I recently read a book called Becoming A Writer (bit late, you might say, but there’s always room for improvement). There is some great and very practical advice in there, but one suggestion that momentarily made me feel a bit of a fail.
The trouble is that the author, Dorothea Brande, reckons talking about something you’re writing about before you’ve finished is a terrible idea. She says once you’ve worked out the problems in your tale by talking them through with someone, you’ve effectively sucked the juice out of it – you already know what happens, so there’s no need to go through the slog of writing it all down.
When I read that, I felt recognition – and a horrible realisation that I talk about what I’m writing all the damn time. Is that why it’s taking me so long to finish things? And here was me blaming work, life, the universe and everything!
The idea that talking about it is a menace to creativity heaps scorn on the remit of this blog, which is to write books and talk about the process as I go along. Was this a huge mistake? Has writing about the problems I was having at the time stopped me from doing the actual work of solving them in my manuscript?
Occasionally, I think it has. I do feel like I’ve finished things when I haven’t, because when I talk them through I work out problems and write them here, or on social media channels, without necessarily taking the time to copy them into the word doc the story lives in.
There again, I don’t blog about everything I write. Some of it stays in the recesses of my notebook collection, and even more of it stays in my head – occasionally for years at a time. At least two of my Next Great British Children’s Novels exist almost entirely in my brain because when I originally started to write them down I realised they weren’t done yet. Although at this point there’s a distinct possibility fear is playing a part with both of those, as I’ve now begun to worry I can’t do justice to these characters I have carried with me for a long time. Perhaps if I talk about them, it’ll help me psyche myself up towards writing them?
Not according to Dorothea Brande, but I’m not convinced that she’s right. I suppose there’s a chance that if I stop writing this blog and retreat to a highland bothy with nobody to talk to, I’ll build up a head of steam that enables me to finally finish something wonderful. That or I’ll get distracted by all the sheep and mountains and things and write something completely different from what I originally thought I was going to do, and when I try to describe it to people they’ll go ‘what? I thought you were doing a book of fart jokes, or whatever it is 8 year olds are into..’ (Please note, I am not writing fart jokes. I’m way more aspirational than that.)
The thing about writing, or drawing, or creating art of any kind is that however much of the process you internalise, the thing that finally comes out of you probably won’t be anything like you planned. It might be better, it might be worse, but it will never look as it did in your mind’s eye. And I’m inclined to think that if you talk about it as you go along, gathering other people’s opinions, support and constructive criticism along the way, that helps it to evolve into something you’re happy with, even if it isn’t what you’d imagined. And getting other perspectives as you go along is arguably a lot better than having people’s comments and criticism thrown all over you in a traumatic bucketful of AHMAGAHD when you’ve just spent 6 months alone in a garret convincing yourself these scribbles about your imaginary friends are going to win a Pulitzer.
But what do you think, people of the internet? Do you talk to people about your creative process as you go along, or lock it up tight until you’ve got a finished product polished and ready to shine? Do you bounce ideas off other people, or do you live in fear of their withering scorn puncturing them forever? Leave me a comment below – but for goodness sake don’t tell me any of the details of what you’re working on. I don’t want to be responsible for the alleged consequences…
April 24, 2014 at 2:10 pm
I feel your pain. I find the magic fades a little more each time I share my ideas and plans and plots with others but the more frustrating aspect of this is that I’m a very slow typer and I physically can’t keep up with my brain so the movie that happens in my head that I have to transcribe gets too far ahead of my fingers and I give up. I know what’s going to happen, I’ve enjoyed the story unfolding and now it’s time to move on to the next plot.
That being said, I have had conversations that spark an idea that had turned into he keystone of my plot. For me, I try to withhold story ideas and plots/outlines to protect my “secret plans.” I don;t want anyone to steal them!
April 24, 2014 at 5:21 pm
First thing, praise and thank yous for writing this post because it rings resonant bells and reading it was therapeutic… 😀
Most of the time I try and cling to a hardline “Thou shalt not talk current writing!” rule. As soon as I talk about writing or what I’m thinking about writing it all falls to pieces and either doesn’t get written or takes on weird, overwhelming dimensions. There’s irrational dread and a sense of pressure, but I think it’s mainly the ‘all talk no action’ jinx that keeps me silent when I manage to stay silent.
Of course, the downside is that there is no sharing and the whole process is internalised which isn’t always fun or healthy. When you’re really immersed in writing something it’s the most important thing in the world at that time and it’s frustrating not being able to express that and discuss it with others. There are a lot of “I’m having a great time with something I can’t talk about!” moments. I’m probably going to start being more open about things I’m working on in the future… (and now that I’ve said that, it’s not going to happen.)