Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Mouthful of Water

If I try to talk while I’m swimming, I’ll end up sputtering and splashing and swallowing a mouthful of water.

And before I know it, I’ll have lost my rhythm and my momentum and will have to start all over again or get out of the water and wait for another day.

The same thing happens when I’m writing if I talk about a project too soon, before it’s set in my head, say, or before I’ve gotten enough words down on paper.

I’ll lose my rhythm, my enthusiasm for telling the story, as well as the chance to be surprised by the words as they spill onto the page for the first time.

This is why I don’t talk about works-in-progress with anyone–not my brother, not my best friend, not my wife.

A long time ago I learned that as soon as I open my mouth while writing, I end up with a mouthful of water.

I need to feel that I’m the only one in the world who knows the story, the only one who can write it, and the writing requires privacy, and the privacy fuels my desire to tell the story, to bring it into the world.

Once I tell the story aloud (even the barest outline of the story), my need to write the story disappears, and I’m left empty-handed, the words having disappeared like grains of sand between my fingers.

Some writers can talk endlessly about a project, I suppose, and still write about it. But I’m not one of them.

Other writers talk about their work and end up never writing a single word. By talking they've unwittingly deflated the balloon of energy needed to write their stories.

There are times when I do find talking about a story helpful. That’s when I'm facing a problem, or I've reached a dead-end and can’t figure a way out, can’t find a path. At that point, though, I’m sitting on dry land looking for a way back into the water.

But talking while I’m in the water?

I can’t do it without ending up with a mouthful of water.

What about you? Do you talk about work-in-progress or keep your work to yourself?

Do your friends and family understand this need for privacy? Or do they resent it and encourage you to share your work before you’re ready to share it?

Is there a balance between their expectations (that you share your work) and your own expectations (that you keep it private)?

Let us know when you get a chance if you like talking about your work or prefer writing in private.

4 comments:

Susan Woodring said...

I rarely discuss a writing project until I'm ready to share it with my writing group. To me, it just sounds too stupid to say it out loud, whatever my idea of the moment is. Also, I just like keeping it underwraps, I like, as you said, being the only person who knows this story. For the first draft at least, it has to be just me and the piece.

joshleibovitch said...

I have to square it all away in my head before I speak of it. I dont necessarily need it on paper, but every character and all the events have to be there in my head before I let any of it out. Or else someone will say something like maybe this should happen or maybe that and now they will have ruined my story with their advice.

Sharon said...

I learned years ago not to talk about work in progress. I can write in on the page or tell it out loud. Either/or I've done it. And when I speak, the words simply fly away, while the written ones seem to stay accessable on the page! But how does this apply to a story idea? Writing down a first rough chapter, for instance, and then sharing it in a writing workshop can help shore up future pages of a story or it can kill the nascent project. I'm not sure what makes one story thrive and the other die. I wonder if MFA faculty find themselves a bit conflicted about the workshop process for the very reasons you have written about here.

dirtywhitecandy said...

I used to avoid talking about my WIP. I'd keep it hidden like a big secret, convinced if I talked about it I'd defuse some of its power. But now I've found that talking about my WIPs actually helps me clarify what I want to do with it. It also helps me check out what readers are expecting, so I can play with them that much more. So now I'm happy to 'come out' about whatever I'm working on.
Good post!