Writer’s block at the signing table

From Murderati:

When I’m sitting in a bookstore, autographing a book for a customer, I dread hearing these words:”You’re the author. Why don’t you sign it and write something clever?”  There’s nothing that kills my creativity faster than having a fan staring over my shoulder, waiting for me to spontaneously write “something clever” on the title page.  I’ve heard that many men are unable to pee in public restrooms while other people are around.  They stand at the urinal and strain and strain, but just can’t get things flowing.  I have the literary equivalent of shy bladder syndrome.  I just can’t seem to produce the expected stream of clever words while anyone else is watching. In the privacy of my own office, I do a lot of hair-pulling and pacing and muttering and grimacing when I write. It is not a pretty thing to see.  In fact, I think writing is sometimes a grotesque affair, and one that should remain out of sight of the public. But when you’re sitting at a signing table in a bookstore, you’re performing in public, and you’re expected to smile, not grimace, while you try to come up with something clever to write in every book.  It’s always a relief when a customer says,”Just sign and date it, please.”  

I’ve learned to come prepared with stock phrases to accompany my autographs.  On my first book tour, for HARVEST, I wrote “thrills and chills” on just about every book I signed.  It was my fallback phrase, pithy and appropriate and somewhat clever.  It allowed me to face a line of customers without panicking that my brain would suddenly go blank.  On later tours, I began to vary it a little, just so I wouldn’t write the same thing for every customer standing in line.  I wrote “Enjoy the thrills!”  Or: “Many thrills!”  or “Great to meet you!”  If the book was for a special occasion — say, a birthday — I”d write :”Happy Birthday!  May it be thrilling.”  But I still fall back on tried and true phrases that don’t require me to wrack my brain for something spontaneously clever.  

Link to the rest at Murderati