Don’t Be Garrulous
I always advise fellow writers to go to a writers conference, but don’t be garrulous. And if you don’t know what garrulous means, you will after this. I attended this one particular conference a few years ago. We were still signing in and mingling, still getting to know one another, asking one another that tired old question that gets asked over and over again at writer’s conferences: “So what do you write?” Earlier, when I picked up my name-tag I was instructed to write my genre just below my name. I’d written a few mysteries, so I wrote David Pierce mystery. What I learned later was that I’d gotten some bad information. Perhaps I’d been the only one to get that information. What I was supposed to have written was one word that describes me. That explains why this rather silly-acting woman approached me, read my name tag and giggled as she said, “Ooooh, mysterious, are we?”
At this same conference about four of us men had circled up, talking shop. Using short, curt answers whenever possible—like men do. Except for this one fellow, John. He told us he liked to write historical fiction. Someone else in our group, maybe me, asked him “So what’s your book about?” John took a deep breath and proceeded to tell us all about his novel:
“Well, you see, a young man named Danny Arnberger finds himself in a war-torn village in southern France. A place called Roujan. The whole town is surrounded by the Germans. Danny’s been shot in the leg and needs help bad. His buddy—Bobby Lehman–although he won’t be his buddy when they get back to the states because he’ll eventually have a fling with Danny’s girlfriend, Sarah Arnold—who works at a bakery but volunteers at the hospital on weekends. And she owns a parrot. Now Danny’s bleeding pretty bad and so Bobby has an idea that he can make a radio out of a potato and call for help. In the field across the street, next to a German tank, is a big potato patch. Bobby knows it’s a potato patch because he was in 4-H in the sixth and eighth grades. He would have been a member in the seventh grade, but he had the chicken pox that year—because of his cousin Jeanie Lee Calloway. So Bobby takes out a pocketknife—the one his daddy gave him, who owns a gas station back in Indiana. Now, here’s the cool thing. Bobby’s daddy used to be a traveling salesman and when he was in Birmingham one weekend, he hooked up with a dancer in one of those racy clubs, had a fling and never saw her again—Mabel was her name. Mabel got pregnant that night and raised a young girl on her own. A girl named Sarah—Arnold. So you see, Bobby’s been dating his own sister! And that’s just the first chapter, so far. I just have to write it.”
Chapters 2-7, that John shared with us that night, were just as…convoluted.
You can imagine that the three of us listening to this were speechless—and a little sleepy. Finally, one of the men spoke up and said, “John, all that you just said there would be so much better for us,” he waved a hand over us, “and everyone else,” he waved a hand over the entire world, “if you could do it in about two minutes.”
Don’t be that guy. Don’t be John, who sells insurance in Des Moines, who every day when he passes by the hardware store thinks he should have gone against his wife’s wishes that day back in 1973 and partnered with Jack Buford and bought that place. Even though Jack did go to prison later for paving old people’s driveways and charging them twice what it was worth. Don’t be that guy.
Robert Frost says, “Talking is a hydrant in the yard and writing is a faucet upstairs in the house. Opening the first takes all the pressure off the second.”
Write about your story more. Talk about it less. And above all don’t forget to go to those conferences—just stay away from John.