I brush my teeth in the morning and at night. My evening cleaning includes flossing, a habit I didn’t adopt until June 8, 1996. The date sticks out in my mind because this was the first night of my two-year Peace Corps service.
Standing at the sink — with only a toothbrush and a large tube of Colgate (back in the day when travelers could put a family-sized tube of toothpaste into their bags) — a fellow volunteer said, as she handed over the small plastic dispenser containing mint waxed floss, “If you don’t use this, you’re not going to have any teeth when we’re done here.”
Now I can’t know if she was right (the impossibility of proving a negative/non-occurrence) but I did floss every night and kept my teeth for those two years.
When I returned to the US, I kept up the habit. Seventeen years later, I have yet to have a tooth fall out. (I do not count the ones I’ve dreamt having fallen out. There have been at least a dozen of those in the last seventeen years.)
Flossing is worthwhile. But it has its limits.
Knowing how to floss does not make me a dentist. I would never presume to have the ability of a dentist having only a short list of rudimentary skills in my wheelhouse which could be labeled “proper oral health and care.” Don’t get me wrong: I do a decent job; I take good care of my teeth. But I’d never say “I’m planning on performing a root canal” or even “I’ve always wanted to drill and fill a cavity. I’m planning on doing that someday.”
So why do people feel the need to tell me, when I mention I’m writing a book, “Oh, I’ve got a great idea for a book. Future best-seller”?
Really? You do?
Please tell me all about the idea in your head which would take close to three hundred hours to write, presuming a novel of 120K words; and a word-per-hour pace of 400. And then there’s the editing. Lots and lots of editing. And then there’s the search for an agent and the sales pitch. And the waiting, years of waiting. Tell me all about the “idea” for your “best-seller.”
The ill-informed assertion is akin to my cocktail-hour remark to an oral surgeon of “You know, I brush twice a day. And, for the record, I floss. So, I’m pretty much ready to take on removing my kids’ wisdom teeth.” To which the board-licensed surgeon ought to say, “You’re not. You need to put in the time and then you need to actually show you can. Keep up the good oral hygiene, but please spare me the ‘I could totally do what you do because I know a little about it’ claim.”
And that’s how I feel about the “I’m going to write a book” representation; even better is the statement, “People tell me I should write a book because my life is so interesting.” That is an opinion layered in presumption, i.e., Person A thinks Person B has had an interesting life; Person A’s statement makes Person B think she has the skill/talent to translate her experience into (accessible, interesting, page-turning) words on a page.
In the last year and a half, I’ve been asked, “So what are you up to?”
I answer, “I’ve been writing.”
The standard follow-up question is “What are you writing?”
My canned answer: “A book.”
For any one of you who then said, “I’m going to write a book,” I’m looking forward to being one of its first readers.
Just because you know how to put words in order, i.e., subject-verb-direct object, throwing in the occasional prepositional or adverbial phrase, perhaps a gerund or two — maybe you even know the proper placement of the little understood semicolon — does not make you a book writer.
Actually writing a book makes you one.
I bet when the above, martini-sipping dentist heard my (fictional) claim, which was — in fact — more of a bold assumption, she thought, “Please keep your autoclave-sterilized dental scaler and mouth mirror to yourself. You are not a dentist. Come back when you are and we can compare notes.”
I invite all future writers of books to come find me when the manuscript is done. FYI: I’ll be writing/editing/re-writing/agent hunting/still writing in blissful isolation.
P.S. Word count 741; 71 minutes to write and edit. (After writing six and a half novels my pace runs at a 600+ WPH.)