There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. ~Maya Angelou, American poet and civil rights activist
When you tell someone you’re a writer, invariably you’re asked what you’re working on right now.
A vague response doesn’t cut it. They want details — lots of them — and many are quick to offer “helpful” suggestions for plot points, characters, settings, whatever.
Now some writers welcome this kind of feedback. They enjoy sharing daily/weekly word counts, they post portions of their work online, and they tease readers with snippets designed to build eagerness for when the book is published.
Some make a game of it, gathering momentum from the camaraderie.
Kind of like working on a group project in school.
While there’s nothing inherently wrong with such a mindset, I’m not in that camp. In fact, I’m quick to clam up when it comes to offering details of my work-in-progress.
- I don’t want new opinions on my plot to interfere with the ideas already swimming around in my head.
- I don’t need to hear discouraging reviews when my story isn’t even completed.
- First drafts are notoriously awful, and I don’t want something like that connected to me forever.
- I don’t relish a cheering squad “encouraging” me on in my word count.
- I don’t trust strangers to have my best interests (or those of my career) at heart.
- I don’t need any more pressure to “finish already.”
- Talking about a project lessens my enthusiasm for it (and you’ve got to really love your work-in-progress to spend so much time with it!)
Maya Angelou was so right — it is agonizing to have an untold story inside you. And sometimes, getting all those ideas down, just the way you want them, is more like pulling teeth than stringing words and sentences together.
But that’s part of writing. And that pressure is what drives me forward until I can type The End.
So don’t fault me for refusing to share details about what I’m working on.
It’s not you; it’s me.
And just like with a hen’s egg, the book will hatch when it’s good and ready!
How about you? Any thoughts you’d like to share?
I agree with you, completely. And I’d add this: there’s nothing more boring for a reader than following along through months of dithering over “the process.” You want people to focus on the product, not the process.
It is important to let people know that change is coming — a change in blog format like mine, or a book, or whatever — but from my perspective, it’s much better to do it closer to the reveal, so that people know what’s happening, but don’t have to wait to respond. My new blog format is specifically designed to allow me to link to a couple of more pages up at the top, in the menu — but until those pages are ready to go, I’ll not breathe a word about them.
And then there’s this: we only have so much time and energy. I’d rather devote mine to writing, rather than to talking about writing!
You make some great points, Linda (and I apologize for not replying sooner, but somehow, your comment landed in my Spam folder!)
I wish we could go back to the time when publishers and agents did the selling while writers did the writing. Sigh. Very few writers are adept at marketing, sounding more like penniless beggars sitting on a curb with a tin cup. I suppose that’s why so many feel a need to “collaborate” on their work, believing that if a potential reader names a certain character, they’ll be more inclined to buy the book … and tell all their friends. Sadly, there’s just no “right” way to do any of it!
But yes, I agree — there’s a time and a place for building interest, and doing so too far away from the “reveal” borders on ridiculous.
Wonderfully expressed post, Debbie! Even though I have never attempted to write a novel, I must say that I TOTALLY agree with your list of “Why’s” because I am rather private when it comes to making decisions in my life and will “very” rarely share my thoughts with others until I make the decision myself. And I do this because I find that talking to others about something I’m trying to decide makes things more confusing. I know people mean well, but ultimately we have to make choices on our own.
And I also respect others that way. I don’t volunteer my opinions unless asked.
“But that’s part of writing. And that pressure is what drives me forward until I can type The End.”
Love your thoughts on that!
Hope you had a Happy New Year’s Day, my friend! The best to you in 2017!
Thank you, Ron, for your kind, empathetic words! I think part of my “problem” is that I just don’t want to hurt somebody’s feelings. And if somebody made a suggestion (even one I disagreed with), I’d feel almost obligated to incorporate it (to the possible detriment of my work in progress).
Not that anybody would deliberately set out to ruin my work (or gee, maybe somebody would!), but writing for me is a solitary pursuit. Why some feel prompted to make suggestions in another’s craft puzzles me anyway. What artist or musician wants strangers offering their ideas of colors, bridges between sections, or whatever? Eh, enough of my soapbox.
Happy New Year to you, my friend! xo
Thank you so much for this post. The quote is spot on, probably why I’ve carried it around in my head. And yes, I have a book swimming around (a few, actually); this particular book has changed it’s course in my head and on paper for years. It’s taking a long time evolving, but the evolution of it is for the better. It will make its appearance on its own time. I no longer tell anyone I am working on it. I took much of last year off to pursue stained glass art. While I will continue with glass it is time to try to get this story on paper. No, I will not talk about it as I am in progress for the same reasons you posted. And as the quotes states, this is the reason I will pursue it at my own pace. While I have the inclination and desire to write I also want to live, and this requires a particular balance to be fulfilled in both areas. I’m sure you get what I mean. I most likely will be less present in the blogging world, but I surely hope we don’t lose touch. Please shoot me an email line here and there. I will remain on FB but mostly just to respond to any notifications I receive. I wish you, Domer, and Dallas a lovely 2017!
Thank YOU, Suzi! Of course, after the book is published, we writers need others to read it and write reviews, but while it’s still “hatching,” we sort of fold unto ourselves to give it the best shot possible.
Many good wishes on the hatching of your own book. It takes time to get down on the page just what we want to say, and the last thing any creator needs is the pressure of others *demanding* its completion! Even though I was a journalist and lived with the pressures of a daily deadline, I sure wouldn’t want that from the public or a publisher. Life is meant to be lived, and I just can’t hole up 24/7.
I don’t do FB, nor do I want to lose touch with you. You can send me a direct message on Twitter or e-mail me. I’ll miss seeing you in the blogosphere and I’ll look forward to reading your posts whenever you publish. Happy 2017 to you and yours!
