Today’s post is written by Rebecca A. Corio, author of Storm of Passion (TouchPoint Press, 2021).
It’s interesting to me that the deeper I go into this author journey, the more I seem to talk to people—contrary to the stereotype of the closet-writing, tousle-haired artist cut off from humanity and hunched over a keyboard tapping away furiously.
If you’ve ever participated in a live meet-the-author event (a writing conference, a book-signing, etc.), you’ll know you end up talking a ton, no matter which side of the table you’re on. It’s that engagement that makes the interaction meaningful and memorable.
I have a background in customer service, and my training says to greet people first. So, I do.
People are often hesitant to speak up, but my saying, “Aloha, are you enjoying the event so far?” acts as an easy icebreaker.
The next question I like to ask is, “Are you a reader?”
To read or not to read. . . that is the question
In my experience, surprisingly, many give a very hesitant no. This always throws me.
If it’s an author event, wouldn’t that mean the people attending are readers? Is the person attending as a “plus one” to their best friend who didn’t want to go alone? Is there an unwritten rule that if you don’t hold the book in your hands, it isn’t “real” reading? Whatever the immediate reason behind the answer, the “no” is uttered with trepidation while their eyes circle to see how many people are listening. (Psychologists, step up anytime here about childhood experiences carrying over into adulthood.) But really, there should be no shame in the answer, whether it be yea or nay. Uniqueness is what makes the world go round.
As the interaction blossoms and I delve deeper into the responses, I find it interesting that many of those who identify themselves as non-readers are actually better described as non-traditional readers. They may not be a hold-a-book-in-their-hands type of reader, but they will devour audio anything. Audiobooks, podcasts, music . . . If it’s audio, they dig it.
I have a favorite thing about my “non-reader” friends: they tend to be better conversationalists.
I consider myself fortunate to have several besties who are self-proclaimed non-readers. Ironically, they are always the ones willing to accompany me to writing conferences.
(At first this might not make sense. It didn’t to me. But it will in the end, I promise.)
As an author, you already have your story in your head. Putting your story down on paper is so others can have it too.
But a manuscript isn’t written in a day. Whether your genre is sixty thousand words or one hundred and sixty thousand, getting this many words down takes time. That’s reality.
Through the numerous days and weeks (or really, months or even years) writing a manuscript takes, you will no doubt encounter moments of “what now”?
We all talk to ourselves at times, but the conversations we have with ourselves are different from the ones had with a breathing, thinking person—who isn’t you—on the other end.
How will you, the author, handle a manuscript problem? You have two choices: let someone read your manuscript-in-progress, or talk it out.
Though there may be times pieces of an incomplete manuscript are submitted to a publisher for review or edits, in my experience this isn’t typical. Would Da Vinci have sent a canvas with only the outline of Mona Lisa to ask, “How’s it looking? Am I on the right track?” to an art critic or even good friend?
Here’s a good place to insert that every author’s journey is different. You might be working with a developmental editor or book coach, whether hired by you privately or by your publisher, based on your contract with them. In such cases, you might be Frankenstein-ing your writing ( i.e. sending parts and pieces of your manuscript), and to this I would say, rock on.
But if the option of having another party read through your manuscript is off the table, you’re left with the option of talking things out.
Enter the non-reader
When you find yourself speaking to someone who isn’t going to do all the work themselves by reading your manuscript, you will have to verbally explain the problems, despite being bogged down in your own writing.
The good news? The act of speaking aloud exercises a different part of your brain (always a good thing), which becomes the first step in working out the problem.
Clinical psychologist Dr. Jessica Nicolosi says, “If we speak out loud, it forces us to slow down our thoughts and process them differently because we engage the language centers of our brain. . . . [W]e become more deliberate, and this creates a slower process to think, feel and act, instead of being bombarded by our thoughts.”
Consider the doctor–patient relationship. Therapy is based on the patient verbally communicating. The same is true for the non-reader participant called upon to assist with solving a problem with your manuscript.
The good doctor/friend will most likely ask, “What’s the problem?”
And thus, the session begins.
You are now charged with finding the proper words to detail the problem. Your beginning attempts may be fraught with, “Um, well, you see, it just isn’t working.” You will come to realize that you aren’t sure exactly what isn’t working. Until the exact problem is identified, how on earth is anyone to solve it?
You won’t be able to say, “Read it, and you’ll see it just doesn’t make sense.” This removes the advantage of familiarity with your story. The non-reader isn’t privileged to such insight reading would give.
Instead, they wait for you to weave your story in front of their very eyes. Magically, the problem(s) take on a more robust countenance. A realness that, as the problem takes shape, eventually makes it easier to grasp and, thus, easier to solve.
Time too becomes an interesting factor. A conversation in one’s head is infinite. It can be put on and off hold at will by the owner. Most of us, however, do not have such luxury in everyday life. Perhaps we can schedule lunch or drinks after work. A girl’s night or an afternoon out hiking. Even with these longer pursuits, it would be rude if you and your manuscript problem monopolized the entire conversation. Unless of course, that was the specified reason for meeting in the first place.
Still, in most cases, you’re faced with a time limit.
So, let’s get this show on the road. Your friend is going to ask questions that move the conversation, and eventually the solution, along.
Is there more to it? Why, yes, yes there is . . .
This non-reader-turned-therapist, aka partner in crime, will never be as invested in your story as you are, even if they are a dear friend. Their investment is in you, not the story.
But that distance is an asset. Such perspective, coming from a far more rational place, is what allows them to ask the hard questions.
Questions that perhaps you as the author shy away from.
Questions that must be answered if solutions are to be found.
Case in point: Several years ago, I was bogged down around the third to halfway mark of a manuscript, when one of my besties took note of my furrowed brow.
“What’s wrong?” she said.
I pushed my chair from my desk in frustration and explained the story was a failure because I hated my characters.
Verbal pushing and prodding ensued. Moments later, one of her questions landed in my lap. “Have you always liked everyone you met from the get go?”
I was dumbstruck.
Needless to say, that was the question I’d been avoiding with my characters, and obviously myself. Once my friend set me on the path of talking the issue out, things worked out just fine.
While your non-reader friend may not be the one who shouts, “Ah-ha!” they absolutely are behind you getting to that point. With their pointed questions and comments, the non-reader is able to push you into the places you need to go so you can make decisions as to what must happen to move your manuscript forward.
I value every one of my readers, my cheerleaders, my friends and family, who read my book babies, and every word of their feedback. But I hold a special place in my heart for my besties who prefer to hear things and require me to articulate in meaningful sentences the thoughts and ideas my brain “just knows.”
Remember when I said it didn’t make sense why a non-reader makes such a good “plus one” at a writing conference? Now you see it. Their affinity for conversations and the questions they ask somehow make me feel I get twice as much from the conference. I end up thinking way more than I would have on my own. And that’s what happens when we’re talking about a manuscript. Their questions and observations don’t let me shortchange the story or the reader.
A fact which makes their contribution . . . priceless.