Pages & Paws

Writing, Reading, and Rural Life With a Border Collie

How Not to Write ‘Smart’

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I was at a conference the other day. Six of us arrived early. Snagged a table and grabbed seats while we waited for the emcee to get the ball rolling. Ninety seconds after we sat down, every other person around the table was buried in his Smartphone (you know who you are). I sat there for a minute, gaping like a cod fish. Then I smiled sweetly and chirped:

“Hey guys. I hear there’s this cool new game out. It’s called ‘conversation.’ I hear it’s kinda fun. How ’bout it?”

Heads snapped up. Electronically-glazed eyes re-focused.

Rule #1: Relate!

“Okay guys,” I continued after grabbing their attention. “Rule #1 is: everybody pass down their phone.”  I smiled and extended an open palm. No one surrendered his phone. But the point was made. By unspoken consent, those cute little electronic doo-dads were banned for the rest of the day. We talked instead. Laughed. Swapped stories. Shared “war stories.” Connected. Got to know each other. Related.

I don’t remember diddly from the conference itself. But I can tell you the “name, rank and serial number” of every single person at my table. Ditto a fair amount about their families, jobs, and other interests – plus their favorite dessert!


It’s kind of that way with books, write? Readers and writers are uniquely relational critters. You can’t have one without the other. (Feel free to tweet that.)

You choose to invest your time, energy, and attention with Cornelia Funke, Mark Twain, Nicholas Sparks, Jane Austen, Isak Dinesen, Richard Paul Evans or Gary Paulsen. In return, they open wide and vivid panoramas of people, places, events and imagination you’d likely never encounter otherwise. Reading and writing are a relationship. Readers and writers go together like peanut butter and jelly. Wine and cheese. Congress and… oh, never mind.

No substitute

Technology doesn’t offer that. I mean, really. It may be a start, a “foot in the door.” But a smartphone is no substitute for real life, face-to-face connecting.

Just like a writer sans readers.

When you look back on your life, how many text message or status updates will you remember? How many 140 character tweets will you retain? How many of your Twitter followers will show up at a wedding, birthday, graduation, funeral, or book signing?

Set a Timer

I set a timer before jumping on Facebook. When that puppy dings, I bail. Period. Otherwise, social media can gobble truckloads of time and energy away from real writing like Garfield in a vat of lasagna. And while tweeting has its place, it’s no substitute for sustained, thoughtful, deliberate writing designed to engage.

One reason, maybe the main reason, most writers do so is to connect with their readers. To share an experience, tip, challenge, inspiration or some other part of their life or learning with others. Communication takes two.

In other words, how not to write smart means forgetting that your readers are real life, flesh-and-blood folks with emotions, dreams, disappointments. Fears. Challenges. Triumphs. Dirty dishes in the sink. Probably stacks of bills and mismatched socks. Not writing smart means viewing your work and your readers as statistics. Emojis. Lines on a chart. Instead of as people.

Just like a Smartphone can’t replace conversation, technology can assist but is no substitute for real-life interaction between writers and readers. With your words, you create worlds and relationships readers want to enter. You offer shared adventures. You can uplift. Educate. Encourage. Challenge and inspire.

It takes time. So put down the smartphone and crank out 1,000 reader-centric words. Yes, you. Write now.

Share one title that’s changed your life, and how.

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