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A Peek Behind the Curtain

October 14, 2008

I went to see a well-known author talk about his new book a few months back. He was discussing the fact that this latest book was the hardest thing he’d ever written and that it was so completely different than the previous books he’d written and become famous for writing. But he also loved it unlike anything else he’d ever tried. He was writing the story that he wanted to write, not the one he wanted to sell, and the whole thing – the process, the research, the writing – it all turned out to be the favorite of his many books. Then he discussed how he had an idea for another new book, which again was very different than what his core audience was expecting and he said he wasn’t sure he could, or should, do something similar again. He didn’t think his regular readers would buy it, much less enjoy it. Understand, this is man who once had a book picked by Oprah for her club, so his audience was huge and he had large expectations to fill. A woman from the audience asked him if the book he’d just written was really his favorite of anything he’d ever done. He said yes. She asked him if he expected it to sell as much as the others. He said definitely not. “But this last one was your favorite to write?” she asked. “Well, I don’t understand your problem.” He smiled, stood straight up and realized this woman had called him out and publicly kicked him in the ass. Then he asked her name so he could put it in his acknowledgements if he did end up writing it, which I expect he will.

Sure, he’s a big time author who’s not trying to sell his first book, and he already has the contract so desperately desired by so many of us. But he was going through the same thing we all do and he realized he needed to continue to write from his heart if he wanted to truly be happy.

The rest of his discussion was a little lame and very scripted…you could tell he’d been giving the same speech and telling the same jokes over and over and over again for the past two months on his book tour all over the country. But it finally took someone from our own little bookstore here to question him and bring him back to the reality of being a writer and pushing him a bit to explore his own questions about writing for money vs. writing to be happy. That was not scripted. That was a peek behind the curtain which revealed a real man with real questions and doubts about his writing. That connected all of us yet-to-be discovered writers in the small audience with this already quite successful writer in a way none of us expected before going into the bookstore that evening. That was special.

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