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!