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Six lessons from writing a weekly book column

By Judy Christie

Earlier this year, the editor of the local newspaper asked if I’d be interested in writing a weekly book column for a new arts section.

At first I balked.

I write books, after all, so how could I write about them?

And I certainly didn’t want to criticize authors, whether I liked their books or not. It’s hard writing a book, and I appreciate the effort, even when I don’t care for the prose. And wouldn’t this be a distraction from my fiction writing?

But with years of journalism in my blood-and probably for a free cappuccino-I agreed.

What I’ve learned:

1. People love talking about books. Readers stop me in the parking lot at church, in the grocery store and at the library. They email. They send snail-mail letters. They’ve read the column and want to recommend a book or just chat about what they’re reading.

2. Books draw us together. In a world where people argue about everything, talking about stories unites us.

3. But don’t imagine that any two people will agree on a book. Every reader is different. This encourages me; if someone doesn’t love my novel, it probably means someone else will. (I’ve been tickled at an ongoing debate over the Pulitzer-Prize winning “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt. I get a different opinion in my in-box every other day.)

4. Book clubs build community. While I’ve visited with many clubs as an author, I’ve been astonished at the book clubs I’ve discovered as a columnist. They’re diverse, engaged, committed – and fun. If you ever despair over the future of books, just visit a handful of book clubs in your area.

5. The discipline of a weekly deadline is a powerful thing. Not only does it remind me how fast the weeks fly by, it instills in me the importance of not putting things off. Procrastination, as I learned as a young reporter, is an energy drainer.

6. Lots of hard-working authors are publishing great books-and they’re doing it in every possible way. I’ve interviewed the former schoolteacher who took a risk and is now a National Book Award finalist and the indie writer who has celebrated watching her book climb bestseller lists. I learn from each author I interview – and I’m reminded that there is no cookie-cutter approach to success as a writer. This is a personal journey that plays out in public ways.

How about you? Do you write a regular blog or column? What do you learn?

Magnolia MarketJudy Christie lives in Louisiana where she watches baseball with her husband and visits with readers from her vintage green couch. Her first newspaper editing job was in grade school, and she’s written a series of novels about a big-city journalist in a small town. Her 8th novel, “Magnolia Market,” released last month from Zondervan. For more info, see www.judychristie.com.

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