Tuesday, August 11, 2009

WIP: To Discuss or Not to Discuss

[Author's Note: This post does not refer to pitching agents, practicing your pitch with fellow pitchers, or working out a complicated plot issue with a trusted colleague. It's really about yapping on, ad nauseum, about one's WIP. Seriously.]

Ever notice how two people in love just shimmer with it? They're completely attuned to one another; every thought, every caressing glance, every breath -- all ions, in fact -- reach toward their core of love. Even separated, their bodies turn toward each other, photosynthesis on steroids.

And when separated, the only conversation worth having revolves around the beauty or amazingness or dipped-in-AwesomeSauce-specialness of this Love.

I imagine each of us is equally in love with our WIPs. Or obsessed, as the case may be. It calls to us when we're driving down the street or washing dishes or playing Scrabble. Characters whisper sweet dialogue into our writer's ear. Plots thicken like grandma's gravy.

So just as lovers often do, we're tempted to talk about our passion.

And I'm reminded of my father telling me once that what is beautiful to one person is sordid to another. I think it was his attempt to cover that birds & the bees thing without getting too specific. But what sticks with me is this concept: just because I'm enamored with doesn't mean anyone else wants to hear about it.

When Douglas posted on our team blog about discussing one's WIP, I realized that when it comes down to it, I choose not to talk. Even when pressed, I tend to deflect the questions or change the conversation. I do this for several reasons, none of which are necessarily right -- just right for me.

Why I Don't Discuss My WIP

1. It's Unprofessional: I first heard this at a conference, but it rings true for me. If you run into an oft-published author, she won't rattle on about the intricacies of her latest plot. Why would she? She wants you to buy the dang book. And, frankly, it's boring trying to follow someone's retelling of a story. Contrary to what you may have heard, I have little desire to bore those I meet. Talking about the craft of writing, on the other hand, is a time-honored tradition. Chat away.

2. It May Jinx My Work: I don't tend to be superstitious, but I have noticed that once I discuss something plot-related, my energy fizzles. I've already told the story, so why take the time to write it down? It may seem a bit amateurish, but it's the truth. I don't like talking because then the magic is gone.

3. It's Freaky: I've met writers who freak me out. They talk about their characters as if they're real people, like they've just sat down to dinner with them. Some even talk about how demanding their characters are and how they know the story is finished because so-and-so isn't visiting anymore. Alrighty then. It's all well and good to get into the work; it's an entirely different thing to require psychiatric care. My philosophy? If writing is your therapy, great. Just don't share it.

So those are my rules. What works for you? What doesn't?


Anonymous said...

lovely to see a new post here from you :-)

I mostly don't talk about my WIP these days - your #2 is a big worry for me, I feel like that makes me superstitious or something but I lose energy too, and while that can be overcome, I'd rather preserve the magic.

Scott said...

I don't discuss my WiP in depth. Now, projects I'm getting ready to query . . .well, there's this whole platform thingy . . . and, well, blogging about the project seems to be industry standard.

So, WiP, you'll hear very little.

PiQ (project in query), you'll hear some tidbits and all the other jazz required with platform building. Why? Well as much as many writers like to think platform building only applies to non-fiction, it also seems popular with fiction as well.

Manuscript Complete - Check
Query - Check
Synopsis - Check
Platform - In Process


Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Ha! Yes, I don't really want to go to dinner with someone's characters--unless they are being portrayed by Johnny Depp and he's in costume. ;) I don't want to hear myself talk about my WIP and sure tire of others doing it. I even yawn when someone goes on-and-on about the plot of a book they read or film they saw. The problem? It's "telling," the very thing as writers we try to avoid.

Lady Glamis said...

This post makes so much SENSE! I must admit, I talk about my book too much. I'm getting better, though. I've restrained the actual talking about plot and characters to just my husband and a few writer friends - who are helping me out with issues I'm working through in the story. That kind of talking is okay, isn't it?

I mention my book once in a while to people, but I'm getting the hang of keeping my mouth shut. I certainly don't like it when others go on and on about their book when I'm trying to concentrate on something else besides writing. Oh, and hearing about someone's lover over and over and over is just annoying. Like is said, this makes a lot of sense.

Nice to see you posting again!

Charlie said...

Aside from an offer to proof-read, which few have taken me up on, no one knows about the plot.

You're right though; I love my plot and I love some of the characters. I'm very sure that anyone else would just be polite is really wanting to know too much more.

