Last night I got together with some people for a group walk and the first thing one of the women said to me was, “Are you an arthur?” Although my name is not Arthur, I knew what she was asking. A bit hesitantly, not sure if it were something to be proud of or ashamed about, I admitted I was an author.
The woman said, “I’ve just started writing. You should come over to my house so you can take a look at what I wrote and tell me what you think.”
I didn’t know this woman. Had just met her a few seconds before. And she wanted me to look at her writing? Eek.
As graciously as I could, I said, “I’m sorry, I don’t do that.”
“Why?” she asked.
“Because it’s a good way of making enemies,” I responded.
“Why?” she asked.
“Because people don’t like what I tell them.”
“Because I tell the truth.”
“That’s what I want,” she said. “The truth.”
By this time, I was feeling besieged. I live with people who constantly want/need things from me. I am always fielding online requests for help from people I don’t know and a few that I do. What I needed last night was a respite from such burdens.
Still trying to be gracious, though my irritation seeped through, I said. “No you don’t.”
And it’s true, whether she knew it or not: she did not want the truth as I see it. She had no writing experience. She wrote longhand and, because her wrists hurt, she hadn’t written much. She admitted she didn’t know how to spell, and when I told her that computers did that for her, she said she didn’t have a computer, didn’t know how to use one. She didn’t know grammar, either. Didn’t read books on how to write, didn’t read anything, actually, except a very occasional Stephen King.
So yes, I can guarantee she wouldn’t like anything I had to say about a few scribbled pages full of misspellings and grammar errors, and an absence of story elements. What she wanted was 1) for me to tell her that underneath all the obvious errors her writing was great and 2) for me to tell her everything I knew about writing in a few quick sentences. And there was no way I would do either. Besides, even if her writing was execrable, it’s not my place to tell her so and ruin her enjoyment.
I suggested that she read, but her wrinkled brow told me she couldn’t see the similarity between writing and reading. Finally, I told her just to write. To have fun with it. Not to worry about anything else. (Without a computer and with no desire to learn how to use one, she could never be anything but a hobbyist, so she might as well have fun.)
I learned something from last night’s experience, though — the next time anyone asks me if I’m an arthur, I’m going to say no.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.