Years ago I came up with an awesome high-concept novel. I’d only written one other book at that point, a low-concept book begun in secret and pretty much written as a challenge to myself. I wrote early in the morning before my kids were awake, marveling at how the words added up. Writing a novel was like living an alternate existence free of poopy diapers and tantrums, and I loved it. When the manuscript was “done” I made a few attempts to get it published before recognizing it as a learning project.
The second book was a whole other matter.
By then I was a member of a weekly critique group for adult fiction. The focus was on publication. My critique partners loved my new premise and when our annual conference approached, encouraged me to get an appointment with a visiting editor or agent. I’d only written about five chapters but with input I polished opening pages, wrote a synopsis, and practiced my pitch in front of the group. I talked about my project. A lot.
And then a strange thing happened: I had no desire to write that very cool, high-concept book with its unique setting. In talking about my project I’d talked myself out of a manuscript.
Since then I’ve warned other writers about the perils of talking too much. I cautioned my sons’ elementary school classmates to keep story ideas to themselves until they’d written at least a first draft. I brought in an inflated balloon and as I told the story of Tracy’s Abandoned Project, let out a bit of air. Throughout the whole sordid tale of me blah-blahing to my writing partners, I slowly released more air and by the time I reached the part about losing my love for the story, the balloon was flat. And lifeless.
Shouldn’t someone who goes around bossing other people on the issue of keeping their mouths shut know better?
Despite my No-Talking-Before-Completed-Draft policy, I fudged a bit on my latest project and shared a one-line description with my new agent (and felt validated when he liked the premise). I still successfully finished the draft. But when talking to a critique partner about whether I should rewrite the book in third-person I remember hesitating before answering his questions; it felt risky. But hey, I had a first draft. So I talked.
And not only did I talk to him but also to my spouse. I’m blessed with a partner who fully supports my literary efforts and never, ever complains about me not bringing in an income. However, because he never finished reading the one manuscript I asked him to read (in his defense, my learning project), I’ve armored my heart by only speaking about my projects in generalities.
But suddenly I was talking to him in great detail and it was wonderful to finally be one of those writers with an involved spouse. It felt especially good because my agent had just read the first fifty pages and synopsis of the second draft and basically said he liked my premise but not the execution. A couple weeks later he dropped me.
I needed to start all over. Again. But I wisely recognized I was still too fragile to work on that particular project so set it aside and revised another manuscript. When that was finished and sent off, I felt ready to return to my difficult project.
I began talking about the story again, trying to sort out some character issues. I brain-stormed with my spouse and felt I was getting closer to truly knowing the kids at the heart of my story. And yet, I couldn’t gain any traction; I was unable to move beyond character sketches to drafting and despaired the story would ever get written.
Then one day not too long ago I experienced what felt like a balloon-inspired epiphany: Stop talking and write the story.
Hello, I needed to get back to the guilty pleasure of stealing away to scribble down scenes, sharing in the lives of people no one else has met. I needed to return to writing for me. Me and no one else. And that’s where I am right now. I’ve got this story inside I want to tell, and if I keep quiet from here on out we’ll make it. However, I need to trust my instincts no matter how many drafts I’ve written.
But just in case I ever falter in my resolve, I can check in with one of my favorite writers:
“It makes me so uncomfortable for them. If they’re talking about a plot idea, I feel the idea is probably going to evaporate. I want to almost physically reach over and cover their mouths and say, “You’ll lose it if you’re not careful.” ~ Anne Tyler
(By the way, you can buy a signed copy of this quote on ebay for only $399).
* * * * *
These days Tracy Abell is talking less and writing more, although she reserves the right to talk to herself when she’s feeling stuck.