I remember signing my name over and over as I attempted to get the right flourish and the right curve, the cursive script an art I needed to perfect. The covers and insides of my books flaunted twists and curls I practiced endlessly in my quest to find a signature as individual as myself. My hand turned into an embossing machine striving to make the autographs identical.
That was in fifth grade, at age ten. I paid careful attention to the writing of my name for I believed then that the two words were an extension of myself and embodied my spirit.
. . . Until signing became a chore and thus, meaningless.
It happened soon enough. Starting with high school tests and the college application form.
I am overwhelmed by the number of times I’ve had to put my name down in the process of living: when I filled out job applications, when I opened bank accounts, when I signed a contract releasing the other party from legal responsibility and every time I purchased something. Often, putting my name down on paper meant an acknowledgment of rules—a rental lease for example. The sign became a commitment, a promise, and a verification of my identity among other things.
There is no enjoyment in such routine activity.
What’s worse is that, in this digital age, we are abandoning the pen-written signature. The computer carries the typed or screen-squiggled name to the recipient without the semblance or pretense of anything personal.
Then, my first book came along and a reader requested an autograph.
I was mystified. Why did a reader want my signature? I am a relatively new and unknown writer. Only famous people sign books. Only famous people receive autograph requests.
In adulthood signing my name had devolved to automaton mode, it’s something I did routinely several times each day. I signed when I purchased something, not the other way around. It’s the same two words I’d transcribed a million times in my life, without sparing an extra thought to it. Now, someone had bought my book and was asking for my signature. I remember staring blankly at the person in front of me, thinking, “You want my signature? For provenance? I did write this book!”
It dawned on me, much later, that readers want me to write out my name for entirely different reasons.
They want the author’s name on the book because it is something from the writer that they can take with them. The book is printed with the author’s name on it; but when it carries an autograph, it becomes personal. And therein lies the value. It is a memento of their brief encounter with the writer. It is also how they remember the person who wrote the book. The signature makes it valuable, not in dollar terms, but in making the book unique.
In today’s digital age, e-books are popular for their convenience and portability. But, they cannot be signed or made personal in any way.
Signing a book is now my pleasure. I am honored when people buy my book, and I consider it my privilege to sign it. In an age where signatures have mostly become meaningless, an autograph in a book remains one of those old-fashioned arts that retains its charm.
8 thoughts on “The Write Flourish”
This is so right, sadly. Signing your name to something has become almost meaningless in the digital age. Think about it – how many times do we make an “electronic signature” by just typing our name? I’ve read horror stories even of how kids don’t know how to read or write cursive anymore. Very scary. I think it’s a great attitude to resist this by being proud to sign your name on anything, especially a book. Reminds me to always sign my books when I send them out for prizes.
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Hi Tam May,
Thank you for your comments on my piece about signatures. Something to think about, right? I hope by the next generation cursive does not become a forgotten art.
Sudha, I enjoyed this post very much. Your story of working so hard to perfect your signature reminded me of the days shortly after my divorce was final, when I decided to go back to my maiden name. But how to write the capitol G? I decided then to always make it a very large lowercase g. I did want to mention that there is a service you can subscribe to that enables you to autograph ebooks. I had it when my memoir first came out, and I had a few requests. Then, when I decided to publish the second edition myself, I didn’t continue. I believe it’s called AuthorGraph. You might want to check it out.
Thanks for your comments, Janet! I will research AuthorGraph for sure; it sounds like an interesting concept.
Your post reminds me to practice my Author signature! I’ve heard others suggest trying different markers to find the best one, too. Cursive writing has definitely not been a focus in the schools. My daughters just started at the university and they didn’t feel like they even had “real” signatures for their paperwork. They look more like printed letters with little lines connecting them! And to think I taught myself calligraphy with a real ink cartridge! 🙂
Thanks for reading my post. I think for the younger generation, the written signatures are an evolving process — eventually they’ll find one that sits well. Somehow we managed cursive with all the other material we had to learn in school so I don’t understand why it’s deemed unnecessary. The problem, I believe, is because we type more than we write.
Ugh! My author signature! It took me 30 years to perfect my signature. My real signature. But now I write with a pen name and it’s like learning to write all over again! The pen feels lopsided and the ink doesn’t flow correctly and it always looks like chicken scratches! I need to practice this some more… a LOT more!
I love having signed books. You’re right. Getting a chance to meet and author and chat with them, however briefly, then having a book signed by them always makes me feel like I “know” them. Whenever I see them online or at an upcoming event, I get more excited than I would for someone I didn’t have that connection with.
I am primarily an e-reader. I like having all my books with me when I travel. So when I come across an author signing, I usually purchase a hard-copy as well. I can’t tell you how many duplicates I have in both print and e-book. And I love each and every one. 🙂
Christina, it’s funny isn’t it, how a signature from an author can make a difference to your perception of both the book and the author? Thanks for reading my post!
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