distraction no.99

Nova Ren Suma | On Writing & Writing Distractions

Not an Author Newsletter… something else.

Why I Don’t Talk

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.

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25 responses to “Why I Don’t Talk”

  1. I *so* can’t talk about what I’m writing, until I’m pretty much finished with the first draft. It’s like talking about a fetus–people don’t even publicize a pregnancy until the 2nd trimester, so why would I be compelled to talk about my book in its first trimester? And no one talks about what the baby looks like/acts like, etc., until it is born–again, why am I expected to prattle on about my book until it’s completely formed/written/finished?

  2. ps even after the 1st draft, I won’t be talking about the book in length. At that point, I can pretty much only provide a brief synopsis (and I’ve found, that’s all most people can stomach).

    • I think we are. We’re being judged and labeled and assessed and pre-read and most probably misunderstood. Does that sound paranoid? Heh. Sorry. Anyway, it’s probably wonderfully mysterious if we *don’t* say what our manuscripts are about… leave them wondering and pining and wanting more! 😉

  3. […] Nova has a blog post up on why she doesn’t talk about her novel-in-progress. Given that I too, do not talk about my work-in-progress at length until it’s finished (and even then, I simply state that “it’s done”), I was bewildered that “whether or not a writer talks about her WIP” was even a hostly contested thing–but it seems to be. […]

  4. Um… Weelll….

    I have no problem talking about my books. In fact, I sometimes feel like I *need* to hash it out verbally. The negative side of this is when something flashes to mind and I’m all, “OHHH!” and hurry off to write it down. People don’t seem to understand what happened…

    But I do understand what you’re saying.

    • I knew there’d be some talkers! I know it helps many writers to talk it out—I know a few.

      I admire the confidence—and I especially admire good storytellers who can get me mesmerized on the spot—but I’m afraid I’d break mine if I tried the same!

  5. Absolutely agree. I try to adhere to ‘the Amy Tan vow of silence’—the idea being that talking about an unwritten story diminishes your drive to write it. Superstitious, yes, but very sensible! In the past I’ve run story ideas by a couple close friends, though, and I don’t think that’s ever a bad thing—sometimes you need that initial encouragement from somebody you trust.

    Good luck finishing up your revisions!!

    • I didn’t know there was an “Amy Tan vow of silence”! Have I been following her all along? The only person I tell ideas to—once they get to a certain stage, which takes months—is my other half, and he helps me make them better… but he’s just talented that way. It’s purely selfish!

  6. I’ll talk things over with my critique partners, but that’s about it. If anyone else asks me what I’m working on, I give them a pretty vague description. I think part of it is that my stories tend to change a lot when I’m working on them, so I don’t want to talk about something that might wind up being completely different. Also, I think when people hear about a project, they often want to “help” even if they don’t know anything about the subject matter or about writing. I actually did a poll on my blog not too long ago about sharing your WIPs on your website/blog – it was fascinating to see how differently people feel about the topic!

  7. I learned the hard way I must NOT talk about them. Someone asked me what I was working on once, I did a crappy job explaining it, I got this weird blank stare followed up with a fake, oh, “that sounds interesting.” And all of my enthusiasm flew out the window.

    I have a couple of trusted people I’ll run ideas by before I start, and I will run things by my agent, but that’s IT.

  8. Only my agent and cp ever know what’s up with my wip. And even then it’s only shared with them via a carefully written premise with the caveat that it’s most likely to change significantly after I’ve written the book. I absolutely hate talking about wip’s. Gives me the heebie jeebies.

  9. I’m not a “real published writer” but I’ve always felt like when I talk about something I’m writing, it ceases to become mine. I’ll stop writing it immediately after. Even discussing it lightly with friends. This year, I found out I could finally talk about it with my girlfriend. I don’t know why that is!

  10. I feel the same way! I can tell my agent what I’m working on, but that’s it–anybody else and as soon as the description leaves my lips or my fingers… it’s dead. Whether they loved it or hated it, I can’t write it anymore. There are some people who know what I’m working on right now, but they didn’t know at first, and only my agent has read even a word of it. I have a vague description I give people if they ask, but mostly I don’t really talk about it.

  11. I’ve talked about my WIPs, but I’ve always regretted it. Just like writing a synopsis is much more of a chore than writing a chapter, giving people an on-the-spot summary of my story is toughh work. And it almost always sounds so stupid. Most people don’t really want to know what we’re writing anyway; they’re just trying to be nice.

  12. I wonder if this is something that changes when a writer crosses that boundary between unpublished and published? As one of the “yet-to-be-published” crowd still, I have to say, I do enjoy sharing my works in progress. For me at least, if I don’t share something with someone, a paragraph or line on my blog, or a draft with a trusted writer friend, it’s like the thing doesn’t exist. You know, like the whole tree falling in the forest thing?

    Once I’ve shared and talked about a project (and I don’t mean with random strangers, so maybe there’s the difference), I only feel more momentum behind it, because otherwise, it’s just likely to sit on my hard drive and fester.

    • But then again, I was also one of those who announced her pregnancy at 6 weeks, so maybe it’s a personality thing after all…

  13. I’m so glad you brought this up, Nova! As a nonwriter, I’ve always felt flummoxed as to what to say to an author. I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable…but I also don’t want an author to think I don’t care or I’m not curious (it’s usually the opposite – I have to bite my tongue to not ask the dreaded question). The conversation here and on Facebook at least helped give me the language to bring it up, if I must.

  14. I got behind in replying to all these wonderful comments… my manuscript is due on Monday! It’s all I can seem to think about! But in the meantime, thanks to all for these fascinating comments, and on Twitter, too—I see there are many other writers who are reluctant to talk, too.

    And thank you again, Laura, for bringing up this great question!

  15. I completely agree! I don’t talk about WIPs and I can’t stand writers whose every tweet and FAcebook status update is about how hard it is to write their WIP , e.g “Chapter 3- I’ve hit a wall”, “I have writers block now-HELP!”


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