To tell, or not to tell?

September 17, 2010

Let’s open this one up, yes? I’m curious to hear what other people think.

When you’re working on a novel, or play, or whatever, do you tell people about it? And if so, how much do you tell them?

I can see pros and cons to sharing information freely. On the pro side, I’ve found that someone who knows what you’re doing can give you a kick in the pants if you need it. Likewise, if you need a sounding board for writing problems, it’s a lot more helpful if your confidant knows the plot and characters. Finally, let’s not forget: writing can be lonely. It’s pretty much just you, talking to yourself. External human contact, while still keeping one toe in your world, can be refreshing. And staves off cabin fever.

On the other hand, I’ve found that telling someone about your work drains away a little of the excitement. Maybe that’s just me… I find I can never make something sound as cool out loud as it seems in my head. So when their smile fixes and their eyes glaze over, it’s disconcerting. You feel silly, like when you’re describing a dream that was so amazing… and the other person just snorts.

Some of us are more private than others. That’s fine. Some of us are more public. That’s fine too. Personally, I like to write the first draft in the safety of my own head. Family members and close friends may know I’m working on something. If so, they’ll usually know the genre. But characters and plot events stay under wraps until I’ve had a chance to edit.

(Interestingly, I have shared some details on Project W here on IWI. I have told you it is a fantasy that deals with apocalypse, uses magic, and has at least two inhuman characters. That’s more than my family got.)

So how about you? Do you feel comfortable talking about a work that’s in its early stages? Or is it like constantly opening the oven door when you’ve got a cake trying to rise?




  1. I wrote a post on this a while back . . .

    Novels, like babies, benefit from being conceived and gestated OUT OF SIGHT . . . at least until they get a bit cuter.

  2. Agreed. I learned through hard experience to keep my mouth shut until the first, and sometimes even second draft are done. Only in final/revision phase do I bring others in — and don’t kid yourself, you can never finish a good book without outside help of various kinds. They will see things you will kick yourself for not seeing. You just get too close to the work.

    • Phew, sounds like you work similarly to me. I need at least one round of edits under my belt before I feel comfortable showing work to people… And I’ve definitely been gobsmacked by some of the silly things it took another reader to see.

  3. I know exactly how you feel! Nothing is more frustrating than having this amazing idea floating around in your head and then feeling like a complete tool trying to explain it. I mean we’re writers for heavens sake, isn’t it our job to put complex cerebral ideas into words?!?

    Nancy – love the quote, might have to borrow that from you…

    My family doesn’t read fantasy so I fear they will never “get” my story. Bother. At least my spouse does.

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