As a writer of psychological thrillers, I can confidently say that I get excited about writing.
Which is a good thing – after all if I didn’t get excited by it I’d stop.
(I’m definitely not doing it for the money…)
The thing is, generally whenever anyone gets excited about something they want to talk about it and share it with everyone else. After a period of really productive writing, it’s natural to want to discuss the great idea that came to you seemingly out of the ether, or the genuine surprise you felt when one of your characters did something that you hadn’t planned for. But – and surely you knew there was a ‘but’ coming – I think there are good reasons for not talking about your current work in progress. In fact I think its vital not to for a number of reasons.
At this point, I’ll say that the following reasons don’t just apply to writing. They’re things I’ve learned through writing that apply to anything that you’re trying to achieve – albeit with some adaptations – from losing weight to changing your job. Thirty seconds of action is always better than thirty minutes of talking about that action.
So, on to the reasons:
1. You might get discouraged by the reactions of other people
Let’s say you’re discussing the plot of your novel or your plans for getting in shape with somebody, and they happen to yawn at that moment, or they look slightly bemused, or – let’s be honest – they basically exhibit anything other than total joy and awe at how great you are. It’ll put you off. You’ll start wondering why they didn’t seem to be very enthusiastic, or what they meant when they said “Hmm” and did that thing with their lip, or why their attention seemed to wane when you mentioned all the research you’ve done on, I dunno, the mating rituals of whales.
(The mammals, not the country. I was very careful with the spelling there.)
In short, creative endeavours are tough enough, the last thing any of us need is a bruise to our egos.
There are also people who might try, for whatever reason, to intentionally put you off. Maybe they’re jealous, maybe they’ve had a bad day, maybe they just don’t like other people, who knows? But don’t give them the opportunity to knock you off course, they might actually succeed.
Now I’m not saying we should never be open to criticism, in fact we should absolutely take any valid criticism or feedback and consider it. Just not at this point in the process. Think of the thing that you’re trying to achieve as something you need to protect and nurture. You can show it off soon enough, just treat it right, give it enough time and wait for it to be ready.
Which leads to my next point…
2. It’s not ready for the real world yet
Its early days. You’re not there yet. And that’s fine, things take time, but generally speaking people are going to judge you on what they see now, rather than on any potential.
In writing terms, at this point, you’re only on your first draft.
In fact, in writing terms, you’re not even on that, really. It’s more the unfinished first draft. You might decide to change things or swap parts around, you may even decide to rewrite whole sections and change the ending. In fact I did this with my first novel, The Artist, as well as my most recent one Whoever Fights Monsters. Both endings got changed halfway through the process as I veered away from my outline and decided to take things in different directions. So I know how fluid the first draft can be. Very often the final, published book is very different to what draft number one looked like.
Give yourself the opportunity to actually go through the process of achieving whatever it is you want to achieve. Get into a routine, get used to it all and make sure you’re comfortable with what you have to do.
But until then, keep it hidden from the world. Remember, protect and nurture.
3. Don’t talk about it, do it
You know the phrase ‘show, don’t tell’? Well here’s another, albeit less snappy, one – ‘write, don’t just talk about how well you write’.
And you can basically substitute the word ‘write’ with anything else there. If you’re going to start eating healthily, do it without making an announcing every time you eat a stick of celery. If you’re planning on finally updating your CV, don’t get bogged down in researching different fonts and phrases before you even start. You can always edit it to perfection later – in fact you should – but it’s infinitely easier to edit something that’s there than to stare at a blank page and wonder how to begin. So just begin.
A while back, I gave a talk about the creative process which you can find on my YouTube channel. I mention it here because it’s relevant not only for creativity, but for anything that you might want to achieve. In short, it’s the repeated, consistent steps that are important. Progress is often not linear, but it is still progress. Start, then keep going. You’ll get there.
It’s so easy to fall into the trap of discussing things, or talking around things, or blogging about things that you should actually be doing instead (ahem…)
It’s more comfortable and gives a quick burst to the ego – “Yeah, I’m a writer. I write. It’s pretty tough, writing. But, that’s what I do. Yup. What can I say? It’s a gift” – but it’s ultimately self-defeating because you’ll soon become known as that person who always talks about the thing they need to do. That’s all well and good, but if you’re still that person eight years from now without anything to show for it then something’s gone pretty wrong.
It’s a great feeling to decide to achieve something. It’s exciting and you get that boost of adrenalin. But the real satisfaction comes from finishing it and getting the results you wanted. Yes, it’s impressive to tell people you’re going to write a novel, or that this time next year you’ll be in the best shape of your life. But focus on using that the time you’d spend talking about doing it, actually doing it. Your results will speak for themselves.
4. The draft will lose something
Not to take this to a metaphysical realm or anything, but I truly believe that talking about a project you’re working on somehow dilutes it. For me, all the passion, energy and time I need to create a story, the characters, the plot, all get watered down the more I talk about them. Everything should be focused on writing the novel and perfecting it, not on describing elements of it to other people. The final novel is ultimately what people are going to judge you on after all, so it’s vital that you put everything you have into it.
And this applies to anything else you want to do too – talking about the gym is not working out at the gym any more than talking about learning to drive is, well, driving.
As a friend of mine used to say, “If you’re going to do it, do it completely or not at all.”
And if that isn’t enough inspiration for you, just remember – 100 years from now we’re all gonna be dead anyway, so you may as well do it now. There’s that great story about an old man who started learning a new language, and someone asked him why he would bother at his age. His response? “When else am I going to do it?”
Now, back to that unfinished first draft that I should be working on instead of talking about…