Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Practicing Writer's Quandary: Discussing Your Work in Progress

Thanks to my day job, which validates time spent scanning The Chronicle of Higher Education's Web site, I've become a fan of the posts at the group "Brainstorm" blog. And I'm a particular fan of Gina Barreca, a professor of English and feminist theory at the University of Connecticut. In addition to simply being very engaging and well-written, Barreca's posts often touch on aspects of writing and/or teaching writing.

Here are the opening paragraphs of a recent post titled "Should You Discuss Your Work in Progress?":
I recently learned a lesson about a serious need to shut up. I'm 52 years old and my whole life people who have my best interests at heart have told me not to have a big mouth when it comes to announcing my ambitions, wishes, projects, or loves.

I wish I had listened sooner, better, or at all. I wish, particularly, that I had NOT said anything to anybody about the fact that I am editing a collection titled Make Mine a Double: A Celebration of Women and Drink.
Especially if you keep reading that post, you, like me, might start to think about the wisdom of making your own projects known.

For me, the issue materialized not long after I read Barreca's post. On my next visit to Brian Klems's Questions and Quandaries blog, I found a post addressing the legality of writing sequels to famous books. Which caught my attention because about three years ago I began musing about a sequel of my own, to a very famous book, indeed.

That project hasn't gone anywhere (admittedly, my efforts have been far too feeble). But here's the point: As soon as I considered blogging about the Questions and Quandaries post, which I thought presented a worthwhile topic for Practicing Writing, I couldn't help thinking about the one from Barreca.

And I wondered just how much to share about my own possible sequel while blogging about the Klems post. Even if I might receive some excellent advice that could jumpstart the project, I just don't think I can - or should - go public with it.

I'm not talking about sharing the idea with just two or three trusted writer friends. Or even sharing a manuscript excerpt - should one ever be ready! - in a workshop or writing group, although that certainly does require a leap of faith. But I'll admit that I haven't always been comfortable mentioning my sequel idea to potential agents (even agents with sterling reputations) who wanted to know what they might eventually expect beyond my story collection. So you can imagine how I might agonize about sharing it more widely.

Like on a blog.

So, fellow practicing writers, what do you think? Does any of this resonate? And at what point in a project do you feel "ready" to tell a wide circle of others what you are working on?

5 comments:

deonne kahler said...

This is such a good topic, Erika. I tend to be of the "bare all" school of conversation, and for the first time, regarding my book, I'm keeping it short and vague.

People ask what it's about, I say - sexuality and identity. That's it, three words. They're usually intrigued and want to know more (that first word in particular is interesting to most of us), but I don't budge.

First, I think if we talk about our projects too much it depletes the energy we have for them. We should be channeling that energy into the writing. Second, my book is in the very early stages and will surely morph and grow while I'm writing it, so I don't have a definitive answer to "What's it about?" anyway. I'll be ready to go into more detail when the manuscript is at the printer (ha).

Lisa Romeo said...

This isn't exactly only relevant to writing projects, but I learned the hard way (a few too many times) that the more I talk about something I plan to do, the less energy and enthusiasm I seem to have to actually DO it.

Like Barreca, I have learned the value in being able to just shut up.

On the other hand, I also find it incredibly helpful to mention plans (even vaguely) to a few close friends and/or colleagues which acts as an accountability measure.

Jessie Carty said...

that is a slippery slope isn't it? not only is the worry that someone might take your idea but also discussing it too early could perhaps change the direction of the project and not always in a good way!

i finally gave in and discussed some pending poetry projects on my blog and i haven't had any adverse effects yet, but one comment about a way to combine projects is gnawing at the back of my mind .... but the creative part of me knows that probably isn't the direction i should go, but the practical part things - well that would be a nice way to finish a book length project in less time.

ah the little decisions we have to make :)

Erika D. said...

Great comments, all. Thanks!

jonathandanz said...

I agree with Lisa in that I fear revealing my project or other goals beyond the daily ones (be a good husband and father, eat, drink, be merry) will immediately cause them to dissipate in the breeze. Too much coffee can loosen my tongue to the point of saying way more than I normally would.

The flip side (again, for me) is to have the confidence to say that I am writing a novel, to show my belief in it, everyone else be damned.

Fortunately, none of my disclosures have any legal ramifications -- of which I'm aware anyway.