Don’t Talk about Writing in Progress
During the progress of a writing retreat, one of the members mentioned that a friend was in Africa doing clown ministry work.
This was a new concept to me.
“So, what do they do—dress up as clowns?”
“Yes—to make the children want to listen to them.”
“And do they juggle, and make balloon animals, and do slapstick?”
“Yes, and they incorporate the Christian message in the performance.”
I don’t remember the rest of the conversation except that we laughed and laughed about it. For whatever reason, it struck our collective funny bones.
What I do remember is rushing back home to try to capture the idea. It was completely flat. Almost as if I had used up all my humor and had nothing left for the story.
Since then, I have often found that the more I talk about what I intend to write, the less I seem to be able to get anything down on paper. It is such a familiar problem that I really don’t discuss my writing at all unless pressed and only in the vaguest terms (see suggestion at the end of the post).
Why talking impedes progress
I realize that this might seem odd—why would talking about a work in progress make it harder to write? Seems as if there are two different phenomena operating.
But I think there is more of a cross-over than you might expect.
Takes the juice out of the idea
Talking about the work in progress seems to dissipate the energy associated with your idea. In fact, the extent to which you are pumped when talking about it seems to be inversely related to how effectively you can get it down in words.
Fixes the intent
Usually, when I’m writing I have a vague idea of where I am going. Clear enough for me to continue but without pinning it down irrevocably. But talking about it, or even trying to pin down the intent in my own thoughts, makes it too concrete, too defined. It discourages indulging in pleasant, abstract, amorphous thought from which any number of interesting scenes or characters might arise.
Avoids embarrassing incidents with friends
Finally, if your readers don’t know where you’re taking a piece, on reading the finished piece, you won’t get: “Yeah, it was nice but I thought you were going to write about a genie.” Much as you fix the idea in your head when you talk about it, you do the same for your readers. The end product will violate their expectations. So even if you turn out a better piece than you spoke about, you may not get the praise it deserves.
Write first; talk later
So when friends ask you what you’re writing, don’t give them soup to nuts. Try a short description like “it’s set in the Second World War,” or the technique you’re using—“I’ve created an unreliable narrator.” Then you can talk about the interesting period or technique and not about the story itself.
Write first; talk later.