To Talk or Not to Talk?

Originally posted on my website:
Some of you have seen this one already!

Nathan Bransford had a guest blog post (by Teralyn Rose Pilgrim) awhile back which posed the question "Do you tell people that you write?" I was thinking about that question as well as the question "Do you talk about your work in progress?"

When I was younger, I told people that I wrote all the time. The only question people have ever asked me in response to the revelation that I am writing or have written a book is: "Oh, what's it about?" I used to go into great detail until their eyes glazed over and they stopped paying attention. Had I had any clue at all I would have realized they were only asking to be polite. They didn't want a Clarissa-length version of the book, they only wanted a brief summation. Less is more. I remained clueless. That wasn't the reason I stopped talking about my writing. I stopped talking about it because the more talking I did, the less writing I did. So in my mid-twenties, somewhere between The Space Between and Finding Claire Fletcher, I shut the f#%k up.

I mostly stopped telling people that I wrote novels. Occasionally, if someone asked me what I did I would say, "I'm a karate instructor/grad student/certified nurse assistant and I write novels in my spare time." I could have just said--and often did--that I was a karate instructor/grad student/certified nurse assistant. But it seemed like such an unfair representation to leave out the fact that I was a writer when I spent 90% of my time NOT at school or work on my book(s). So I'd mention it in that context and invariably the person would say, "Oh, what's your book about?" and then I would say, "It's a suspense novel". You would be shocked--truly appalled--at how many people just left it at that. That was when I realized people didn't really give a crap what my book was about. At all. They were just being polite. Then I thought of all the ears I had talked off in my teenage years and early 20s, droning on and on about whatever I was working on (almost none of which I finished by the way) and I thought, oh those poor souls! So I thought that was a good way to go. Short, simple. "It's a suspense novel." I can count on one hand the number of people who chuckled in response to that and said, "Yes, but what is it ABOUT?" and at that point I would be as brief as practically possible. "It's about a police detective" or "It's about a missing girl." One or two of those five people actually wanted to know more and when pressed, I would reluctantly give them a brief recap of the actual plot.

After awhile I stopped mentioning that I wrote novels at all or only very rarely. After all, I'd been writing my whole life, looking for an agent for a few years and nothing was coming of it. What was the point of telling people I am a writer? It wasn't going anywhere. When I landed my agent, my fiancé bragged about it to everyone we knew and then I heard many, many, many of these: "Oh I didn't know you wrote!" which was followed by: "What's your book about?" to which I replied: "It's a suspense novel." Now I don't know if the fact that I had an agent made people more curious or not but at that point a lot more people wanted to know the actual premise of the book so I started giving a one to two line description: "Detective meets and spends night with woman, later finds out she's been missing for ten years, tries to find her." I haven't seen too many eyes glaze over which is good for me and for them. But still that's about as forthcoming as I am. Besides, now I have a website so I can just direct people there and if they are actually curious and not just making polite conversation they can peruse it at their leisure.

Now, do I talk about my work in progress? Never. I am almost superstitious about it now. I mean I'll talk in broad strokes--I'm working on something, it's another crime/suspense novel, I have X amount of words written, etc. But I never go into detail. Not until I have a second draft that a reasonable human could understand. The only person I trust enough to speak to about it in its early stages is my writing soulmate, Nancy Thompson. Do I want to talk about it to everyone else? Hell, yeah! I want to talk about it every second of the day! I'm thinking about it all day long. I'm writing it, the words are flowing. I'm excited, exhilarated! But when I talk about it, it takes the magic out of writing it so now my policy is to shut the f#%k up. Sometimes it sucks keeping it all inside--all that excitement and happiness--but it will be worth it in the end. Besides, in these early first draft stages there are elements of the plot that are still malleable. There are small items that are still unknown, issues that have yet to arise. Too many things might change between the first and second draft for me to talk about the work in progress intelligently.

DISCLAIMER: I do want to acknowledge the many friends and family members in my life who have stood by me and encouraged my writing dream since I was eleven years old--who are and always have been genuinely interested in my work and my road to publication. But even with close family and friends, I do not discuss what I’m working on other than in very broad strokes, as I’ve said above. I just want to go on record that I deeply appreciate and am very grateful for the many friends and family who have long supported me, read my work once it’s finished, discussed it with me and who check in with me on a regular basis to see what's going on in my writing life. Also when I was an adolescent and teenager I had a few classmates who were force-fed my crappy young adult novels and I’d like to say I’m grateful that they gave my work their attention as well although I’m deeply sorry they had to read that crap!


  1. I must have missed that post on Nathan's site. Good stuff here!

    I made the mistake of telling a few family members that I was writing a novel. Yep, you guessed it. They hounded me for months, wondering how far along it was, almost as if I were baking a souffle.

    Lesson learned.

  2. I've been getting more bold about telling people I'm a writer since I started blogging. I told a lady in the elevator. She raked me with an envious glance and asked, "What do you write."
    "Fantasy," I said, "you dumb ho." (Kidding)
    From what I gather unless you're published, a lot of people really don't care that we write.

  3. I don't mind telling people, but I don't want anyone to ask to read what I've written since I only trust a few select people, you being number one, of course.

    Most only ask what genre I write, but some are sincerely interested. I mostly tell people I write because I've been out of work (more or less) for so long, I think they must imagine I sit just sit around all day, watching soaps and eating bon bons!

    What I have found is that telling people can be somewhat of a jinx. I really need to keep my mouth shut more.

    (And hey, I'm still miffed that I have to wait until the second draft to read your stuff!)

  4. Yeah, I don't tell most people. I usually feel like a fraud anyway, since I'm not agented or published. And I don't talk about new projects with other writers in any specifics until the first draft is done and I know what the story is really about. And I don't share pages until I've polished.

  5. L.G. - I feel slightly less like a fraud now that I'm agented but still, I don't tell many people. Now that I have an agent, people say to me, "When does your book come out?" and I have to awkwardly explain that that's not how it works. The agent comes BEFORE the publisher. Eyes glaze over. They don't really want to hear the explanation.

    Nancy - I tell you it is so disjointed it won't make sense as a first draft but I'm going to send you something soon!

    Laila - you are so right about people not caring unless we're published and also you are hilarious.

    Bryce - the souffle analogy is such a good one. LOL.


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