Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

November 5, 2013

Sage advice now and then

Cathie Shaffer
The Independent

ASHLAND — Last Saturday I traveled halfway across the state to the city of Shepherdsville to take part in their county library’s author fair.

See, I have a secret identity as a novelist and have a number of books under my pseudonyms of Cat Shaffer and Cammie Eicher. Over the years since the first book by Cammie came out, I’ve learned to respond when someone calls her name (or Cat’s) and I’ve made some really good friends in the author circles in which I travel.

This was my second appearance at that particular author fair and I enjoyed it every bit as much this year as last. I renewed acquaintances with some writers I met  last time, caught up with the lives of others that I’ve known for years and made the new acquaintance of other writers.

As I do this book thing, I’ve discovered the writing community is a world unto itself. The people in it would make wonderful characters in anyone’s work of fiction; their idiosyncrasies make them both unique and charming.

Most of them anyway. There’s the occasional grump who wants to be left alone to muse upon his Next Great Manuscript and the bore who insists on telling you how fantastic his editor thinks he is or rattle off the kudos he’s received for his work.

One thing about being with a group of writers is the wild tangents of conversation. One moment you may be conversing with a science fiction writer about the alternative universe of his current book and the next go back a couple of hundred years in history to a fictional accounting of love and war.

The inevitable remark to come from readers at such a public forum is, “I’d like to write but I don’t know how.”

I try to be encouraging, trotting out the usual platitudes about how each person approaches writing in a different way and occasionally recommending a book on writing that I found help in the past.

But the best piece of advice was given at a workshop I went to at least a year ago: BIC, HOK.

That stands for “Butt in chair, hands on keyboard.”

The acronym goes right to the heart of being a writer. The only way to write is to write.

Okay, that sounds like a no-duh proposition but it is indeed the only thing that works. Some writers put notes on index cards and arrange them by scene. Others outline the entire story or book while some start with an idea and just let it flow.

I fall between the last two. I have an idea, I figure out where the story happens, who the characters are and what’s going to happen to them. And then I start to write.

Is writing always easy? Nope. Are there times when I’d like to be doing anything except BIC, HOK? Yep.

But the thrill of hearing an atta-girl from my editor or seeing my book on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other online book stores never gets old.

And there is something so special about opening the box that the postman tossed on the porch and pulling out a book with my name — well, Cat’s or Cammie’s — and know that long after I’m gone, this piece of me will survive.

That my great-grandchildren and their children may look at one of my books, wonder if they can do it too and follow in my footsteps.

So here you are, from great-great-great granny: BIC, HOK.