Sunday, November 29, 2009

Talking about writing

Ask most writers, including me, about a published work, and as long as the question is at all intelligent and not rude, they will talk until either you stop them or some basic sense of social decency kicks in. We all spend so much time living in the worlds of our fiction, and we're all so desperate for love and approval, that our own published work is one of our favorite topics.

So, why do so many writers, most especially including me, avoid talking in any substantive way about work in progress?

Part of the answer is that we want you to experience the story or novel as it is, with as few preconceptions as possible. The more we describe a scene or plot arc or other variable, the less likely the listener is to be able to come to that part of the piece cleanly.

Another factor is that we are aware of how whiny we sound. As I draw closer to the end of the first draft of Children No More, those around me on a daily basis are hearing more and more often my very real concerns that the book is too slow, too emotional, too this, too that--a self-indulgent bit of stupefyingly boring twaddle that no one should have written. Even though all those concerns are very real in my head, I know they sound like whining to anyone listening. I know they get boring and annoying fast. I know the listeners have no useful options, because they haven't read the work and I won't let them (because it's not done), and so, believe it or not, I try to minimize this activity.

Why do I do it all? Why don't I shut up entirely?

Weakness. People ask, and instead of staying quiet, I let my weakness overcome me, and I talk. Sometimes I do it even when no one has asked. No excuses.

Finally, one of the very most important reasons not to talk about a work in progress is that it is just that: in progress. It is changing, and anything we said on one day might have to change on the next. In my case, every draft improves the book, and sometimes in significant ways, so what I might say midway through the first draft might not apply at all to the final version.

So, given all of this, what can you expect from me in the future?

Probably more of the same. I'll keep trying to improve, but I'll also almost certainly keep screwing up. Sorry about that.

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