Monday, 2 April 2012

Don't Talk - Write!

People quite often ask me about what I'm writing and I mumble something like, 'Oh, same old stuff.' Very occasionally they push me for more, and I get more mumbly and evasive.

The thing is, writing is about communication. I have a story that I want to communicate to other people. If I talk too much about it the urge to write it will diminish. That's the primary reason I shy away from talking about what I do. Better to say nothing.

The second reason for being coy is I write what I write; I can't write it differently because I'm me, not someone else. Whether someone likes what I'm in the process of writing should be irrelevant - yet I know that I will be hugely affected by a disappointed face. It might even put me off writing. Better to say nothing.

The third reason for mumbling is that I dread someone brightly saying, 'Oh, that's just the same story as one I read last week,' or, 'that's just like the plot of Eastenders/the Archers.' I know with my brain that there are no new stories and it's only your take that can possibly be original, but my heart isn't so sensible. It will shrivel up and lose all confidence in the story. Better to say nothing.

Workshopping is different because either it's a whole piece and therefore the story has already been committed to the page, or it's a fragment. Plus, I trust the people I workshop with. I know them, they're all writers and they know how to be critical but supportive at the same time.

Generally I advise all writers to keep their story telling for the page. Don't share with your friends or your partner even if they ask. Let them read it when it's ready to be read by non-writers, and not before. Don't talk - write!


Shauna said...

That's so true. It's not about being coy, or awkward. In the early stages, the writing and the writer is fragile. I don't share anything (even with my writing group) until my first draft has, at least, gone through one edit.

If you talk too much about an idea, you can talk yourself out of it!

Jim Murdoch said...

I agree strongly. Just over a year ago I finished my fifth novel and I felt this pressure to let people know when I’d started the sixth as if I’d suddenly stopped being a writer for the interim period. Now I have some 4000 words written but I’m still exceedingly hesitant even to say this is going to be a novel because I don’t know myself yet. It’s at times like this I wish I was a plotter because by now most of the hard work would be done and I’d just be filling in the blanks which I know oversimplifies the process but I take a very grass-is-always-greener view of those writer who can plot up front. I’ve mentioned to a couple of friends—and my wife, of course—that I’ve started something and that it’s about memory, specifically memory loss, which is not surprising because it’s a subject that preoccupies me, but that’s it and already I’ve completely changed my approach to the problem and ditched my first go. That’s one of the main reason why I hate talking about my writing because I really don’t know which way it’s heading; I’m feeling my way along in the dark. I also take my responsibility as the writer seriously. I get quite irritated by artists who have a band of assistants who do all the grunt work; those aren’t artists, they’re designers. All my wife knew about my last novel—and bear in mind that it took me several years to write it—was that it was called Left and it was about a woman going through her father’s flat after his death and although that’s still the basis for the novel after a couple of chapters it veers off into a direction I did not see coming and was certainly not the book I set out to write; the important thing is that is was worth writing.

Sarah Duncan said...

Shauna, you're absolutely right about talking yourself out of a story.

Jim, that's a really important point - until you've written the story you don't really know it.