The lovely Laura Lutz recently asked a question on Facebook that I couldn’t help piping in to answer: Do authors like it or not when you ask them, “What are you working on now?”
Me? I’m one of those who do *not* like it. Nothing against the asker, but it’s just not something I want to talk about, especially to someone I don’t really know—a piece of writing forming in my mind, one that’s likely new and delicate and easily knocked over, it’s as private as flashing my underwear, maybe worse. And even once the book gets stronger, once it gets its hooks in the page… not even then should I tell you about it. A book is a flimsy thing until you’ve written it. Just because you’re thinking about what it will be doesn’t mean it will actually become that—you have to write it down first.
I don’t even like talking about a book under contract—a book I know will be written to the end. If a stranger or an acquaintance asks, I will be vague: “It’s a YA novel about sisters. It’s a little surreal.” That’s what I said for the longest time.
Worse would be if you asked me about what I’m working on next—the tween novel and the YA novel that have been slowly forming in the background while this other one made her impending deadline—I can’t say anything. Nothing. They’re not allowed out just yet. Once I choose which book to work on next I will probably tell three carefully selected people what that book is and then I won’t tell anyone else until it is (a) written to the end or (b) approved by an editor or officially under contract or (c) abandoned. It’s dangerous to do so otherwise.
All I’d need is one wrinkled nose or offhand remark or distracted look across the room at the hot guy/ hot girl/ hot other novel and it could derail the whole project. You wouldn’t know that—you could innocently say something completely innocuous and not realize how much of an impact it could have. It’s not your fault. Still, I’d rather not risk it.
I was once at an artists colony where all the artists would sit around the dinner table and talk after our days spent working in our solitary studios. Some of the artists liked to talk about their works-in-progress, which was fascinating, but others were very vague, cryptically vague. I remember what one writer said when someone innocently turned to ask him what the book he was writing was about—this was a very talented, amazingly good writer with many critically acclaimed books to his name. He said he couldn’t tell us. Not even a little? he was asked. Nothing, he said. Only his editor and agent knew, and we would know only once the book was turned in and he knew he’d written the whole thing.
Maybe it seems odd that someone so successful—and clearly used to finishing the novels he’d started—wouldn’t want to tell everyone what WIP was getting him so worked up in his wooded studio, but I understood it completely. In fact, I felt a little vindicated. Like maybe my own superstition was a good thing.
This is why I don’t post excerpts of works-in-progress, well, ever. Can’t. Shouldn’t. No matter how excited I get about a certain paragraph and really, really want to. There will come a time when I can show some special people my first chapters… but that will take a great amount of shaping first. And even then, if I’m at a party, say, or a writers conference like the one I’m headed to this weekend, and you come over and tell me all about your awesome novel-in-progress and ask after what I’m writing next since I finished* my other one, please don’t be offended if I say, “It’s a book. I’m writing a book.” That’s all I know for sure right now. Fingers crossed I get it all down on paper and can one day say more.
* IGGY** is due Monday. I expect to be, and sure hope to be, finished with the draft by this weekend! If not, and you see me at that conference, please don’t be offended if I act anxious and/or deranged. The deadline is now less than a week away. That close to a deadline, who wouldn’t be anxious and/or deranged?
** Yes, I have nicknamed my YA novel IGGY. Don’t judge.