Sunday, March 6, 2011

Seekrit projects

The other day, Nathan Bransford posed the question: "How much can you talk about your idea before you write it?" Some writers are energized by talking about the story; it helps them generate enthusiasm and new ideas. But for me, the answer has always been: Not much. About works in first draft, the most specific I tend to be is, "It's a young-adult novel" or, "I'm working on a short story."

Writing a first draft takes a lot of energy. Creating a world from scratch requires an incredible amount of concentration and tension. I discovered early on in my writing life that if I talked a lot about a story I hadn't finished yet, I tended to lose interest in ever finishing it. I left the fight in the locker room, so to speak. Also, it can take me a while to figure out exactly what it is that I'm writing--the characters surprise me all the time. I may discover in chapter 16 that my main character is adopted and has been wondering about his biological identity all along, and that's what the story is really about.*

The farther along I am, the more I can say about a story. Once it reaches the third or fourth draft, I can squeeze out a one-word description: a topic, perhaps, or even a one-line summary. A few drafts later, it's ready for critique and I not only tolerate, but require, lengthy analyses and discussions of how the book is constructed and what it's about. When it's finished, it's a pleasure to discuss the story with readers--at that point, I could talk about the book all day. But early on, that seed needs silence to germinate.

*Naturally, this is not at all what my current work in progress is about. I don't think.


  1. I'm the same. I recently spent an hour and a half dissecting the themes and characters of my WIP with my best friend - it helped a lot. But when it's early days, I can't say much. Mostly because I don't know much about the story myself, at that point!

  2. I know just what you mean. When an idea is still cooking, talking about it tends to make me more aware of all the ways it could potentially flop. Better to let the flavors silently simmer for a while!

  3. Thanks for commenting, Becca and Laurel!

    It may be similar to the introvert/extrovert situation: some of us get our energy recharged by being with others, some by being alone.

  4. I agree about keeping my lips sealed until the story is solid. I almost feel like I'm jinxing myself by talking about my work in progress too soon.

  5. Ssshh, Cynthia, I won't tell a soul. :-)