Since I am writing a book I wanted to know what it’s like being an author. So I prepared the following for you:
1. Does it get weird when people you don’t know know your name?
2. Is writing tiring?
3. Do you get too much attention?
Write me back soon with your answers. How are Otis and Thelma Lou and Ms. Jamie doing? Tell them I said hi.
DEAR BATON ROUGE:
First off, kudos for writing your book. Books are fun. Writing a book is a lot like jumping out of a speeding vehicle. It hurts, and all your friends send Hallmark cards when they hear about it.
In fact the hardest part of the whole book process is simply beginning. I have met many people who want to write books, who have great ideas for books, who possess heaps of bookish talent, but never actually sit down and write the dang book.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. You asked three well-formed questions. Therefore I will answer. And I promise to answer with the kind of straight talk I wish someone would have used with me when I was your age.
You see, I’ve wanted to be a writer since the fourth grade. Whenever I would tell this to my teachers they usually responded by patting my head and saying, “Well, just remember God needs janitors, too.”
1. “Does it get weird when strangers know your name?”
You must be confusing me with someone else, nobody recognizes me.
Then again there was one time when I was in a train station after an author event last year. I deboarded and two excited kids rushed up to me with smiles and notebooks in their hands. I was so flattered.
One girl said, “Can I have your autograph?”
I did my best John Wayne and replied, “Be glad to, ma’am.”
No sooner had I borrowed the girl’s pen than she shouted to her mother. “Mom! Look! It’s the guy from ‘The Hangover’ movie!”
“No,” I said. “You’re confusing me with Zach Galifianakis. My name’s Sean Dietrich.”
“Sean who?” The girls were crestfallen.
The other girl removed her phone camera and said, “Can we still tag you as Zach Galifiniakis?”
2. “Is writing tiring?”
Yes. Here’s why:
A lot of people think writing is sitting behind a keyboard and waiting for tidal surges of inspiration to fly from your fingertips and (bada-bing) there’s your book.
No. Writing is not about making paragraphs. Neither is writing about coming up with great sentences or chapters. These things are merely “first-drafting.”
The actual “writing” takes place during your 234th, 312th, and 1,905th revisions.
Take this column for example. Before I send this to you I will go over it about a hundred thousand times—maybe more.
This letter will change with each pass I make, until it doesn’t look anything like the first draft. And when I’m done painstakingly revising this, it will finally begin to resemble semi-solid organic matter which falls from the backend of livestock. Whereupon I will admit my own miserable inadequacy and cry myself to sleep.
Revising will make your eyes hurt and your fingers sore. You’ll read the same line of text over and again until you know it by rote. And even after all this labor, you’ll still mak al sorts of typos. Then your brain will slam you with all the top-40 hits from the jukebox of self-doubt, such as:
“Nobody cares about this garbage I’m writing.”
“I’m not a real writer.”
“I have no literary talent, my entire life’s ambition is a morbid joke.”
“I wonder if Sean remembers that I’m only 10 years old?”
3. “Do you get too much attention?”
No. Unless of course you are referring to attention I get from semi-professional hate-mailers. In which case the answer is yes.
Hate-mailers are just critics or anyone else who pays attention to every little thing someone else does instead of actually doing something creative.
As a writer, you will have hecklers, this goes with the territory. The important thing to remember is that you cannot win against them. They are way more experienced at being jerks than you are. So don’t play their game.
Besides, if you ask me there are two basic kinds of people in this world. There are the eye-for-an-eye people, and there are the turn-the-other-cheek people. The goal of my life is to be the latter.
And the good news is, as a writer you will be afforded many opportunities to turn all four of your cheeks.
4. “How are Ms. Jamie and Thelma Lou and Otis doing?”
They are well, thank you. Right now my wife and dogs are in the living room reading Chapter 27 from your novel that your mom sent us. And guess what? We all think you’re pretty amazing. One day, when I get to Baton Rouge, I promise to tell you this in person.