue after it has gone live, double-checking for errors, is hard because I am tired. Anything that slows down the process means I can’t get off the computer until it is fixed, and that can make me irritable. It means I am essentially spending more time “shopping” or at least dealing with shopping issues than I want. And, really, you haven’t seen a cranky shopper until you’ve been with me at the culmination of not just minutes, not just hours, not even just days, but months of shopping. I will tell you it ain’t a pretty sight.