Heart sink moments are plenty in a writer’s life, but one of my least favourite has to be the dinner party where the bloke sitting next to me, on hearing I’m a novelist, launches into a detailed description of the novel he’s going to write. I listen attentively, because my mother brought me up to be polite, but what I really want to do is screech and tell him to stop because a) I don’t want to know and b) he’s ruining his chances of ever getting the novel written.
Writing a novel requires a lot of energy. 100,000 words or so takes a lot of typing even without the concentration on the story telling. Somehow you have to sustain your energy and enthusiasm for at least several months, if not several years. Story telling is in part a desire to communicate. If you’re doing that communication to all and sundry at dinner parties you’re dissipating the energy you need to keep going with your story. Worse, with frequent telling, you may become bored with your own story before you’ve got it written down.
So don’t tell anyone what it’s about. Keep that desire to yourself, communicate with the page, not chance met strangers. Because I’ve recently had a book out (A Single to Rome, absolutely brilliant, do go out and buy a copy - pleeeeease) I’m frequently being asked about what I’m working on at the moment. In response I mumble something about how I’ve started a novel. And what is it about? More mumbling and staring at the floor until they go away. I’m not being rude (honest, Mum), I’m guarding an essential part of my writing life.