They never visit me. (That is not a denial of me being crazy)

MG Higgins said...

Yeah, that number 2 thing is true for me and I didn't know why until you mentioned the energy-fizzling-out theory. Exactly!

Anonymous said...

And she surfaces! Nice to hear from you, Alex :)

I agree with your points, especially the fizzle one.

Diane Gallant said...

I also feel that rambling on about my WiP may "jinx" it, or at least drain my enthusiasm. And I'm sure you're correct, that it's boring for others to have to listen to (so I hope I'm not doing it). And as for those helpful readers who might agree to read/critique a draft, they know what they're in for.

Iapetus999 said...

Anybody want to hear about my WIP?
I'll talk you to death with it.
Literature started as spoken word, I don't see the harm. When it's my turn during critique groups I can talk about it all day, and the questions people bring up always get me thinking.
I was in a bookstore today and noticed some upcoming signings. I thought to myself, "I wonder when I do my book tour, if they'll allow me to do readings?"
Okay first I need to sell my book, but I don't fear talking it up every chance I get.

stu said...

Face to face, I rarely mention it. Online, I'm inclined to reference it from time to time, but I try to keep things fairly vague. Like your author above, I'd sort of prefer people to buy the book. That said, I've possibly written about my WIP more than the one that's out on occasion, which is probably the wrong way round.

Anonymous said...

I'm in absolute and utter agreement with everything you say. I'll talk about freelance magazine work and a book or story when it's done, but the embryonic stage is sacred. Good for you for respecting that aspect of the creation of art. I've always felt that people who talk ad nauseum about their characters etc are insecure about their abilities and they are testing the waters and getting an ego stroking. I know of only one writer who does updates on her stories as she writes them, but it is a satire of the process and therefore a stress reliever for her. P.S. I'm glad you are back and have posted. :)

Alex Moore said...

@jchart: thank you! it's good to be back. It actually took me a little while to figure #2 out. I'd talk something over w/ my husband, then never write it. Ouch! How much brilliant tripe have I lost over the years?!

@Scott: yes, i do think platform is important. i think it becomes esp vital once you've an agent or the book has been picked up by a publisher --> but I think agents looking for writers prolly troll the blogosphere, checking out suitable fits :)

@Tricia: i hear you on the depp thing :) and you're right on: It's tedious listening to someone talk about a movie, book, dream, etc -- it's far more fun to experience it yourself!

@LadyGlamis: oh talking shop is completely legit w/ fellow word crafters, i think. Esp when you're working on dicey issues that need consultation work :) i'm not talking about that kind of thing; i'm talking about being cornered by the rabid, glazed eyed my-book-is-awesome talkers who won't let you leave, even as your eyes desperately clutch at some would-be rescuer across the room...

@charlie: glad to hear your characters are safely ensconced in your book & not ringing your door bell :) of course, beta readers are different. that's an invite and for a purpose. that's not boring someone to tears :P

@MGHiggins: I'm glad to know I'm not the only one. I thought I was being weird, but it's true, you kow!

@notenoughwords: thank you :) I haven't been able to visit my fav blogs yet, but that's next on my list! here's hoping all's well in your world!

@DianeGallant: I have received invaluable feedback from people who have agreed to read a chapter or two or an entire book. Those conversations have informed my writing in ways I could never have guessed possible. So, at some point, I think recruiting readers is vital to the process. I think that's perfectly alright. :)

@Iapetus999: i think you're correctly utilizing the function of critique groups -- and that is awesome. i'm really referring to conversation dominators who bore their audiences to death. Or at least force them to consider the the possible upside of leaping out the nearest window.

@stu: I reference my WIP when I'm trying to talk about a specific issue or challenge. I think that's totally different from rattling on about it :) Maybe I'm just biased. Regarding your last comment, you are so right: you have to start talking up what's currently out! Scott is right -- platform building is popular in the fiction realm -- and vital to your writerly exposure.

@valbrussell: indeed -- we are in complete agreement, it seems. esp w/ the ego-massaging part :P i do like the idea of satirizing the entire process, but i don't think it would be much of a stress relief for me, personally. it's good to be back - thanks for your encouragement! :)

Kameron said...

Great post (and welcome back). I'll talk about my WIP, but only in the context of discussing craft. My struggles (and their resolutions) with whatever I'm in the middle of tend to make good examples for (and often inspire) the articles I post on my blog. I try very hard to avoid spoiling the actual plot, as per #1.