Why you shouldn’t talk about your writing (sometimes)

There are two types of writers. Some do it in secret, as furtively as shoots pushing through the earth in spring. They don’t like to talk about it, and if pressed will give some vague answer about ‘getting there, making progress, pleasedon’taskmeanymorethanks’. They nurture the idea inside them until it germinates. Think watercress in the airing cupboard and you’ll have got it.

The second type is very comfortable discussing their ideas . They go to writing classes and groups, they get feedback, they talk about their ideas. They may even post bits online as they’re writing. They’ve weathered the terror of people seeing their work, and found it’s not so bad after all.

I’ve been both types at different times.

I do think we need a bit of secrecy in our work. That idea might be so ill-formed, such a tiny wisp of a thought, that if you try to explain it and see baffled looks, it could put you right off carrying on. You might also feel silly when your amazing idea starts to be ruined by, you know, actually writing the damn thing. There are points in the writing process when it becomes about practice, not inspiration. The discipline to keep plugging away in the dark, hoping light will flood in. At these times it’s good to keep your work a secret even from yourself. Keep going, don’t look back, don’t question, don’t second-guess. Don’t even tell yourself you’re writing a book. Try writing in notebooks, ideally with indecipherable handwriting. It’s why I sometimes suggest students ignore my feedback until they have a first draft. Talking about your book a lot can also make it hard to edit. It’s already out there in the world, crystallised. How can you then tear it to pieces?

There’s another issue. If you’ve talked about your work a lot, you’ll also get well-meaning (or not) friends asking how it’s going. Finished that book yet? You know, that novel you’ve been working on? When’s it coming out? Where can I get it? Oh what’s that, it can take years to write and publish a book and that’s only if you sell the first one which you might not even do? You don’t need that kind of pressure. Carry on serenely, with your secret book germinating away.

Of course, if you leave that cress in there too long it’ll rot, so if you’re very much on the furtive side, there will come a time when you need to get feedback, have eyes on your work, and drag it out into the light. Then you should take a cue from the other type of writer. It’s just important to know which stage you’re at.

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