Thursday, September 20, 2007

My First Reader would hate me right now

I just wrote a whole bunch of crap in this space, re-read it, decided it was lame, and started over.

A story on NPR this morning contained an interview with an author. The reporter started by saying how some writers need to be surrounded by their favorite things, or need to sit in certain locations or whathaveyou in order to write. But this particular author didn't need any of those things...she just needed her First Reader. And it was said just like that, with the capital F and capital R heavily implied, like it's an official government title or something.

Apparently a First Reader is, well, just that. The first person who reads what you write. He or she is the person to whom you give your carefully crafted words, expecting encouragement and brutal honesty and constructive criticism in return. The author from this morning has had her First Reader for 18 years, and she serves as her First Reader's First Reader.

I'm intrigued. I never knew there was such a thing as a First Reader. I mean, yeah, someone's gotta be the person who reads your stuff first, but I didn't realize that authors have, like, designated First Readers on whom they count for feedback and stuff. I don't know that I ever thought much about it, but it makes sense.

I, rebel writer, do not have a First Reader. Unless you count me, in which case I'm the writer and first, second and third reader, since I re-read everything I write about a bajillion times before posting. I like to tweak.

Then I thought to myself that it would be ridiculous for me to have a First Reader since, technically, I am not an author. I can't imagine, I thought, writing that much all in one place.

And then I realized that I have written that much all in one place. Here. Granted, it's more of a collection of completely random essays rather than an inspired literary work, but still. I wrote it, and it's here, all in one place. I wonder how long it would be if it were in book form. I freaked out back in March when Blogger burped and I thought I lost it all, and so I dumped everything to that point into a Word document. It's 503 pages. Do you think that would qualify as a book?

Or is it more of a manuscript? I love that word: manuscript. It just sounds so weighty and hefty. Like "look at manuscript...that I wrote." Manuscript has been one of my favorite words since about junior high, and I've always aspired to have one myself. Preferably written, you know, by me.

At the J-School, I had a professor named Henry. I loved Henry even though he was a curmudgeon who was from the Old School of Advertising that included three-martini lunches and throwing erasers at students he caught talking in his class. Henry, in an effort to keep our minds "loosey-goosey" and juiced up creatively, assigned us the task of writing a one-page letter to him every week about whatever subject we chose. I loved that assignment. It wasn't even like work for was fun. At the end of the semester, we had to pick our top five or ten favorites and turn them all in at once (which, now that I think about it, probably meant that he didn't much read the ones we turned in weekly, although, upon further recollection, he did always have some pithy comment written at the bottom of mine). I think I still have a few of them stashed somewhere in my memorabilia boxes.

I remember one being about the fact that I couldn't talk about the "M word" to my boyfriend at the time (the "M word" being "marriage" and the boyfriend being M...ironic, no?) and having to post an 8.5"x11" sign in my apartment that said "NO M WORD" to remind myself while I was on the phone with him. He was squeamish about glad he got over that.

Another was about M's hair smelling like Spaghetti-O's since he was using Flex shampoo. I don't exactly remember what all I wrote, but the fact that I could get an entire paper out of Spaghetti-O Hair is still impressive to me.

Lately I've been in sort of a slump. A writer's block, if you will. Nothing fun or fanciful or witty or clever. The pirate stuff yesterday was a much-needed inspiration and got me "loosey-goosey," but today I'm feeling rather tapped. Again. Ugh.

I guess I'll go home tonight and get a whiff of M's hair and see if something there strikes me.


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