It’s not the type of situation made for a long conversation.
Imagine a snapshot here: An author is signing books at a store, or perhaps in a mall.
There is a lengthy line of folks with copies held open to the proper spot, all waiting to say hello and suggest what particular message they’d like inscribed on their books.
When someone reaches the author, there is a brief explanation if, say, the book is a gift or should be signed with some special phrase.
And then, while the author wields his or her Sharpie and scribbles on an empty page, you have perhaps 20-30 seconds for small talk.
I’m trying to avoid any self-promotion here – that’s not the point at all – but I’ve written 14 books, and thus I’ve gone through this signing ritual hundreds of times.
OK, back to the short conversation: You’re writing (briefly) and the new owner of the book generally will search for something to say.
Even looking down as you write, you can feel them trying for the right words.
And then, amazingly, almost half the people who have been standing in line for your signature eventually will say: “You know, um, I’m working on a book myself…”
Unless there’s a question to follow, there’s really not much you can offer in response to that comment except, “Best of luck with your project. Stick with it.”
What some authors find objectionable is the notion that every living soul feels qualified for a task that took you months of blood, sweat and tears.
I know a gentleman who insists that, one day, he’ll snap when somebody mentions casually that he or she is writing a novel…and my friend swears he’ll shout: “Oh, really? Well, call me when you reach 80,000 words!”
Personally, I’ve never felt that kind of animosity. I’ve always thought of those remarks as compliments.
But in truth, what really catches my attention – in that little half-minute when two people’s lives intersect so briefly – is when someone DOES ask the magic question.
“What can I do to help my writing?”
For that one, I have an answer.
After 14 books and what feels like two lifetimes in the newspaper business, I believe I’m qualified to handle that particular question.
And the answer is simple: READ!!
Stephen King, who’s sold a trillion books in nearly as many languages, is even more qualified…and that’s his answer, too.
King did a book called “On Writing” that everyone who fiddles with words should read…repeatedly.
Until the pages fall apart.
King stated bluntly what I’ve always believed: The more you read, the more and better you’ll write.
Sure, it seems like a contradiction, since reading is taking up your time. But I swear it’s a fact: Read more, write more.
I can’t explain how it works, but I’m absolutely positive that it does.
Not only that, but it almost doesn’t matter WHAT you read. Anything at all is great.
And hey, if you want to talk more about this, just turn up at the library’s used book sale this weekend.
It’s a cinch I’ll be there.