Monday, April 24, 2006

Note to Self: Writers WRITE

Spent the day cleaning house as if--by scrubbing the floors and the bathtubs--I could erase the smell of wet carpet.

Listened to NPR while I worked. I'm still having trouble adjusting to their new weekend schedule. My local affiliate has scrambled the shows--moving "Wait! Wait! Don't Tell Me" and "This American Life" to Saturday from their former slots on Sunday. Now there's a new two-hour show on Sunday called "To the Best of Our Knowledge." Somehow, either in a mixup or because they're in the middle of their fund drive, last week's show was rebroadcast today.

It was all about the world of publishing. Had interviews with the editor of Publishers Weekly, Zadie Smith and Steve Berry. It was the Berry interview that most intrigued me.

He talked about an experience that is common to all writers: meeting new people and telling them you are a writer. When this happens to me, I generally encounter one of three reactions:

1) They are totally uninterested. They'll say, "That's nice," and move on to another subject. I find this happens about 25% of the time.

2) They ask a great many questions about me and my writing. "What do you write?" and "Where do you get your ideas?" are the two most popular questions. This group probably comprises about 40% of the reactions I incur.

And then there's the third group. If you've been keeping count, you'll already have figured out that this group accounts for about 35% of my responses.

3) These people usually start out saying, "I've always wanted to write." They then list all the reasons why they can't: demanding job, young children, sick spouse.

The more these folk talk, the more obvious it becomes that they have no interest in actually writing. What they want is the life of a writer. They speak enviously of people who get to work out of their homes. I try to explain that you have to be very disciplined to keep "office hours" and not get distracted by things like daytime television. They never seem to hear me.

Berry (author of "The Amber Room") talked about this in his NPR interview. He said that he is often asked about things he rarely worries about: the covers to his books and movie rights. He said he always tries to move the conversation to the actual craft of writing. He'll ask, "Tell me about YOUR book." The response is always the same: "Oh, I haven't written it yet."

I know exactly how he feels. When people ask me how to find an agent or publisher or film producer, I always say, "You need to have a finished manuscript first."

They seem taken aback. "Can't I just send my idea?"

I shake my head. "Sorry, only a finished manuscript talks."

This is the point in the conversation I dread. About half of them then say,
"I could give you my idea, and you could write it, and we could split the profits 50/50."

This is the time when I seek distractions. I'll say something like, "Gosh, doesn't that broccoli look fresh," and "Look at that precious baby." Of course, these are just red herrings. I'm already focused on my escape.

What I really want to do is say, "Hey! Writers WRITE. That's what they do. That's why they're called writers."

But I never do. I smile and nod and get away as fast as I can.

It was comforting to realize that Steve Berry does the same thing.

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