Special thanks to Lavinia Ludlow (author of the wonderful novel alt.punk) for a review in Small Doggies! My favorite line: “Marc Schuster has one of the most refreshing voices in the contemporary literature scene, writing with a style that rivals novelists such as Joe Meno and Brad Listi.”
In no way is this meant to be a hint. The fact that my birthday is coming up is purely coincidental. I should, however, admit that what put the idea for this post in my head is that it’s the time of year when people ask me what I want. And the answer, honestly, is that I want more people to read my books. Yes, it’s selfish, but that’s the nature of the question. That, I suppose, is the nature of birthdays: It’s my party, and I can beg people to read my book if I want to. Or at least buy a copy of it.
Granted, I’m taking some liberties here. I’m assuming that all authors want what I want: more readers. After all, we didn’t spend thousands of hours banging away at our computer keyboards so our books can collect dust in warehouses somewhere. We did it for many reasons, but one of them it that we want to put our words and ideas into the minds of strangers. To put it bluntly, we want to get into your head. And not just your head, but your friends’ heads. And your friends’ friends’ heads. We want our thoughts and dreams and ideas to go viral, to spread like wildfire. But that can only happen if people read our books.
All of this is to say that if you know someone who’s an author like me — that is, an author who’s written a book or two that have been largely ignored by the mainstream media but read by a handful of people, perhaps including yourself — I know exactly what that author wants: more readers. And giving that gift is both cheap and easy. Here’s how to do it:
- Make a list of everyone you know. Eliminate from that list anyone the author knows. If it helps, use a Venn diagram.
- Take the remaining names (the people the author doesn’t know) and send them a note that reads something like, “Hey! I know I don’t usually make book recommendations, but I just read this amazing book. Here’s what it’s about, and here’s what I liked about it. It’s really [funny, sad, smart, thrilling -- circle one]! Oh, and here’s a link to where you can buy it on Amazon!”
- Mention the book on a social networking site. Include the link. Mention that your friend wrote it. Mention that it’s your friend’s birthday. Mention that the book is amazing. Tell everyone they should read it.
- If you’re feeling especially generous, pick a few people on your list who might especially enjoy the book. Buy copies for them. Tell the author.
- Go to Borders books and request — oh, wait. Never mind.
- Repeat steps 1 through 4 as needed.
Again, I don’t mean to mention any of this as a hint. But my birthday is on August 3.
Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in the Bard College Institute for Writing and Thinking. Though the primary purpose of the institute is to help teachers develop new strategies for improving student writing, it was also a great resource for me as a writer.
One of the main objectives of the institute’s approach is to allow students to find their own ways into various writing projects. Another objective is to help students become more aware of their own writing and thinking processes — to use the writing process to learn about how they think and vice versa.
All told, it was a very interesting and productive week. I came away with a few ideas about how to reinvigorate my approach to teaching and how to increase student engagement with the material that I cover in class. I also got an opportunity to do some writing — an essay on my friend Tom Powers, which I’ve tentatively titled “Into the Labyrinth.”
In terms of my own writing, the workshop has definitely given me a few ideas. Just like students need to find their own ways into complicated texts, I think writers need to find their ways into nonexistent texts, the texts they’re bringing to life. Over the past few days, I’ve been putting a lot of the practices I learned at IWT to work, and they’re taking me in directions I never considered.
My week at the IWT was time well spent. I recommend it to any teacher who’s interested in integrating writing more fully into their curriculum. And if you’re a writer as well, you might come away with a whole new approach to your art.