Should You tell People You’re Writing Your First Novel?

Well obviously the horse has bolted out of the stable for me in this respect and it’s easy to tell people you’re on the second, because by the time you’ve jumped over that high hedge of the first, stumbled a little, then got the sense of the turf underfoot, you’re cantering away nicely down the fairway (at least for a while!).  But should a new writer on their very first novel (or memoir/autobiography) actually share the fact that they are doing this long term project with friends, family and colleagues? There was a discussion on a writer’s facebook group a while back which engaged with this issue and as someone who felt compelled to tell people I was writing a novel, I found it very interesting to consider the alternative view, that being, it might be best to keep it to yourself until it’s published. So I thought I’d look at the pros and cons of telling, using my own experience and some alternative feelings I picked up on from other writers.

Before I do this, we have to enter the fictive world for a moment. When you sit down to write, you’re opening a doorway to a special place of your own making, where anything can happen and you’re responsible for every tiny event, every imagined visual, and the characters you’ve created. These characters become your friends, and after a while they begin to tell you what they want to happen. They are inevitably part of you in some way, and in the setting you create you make them live and breathe. It’s a kind of magic which is exciting, scary and challenging all at the same time, and dovetails with lots of research, overall shaping and contemplation of the whole story arc. In short, it’s a ‘big deal’, requiring enormous patience and good crafting as well as war of art battles with procrastination, self doubts and a host of other ‘nasties’ that can get in the way. I repeat it’s a BIG DEAL: don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

So if you tell people you’re writing a novel, you’re opening the doorway to your closeted fictive world, to let in a chink of ‘real world’ daylight. And that daylight just might modify your experience or challenge you in ways you didn’t imagine.

What are the Advantages of telling?

1. If you tell very good friends, colleagues and supportive family members, you can share your enthusiasm with them. I was very aware that when I was asked how I was getting on, that I would start talking, then not be able to stop, because I was thrilled to have this new creative direction in my life and I felt so alive somehow when I was talking about it. I knew my eyes were shining, and I knew this was a special feeling to have and a special thing to be doing.

Telling people outside of this circle when it cropped up in conversation was also encouraging, because people wanted to know what it was about, showing genuine interest, and I got to talk about the basic premise of the plot in increasingly succinct terms, which pared it down for me too which helped me with the blurb and subsequent marketing work.

2. You can check out ideas with people, get their opinions on the feasibility of your plot, and so on. They can give you tips. For example I have one or two friends and a family member who grew up in the 50s, and I’ve been asking them questions about these times for my current novel. What was it like for married women back then. Of course I have a good idea myself but listening directly to their views and experiences supports/confirms  my research, so that I can be confident I’m on the right track.

3.Very good friends don’t keep asking Are you finished it yet? But many others may. This is why telling can be problematic. But if you know you are the type of person who will see it through to the end, that you have that dogged determination to get there and you relish long term projects for being exactly that, and that they suit your very  nature, then this question being repeated and repeated , although mildly irritating, does help you go forward, with a kind of gentle nudging of the horse to keep going when it’s getting tired. It’s a case of,  if ‘everyone’ knows you’re writing a novel, then you’re going to have to finish it, aren’t you? There’s no getting out of it.

4.You might want to share your progress in a writer’s group or forum. If it’s a supportive kind, and run in a way that suits your nature, then it can be a motivating and empowering force to know that you are not alone striving in this way, and that you can share problems with peers who understand exactly what you are trying to achieve. You can ask for advice and give it in return. This can be highly rewarding for all.

What are the Disadvantages of telling?

1. What I picked up from the group discussion was that some friends and some family members might actually be the hardest judges in this matter, the most unsupportive. They could be indifferent, or challenging in the sense of ‘Who do you think you are?’

They could try to ‘bring you down’ if you let them, and before you know it you’re feeling discouraged and a little stupid for thinking you could write a novel at all. In other words they can affect your confidence in yourself, so you might very well feel justified in keeping it to yourself in the first place to protect yourself from this kind of negativity, and simply tell them when its published as a simple matter of fact with no expectations from them whatsoever. And this was very evident from the discussion.

2. People can be singularly dismissive about it when you tell them. These are the people often who know someone else who’s published a book, like it’s sooo common. There are some people I’ve heard that think there’s not much to it, ‘anyone can do it’, ‘everyone has a book in them’. But you know different. To you it’s special because you can barely believe you’re doing this magical thing, to them it’s just another book. It’s not that you’re unaware of this, it’s just not how you get a book written if you adopt this more cynical philosophy.

3. Are you finished it yet? Being asked this is one of the biggest reasons why some writers don’t tell. They want to keep it to themselves, they don’t want the pressure of others knowing. And if their time is short because they work full time, then they certainly don’t need to be asked this constantly. Keeping it as a special place to go to in their spare time sounds sensible to me under these circumstances.

4. If you share your telling with a writer’s group or forum that doesn’t fit with your nature and values, and they give opinions from uniformed perspectives that may well cause you self doubt regarding creative decisions you’ve made for your novel, then this can slow you up in the writing through creating inner conflict. If it’s not the right kind of group to share it with, you’re far better off going solo and not telling.