This reminds me of advice from ‘Stephen King On Writing’. I’ve always kept that in the back of my mind. Though I’ve never written anything of any length, the notion is the same.
Thank you, Captain, for your encouragement. I suppose it sounds crazy to someone who doesn’t create, but I’ve got so many ideas floating around my mind that I have a hard enough time trying to choose just one as it is — without having others make suggestions. I mean, there’s really no such thing as a “new” idea anymore, is there? Isn’t there just a new way of telling the same stories? Happy 2017 to you and yours!
That’s funny since Whitman said there were no new ideas back in his time! I think we just have to create how we feel is authentic.
Happy 2017 to you!
Good point! Happy 2017 to you and yours — may it be a splendid one in every way!
**”It’s not you, it’s me.”**
I like that, Debbie. You’re on the right track!
I never take advice from anybody, which could be my downfall in the end…., but I just write. I write for nobody but myself. ( is that selfish?)
What I mean to say is this: I ‘ve never looked at my blog stats or numbers of hits or how many followers I have. I’ve never wanted to be like anybody else. ( except perhaps, Plath)
I don’t want to know the stats because I don’t want the numbers to move me forward or backwards.
Oh, one thing I do is pray before I write & publish something. I’ve always done this!
xxx HAPPY 2017! Great Post!!!
Ah, Kim, thanks so much for sharing your beautiful thoughts! I don’t think it’s selfish to write for oneself; after all, we are our first readers, and if something doesn’t pass our standards, we know it’s not ready for the world to view.
With a novel, I think beta readers are a necessity. Those folks often catch things I’m just too close to. But when the work is still in its infancy, when I’m just starting to put together a character or a plot line, I rely on my own best judgment … good or bad.
Praying while you write and as you hit that Publish button seems an outstanding manner of operating to me.
Happy New Year to you and yours, Lady! xx
Clearly, I do not write fiction. That’s an entire new animal!
I agree, there should be many other eyes besides your own! xx
Absolutely … but after the first draft is done. None of this business of somebody making far-out suggestions and the poor writer trying to incorporate every one of them, to the ruination of the story! xx
I council writers not to show anyone their work until the first draft is done. It amazes me when writers beat their chest over plot points and then ask someone what they think. 50% of those you ask will hate what you’ve written so don’t ask. Finish the draft then you can get beaten up as much as you want. At least the draft is finished.
Words of wisdom, John, from someone who’s been there and done that! Thank you, my friend. And there’s no tactful way, once someone has offered you their suggestions, of turning them down!!
I do it all the time. My point was a writer should finish the work or the comments may be the cause for giving up. I have no problem telling someone their suggestion is off the mark.
Oh, then I admire you even more!! I find that just really hard to do, especially with well-meaning friends. That’s why it’s better for me to keep my cards close to my chest and not breathe a word until I’ve steeled myself against them, ha!
Or and this is just a suggestion, keep your friends out of your writing totally. Join a writer’s critique group and they will understand if you don’t take their suggestions.
Good point, John. I’ll keep that one in mind for when I feel the need to get input during the writing process. Thanks!
I think beta readers are the best since you have already finished and then can fine tune. Thanks for listening, Debbie. I tend to be real tedious on this subject. 🙂
Tedious? No! Never! I welcome your advice. I’m still a fledgling in this arena and any help from someone who’s trod this path before is appreciated. 😉
I almost stopped writing when I showed someone my stuff. I vowed not to do that again.
Well, as a reader, I don’t like to know too much about a book when I start reading, so your method works fine for me! But I can’t wait to find out more about it when you… and it… are good and ready… 🙂
Thank you, FF. I’ll be glad to speak up when I can, just not quite yet. Like you, I prefer to open a book not knowing all the particulars, especially all the angst that went into writing it!
Debbie, you make some good points. I think everyone’s creative process is different and that writers need to do what works best for their personality. I have personally never embraced, “the word count. ” I mean, so what if I wrote ten pages in one day….maybe it’s completely awful. Because my work schedule is so intense, I just have to write when I can. I rarely put my short stories online because once they are on your blog, they are considered published by literary magazines. Book publishers will also put a limit for a word count if you want to post any of the book online. It’s all so stressful, ha ha. Book marketing is a killer, I still can’t figure it out. I’m sure it’s better if you have a big publisher. I say, take your time and enjoy your writing!
Thanks for your advice, Lana! I very much identify with your process. Some days, I do good to write a shopping list because I’m up to my ears in other things; other days, I can write and write to my heart’s content. I don’t put short stories online either (just poems). And marketing … well, that’s a whole new thing!
Hah! I hear you. I’m the same way. Share only if you choose. I’m so used to being alone on this ship! Good luck with everything.
Thanks, DD. The writing part, for me at least, is welcome solitude. An escape of sorts from this hectic world we live in. Plus, even in school, I hated group projects, ha!!
I applaud your method, Debbie. Less pressure and you can write at your own pace. No expectation. Good luck with it! I know how daunting it can be!
Thanks for understanding, Monica. Yes, it is daunting, especially the scary road of marketing. This whole left-brain, right-brain thing baffles me. I know I’m not the first to wade through it, but I am … for me at least!
I’m completely, 100% with you on that. Even my older sister, who has always been a great supporter and cheerleader and has asked a few times to see a couple of my works in progress, has not seen my WIP. And for many of the reasons you listed above, I don’t belong to writing groups. I appreciated reading this post, as it’s always nice to know that although I like to keep my scrappy works to myself, on the flip side, it’s nice to know I’m not alone in wanting to be left alone as I eek out the work.
Thank you so much, Barb, for confirming my “oddness.” Other writers swear by writing groups and posting word counts as a means of keeping them accountable. I just don’t feel that compulsion. So, like you, I slog away by myself, trusting that the words will come and hoping they’ll resonate with others.