Monday, January 13, 2014

Keeping Your Writer's Secrets

While reading a recently purchased book, The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery by Robert J. Ray and Jack Remick, I came across a section called 'A Writer's Secrets'. And while I hadn't heard that term before I recognized it as an issue that I, and perhaps other writers, have dealt with.

Namely, how much, if any, of your current Work In Progress should you share with others--- ANY others? The concept of keeping your writer's secrets implies that there is a lot that you SHOULD be keeping secret, including your plot outlines, major plot points, your first draft and perhaps your second....

Why? Because at a delicate point in the alchemy of writing, the reaction of others can kill the spark, crush the dream, turn a Work In Progress into yet another abandoned novel idea.

And it's not just harsh criticism that can do this. Praise that wholly misses the point of what you are trying to write can be just as discouraging as a 'this whole plot is utter dreck' criticism. And even fulsome praise can crush a writing project under the weight of your friends' expectations.

I remember reading one of Lawrence Block's many how-to-write books. He mentioned having an idea for his next Bernie Rhodenbarr mystery--- and then he said he wouldn't say any more about it, he didn't want to leave his fight in the gym.

I think what he meant was that if you talk about your work with enough people, you dampen your drive to actually write the darn thing. You've told the story, after all, you've gotten reactions to it--- part of your mind is likely to conclude that the work is done.

Keeping your writing secret in the early phases can be scary. Anyone who has been subjected to the typical school training knows that anything you do secretly and on your own is NOT good--- it's goofing off at best. REAL schoolwork is done in a group setting with everyone doing the same thing in pretty much the same way.

So when we begin serious writing, there's a nervous part of us that has the need to check with others on each and every plot point to ensure that we are doing things 'right', in just the way everyone else does them.

But sharing your work in the early stages can lead to a sort of 'writing by committee' work habit. Many of the original and interesting things about your novel won't even make it into the first draft because your friend or your mother or your hairdresser didn't like it. What will come out is a group-written novel that is as dull and conventional as can be--- and the bewildered writer can't understand why everyone doesn't like it the way the 'co-writers' did.

But if you determine to keep your writer's secrets, to not discuss or share from your WIP until it's not only first-draft-finished, but in a polished version ready to be seen be a critical world, you are flying in the face of the way critique-group advocates say a writer should operate.

In critique groups, and even more in creative writing classes, you are expected to expose your first draft naked before the whole world. Not only that, the criticisms you will reap from that random group of people are expected to be taken to heart, and you are expected to change your work in accordance with their decrees, at least some of the time.

The answer, if you believe that not keeping your writer's secrets has harmed your writing and caused potentially-good projects to get dropped, is to stay out of critique groups and classes that work that way. If you want to be in a group, find one or found one in which only polished work is shared.

For many of us that may mean that we will end up being 'a writer alone'. But that's good. Writing is a lonely game, and it's meant to be. It's your name (or pen name) that will go on the finished product. You need to be bold enough to make your work your own, without feeling the need for constant reassurance from others during the writing process that you are doing things the way other people think is right.

How much do you share about a current WIP? Do you share too much or too little? 

Featured Kitties: Katniss, the orange-y one, is sitting and letting Myfanwy (Other Myfanwy) use her as a pillow. 

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1 comment:

D.G. Hudson said...

Enjoyed your ideas on this, Nissa.

I will share some things, but I don't blog about my writing - especially a WIP. I've had online experiences with bad 'critters', in a high-profile course a few years ago.
Good 'crit' partners must match with our style and have some admin knowledge if they do editing as well. Fresh eyes on our work helps, but the writer must know what to discard from the offered advice.

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