Well that’s about it 🙂 The decision to tell while writing was fine for me, but there were some hiccups which I hope I’ve covered. The key thing has to be making sure that you enjoy the writing, and trying not to let anything or anyone get in the way of your creative ebb and flow. Trust in the yourself and the process and you’ll get there.

And if you’re in the middle of writing a first novel right now, I wish you the very best of luck and much fun!









About lynnefisher

Writer and visual artist living in Scotland, INFJ type Writer's blog: Art: Twitter @writeartblog Writers page Facebook Artists page Facebook
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12 Responses to Should You tell People You’re Writing Your First Novel?

  1. Sumi Singh Writes says:

    Once again another brilliant post, Lynne! I am almost finished with my first novel. And yes I announced to all and sundry on Facebook I was going to do it. Initially I did it because I needed to make it real for me and place pressure on myself to get it done. Many of my writing friends have been very supportive which was welcomed. I find that non-writer friends don’t fully grasp what goes into writing a novel and the commitment it takes, so sharing too much bores them. Writing a novel is very daunting – not having a basis to work from, not knowing if what I’ve written is right or should even see the light of day. But what I’m proud of is working towards my dream, despite having a day job, maintaining a blog, running a household and taking care of family.

    Liked by 2 people

    • lynnefisher says:

      Wonderful, Sumi! Thank you for sharing your experiences. I was so thrilled when I was writing mine, I told pretty much all and sundry too, but you’re right the non-creative people didn’t really ‘get it’, just because they don’t have the perspective to understand. Over all though, I had a lot of support. Wishing you all the best in your finishing and with what comes after that. And very good going fitting it into your busy schedule! The first one took me a long time, thankfully the second is quicker progress, but each one takes a huge amount of time. So well done you!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hmmm…I found your ideas fascinating, and rather envied you your seeming confidence !
    With a family who’ve always been dismissive, uninterested, and totally negative when my books have been published, I never share if or what I am writing, though I never stop writing…
    so writing is a very solitary pleasure, and yes, I know what you feel about feeling energised. and alive – one very good reason never to stop, regardless of the outcome…published or a deep drawer of manuscripts!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • lynnefisher says:

      Many thanks for sharing, Valerie. I did have set backs, the writers group (well one person who was the group leader) threw me some curve balls which slowed me up, and I began to doubt the structure I’d chosen for my novel, but after much contemplation I stuck to my decisions which I think have worked out for the best. I don’t have a big family so it was mostly close friends who kept me going, and I pulled out of the writers group because of the way it was run. I wouldn’t mind being in another some time, but where i live there is little choice. Indifference is a killer, so I totally understand why you keep your writing to yourself. But you’ve done it and carry on doing it and loving it. Your blog posts are astonishingly detailed and thoughtful and for me, you’re a brilliant writer 🙂


  3. GriffithsKL says:

    Just finished my first. I enjoyed your take on the ups and downs. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m in awe of anyone who has the energy, drive and self discipline to write a novel. I used to love writing from a young age and over the years I’ve had so many ideas that I think ‘maybe one day’ I’d write about, but unless it’s a short story, it’s never going to happen because the enormity of it stops me after a couple of pages. Good post Lynne – mirrored some of my own experiences starting up my own business so even though I’m not a writer I could definitely relate.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lynnefisher says:

      Thanks, Predictability. The mirroring of experiences must come from the ‘new venture’ aspect – something we are putting our hearts and souls into. And no matter what that venture is, it also inevitably involves the choice of ‘all glowing’ early telling or more ‘measured’ later telling! Thank you so much for sharing :>)

      Liked by 1 person

  5. galenpearl says:

    Of course you should — ha! No matter what happens with the novel, it is an important part of who you are and how you spend your time and energy. People who care about you will care about knowing so that they can be supportive. And besides that, it is an amazing thing to be doing. I have a friend writing her first novel, and I have enjoyed being a “reader” for her. Fascinating to see the evolution of the story. Good luck to you and all fiction writers. As someone who lacks any talent for writing fiction, I intrigued by your muse. Can’t wait to read your book!

    Liked by 1 person

    • lynnefisher says:

      Thanks, Galen! Well there’s no arguing with this! Your friend is lucky to have you as a support person and I was fortunate to have two very close friends who were my very first readers. I think the visual glow when talking about the writing is there because of exactly what you say about it being part of you, so in that sense, yes, bring it on!


  6. Lynne, sometimes telling a trusted friend or accountability partner is all you need. Also, I find that talking too much about the novel-in-progress can impede the process for some reason. It’s almost as if you’re releasing too much energy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lynnefisher says:

      Thanks Evelyn, I know exactly what you mean about releasing too much energy when talking too much about the work in progress. I felt that happening from time to time. It’s not happening with the second one in progress, people know I’m writing it but somehow with the first one out of the way, so to speak, this side of it feels a good deal easier and far more comfortable a process. Thank you for sharing :>)

      Liked by 1 person

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