I Am Not an Arthur

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.”

“Why?”

“Because I tell the truth.”

“That’s what I want,” she said. “The truth.”

knightBy 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.

15 Responses to “I Am Not an Arthur”

  1. CICY Says:

    SOUNDS TO ME LIKE A VERY IGNORANT PWERSON!

  2. CICY Says:

    OOPS PERSON SLIP OF THE FINGERS ON THE KEY BOARD LOL

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Not ignorant. Just someone with a sense of entitlement, I think. Or maybe just excited about what she was doing. Aren’t you supposed to be dancing?

  3. chuckcollins86 Says:

    Pat, you are gracious beyond belief. I am reluctant to tell people I am an author, I just say I am a writer (and broadcaster if appropriate company) the combination is exotic enough to deflect ill prepared beginners. They then ask about my books and I tell them look me up on Amazon. But as far as mentoring (to be kind) or helping, it can be either heartbreaking or heartening to see how refined my (our) skills have evolved. So good for you for trying.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      It’s kind of you to say so. I certainly don’t feel gracious writing about it, it’s not nice of me, the episode stuck in my mind.

      I don’t tell people I’m an author, either. Nor do I say I’m a writer. Occasionally, I say I’ve written five books. At the two Christmas parties I went to this year, I handed out gifts from “author Pat Bertram,” figuring it was a good way to promote, but it doesn’t come up, which is probably why I felt so besieged.

  4. ROD MARSDEN Says:

    Nowadays I am reluctant to tell some people I’m an author but there are now plenty of ways they can find that out.

  5. Steve Lakey Says:

    Maybe you need a cover identity! ‘International Woman of Mystery’.😉

  6. Coco Ihle Says:

    Pat, I had to laugh out loud at your post! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run into the same situation. For soooooo many years I felt unprepared or unqualified to call myself an “arthur”, but now I feel differently, most of the time. Occasionally, I’ll feel insecure enough to under-play my writing ability, but most of the time I realize that by writing my book, short stories, articles, etc. and by reading so much over the years, I’ve really learned a lot about grammer, sentence structure, spelling and what it takes to make words show an tell what I want. And the fact that I’ve lived on this Earth for quite a while helps me not be too intimidated. The difficult part of all that is that it took time. Years! How does one explain that? Well, maybe by denial. Like you will next time! Me too! Ha!

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I think what bothered me most was that she wouldn’t take no for an answer. I don’t understand the sense of entitlement people have, that just because they want something, they feel you are obligated to give it.

      But yes, I too know a lot about writing. It was such a delightful surprise when I discovered that in fact, I knew what I was doing because during those early years of writing, I hadn’t a clue. And yes, it takes time. Everyone wants things instantly, even skill and knowledge.

  7. Malcolm R. Campbell Says:

    I wonder if this happens in other fields…folks wanting free advice and then being ticked when nobody wants to give it to them.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I suppose it does happen in other fields, but writing is different. Almost everyone can write something. We learned our letters at a young age, learned how to string them together to form words, how to string words together to form sentences, etc, etc, etc. As a whole, we didn’t learn how to write music, how to play an instrument, how to draw, how to build, or any other type of art/craft. Those were only taught to a select few, so they are not as universal as writing. Because anyone can string words together to form something resembling a story, they think it makes them every bit as much of a writer/author as those who have spent years learning the craft. I truly don’t think they see a difference, which gives them a sense of entitlement that wouldn’t hold true in other fields.

      • Malcolm R. Campbell Says:

        My brother, a long-time art teacher, says our ability to draw never advances past kindergarten because we don’t have classes throughout school. Same with many other crafts and arts. Of course, lawyers seem to be asked for free advice and the computer guru in the neighborhood is often asked to come over and help fix stuff for free. But writers seem to have it the worst for the reasons you point out here.

        • Pat Bertram Says:

          I’d never thought about the ability to draw never advancing past kindergarten. I always assumed it was because I had no talent, but I had no talent for writing, either. I learned how to write books. I wonder if I could have learned how to draw if I spent as much time learning to draw as I did writing.


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