Ssshhhh, it’s gestating…

ghost town table

Nova has a blog post up on why she doesn’t talk about her novel-in-progress. Given that I too, do not talk about my work-in-progress at length until it’s finished (and even then, I simply state that “it’s done”), I was bewildered that “whether or not a writer talks about her WIP” was even a hostly contested thing–but it seems to be.

For me, discussing my work-in-progress is like talking about a fetus. People don’t even disclose their pregnancy to the public until after the first trimester, and I feel the same way about my work. I’m not sure if the work will withstand the vigor of the writing process, and die withering on the vine, or if it will thrive…but I certainly am not prepared to describe it, because most likely, I’m not quite sure what its potential is, myself.

There are those who, after the first trimester, share details of their pregnancy with enthusiasm, describing their fetus as if it were already born. The baby’s kicking, moving, and for fathers, sophisticated ultrasounds can now show the fetus in 3D and bring that baby out of the abstract into the concrete. Likewise, writers will gather around a table and discuss the idiosyncrasies of their novel, sharing the novel’s plot, character development, and other details.

But there are those who don’t share much throughout their pregnancy. Some keep the information close to their chests, out of perhaps a desire for privacy. Traditional Jews don’t hold baby showers before birth, in fear of “jinxing” things.

I’m in the latter camp. Until my novel’s done, I can’t talk about it. I’ve finished my first draft, and it’s only now that I can summarize it in one sentence, and if prodded, provide a 3-5 sentence synopsis. Even then, there are moments that I will simply reply, “The first draft’s done. That’s all I can say.” I can’t bear to talk about my novel. I’m scared that someone will steal the idea (yah I know, silly thought), I’m scared that the response I get will stifle my creativity (this is more realistic than you’d think–people say some hurtful things), I’m scared you won’t like it, I’m scared that it sounds stupid, I’m scared of judgment, and I’m scared that I’ve jinxed myself, and I’m scared because it’s just too soon to talk about the novel. The list goes on.

People ask me all the time, “What’s your novel about?” I find the question on par with, “How are you doing?” Most people don’t want to know. So I’m relieved of discussing my novel. Once, I misjudged someone’s interest and gave details about my novel, only to be rebuffed with an abrupt change of topic. Oh. Yah. Okay. Whoops.

There are those who insist I discuss the novel, and in those rare instances, I tiptoe forth, first with a thin description and then something more robust. Occasionally, I am met with a hurtful, disinterested reaction that puzzles me (why did you insist you wanted to hear about it?)…but sometimes, I am met with incredible support and insight. When I hear that support and insight, I get a taste of what I’m missing when I don’t discuss my novel in progress. It makes me wistful.

But on the whole–it’s not my process. It took me a long time to focus on my fiction, and then another swath of time writing my novel. I’m still gestating.


Filed under Novel, Writing

7 responses to “Ssshhhh, it’s gestating…

  1. Nate

    It’s a side business/hobby for most of us, though it means so much. I tell people that when I have something done I will let them see it.

    It kinda reminds me of all of the real estate flipping scams my friends and family had going –when things were booming they volunteered the information without provocation, and I was happy for their success, but nowadays it is something that I wait for them to talk about –and I move delicately at that!

    On the flip side, there are two sentences that a writer should never drop in an everyday conversation: anything beginning “A character in my novel…” and “I wrote a short story about…”

  2. Great to meet you! Thanks for the encouragement on my self-imposed NaNo.

    I too am appalled that this issue is up for debate. Experientially I’ve found that the ones who blab about it aren’t that serious about their writing (or that good).

    All the juice runs out of a work if I talk about it too early. I can’t even bring fresh work to a critique group – it’s not that useful for me. And if my work gets overly criticized before it’s ready for it, I end up putting it down for months or years before I can pick it back up. (Frickin’ sensitive artist. :P)

    But the major reason why I don’t talk about it is because I’m afraid of plagiarism, even the subconscious kind. I know, paranoid android.

  3. I’ve never liked the question “what’s your novel about?” because I feel like a good book is about so MANY things: family, relationships, failure/success, war (whether within an individual or between nations), etc.

    • Nate: I will keep those words in mind. 😉

      52 Faces: I like how you put it: “All the juice runs out of a work if I talk about it too early.” Your “paranoia” about plagiarism, is very real, even if you feel it’s not.

      Stephanie: Yah. “What’s your novel about?” is such a large question, especially to a writer. I could go on with what it’s about–to the reader, to the characters, to me… 😉

  4. I can’t remember the exact quote, nor who said it, but I once heard “a novel is like a fetus; it’s better not shown until it’s done.” Seems about right to me! I get so uncomfortable when people ask about my work. That’s why I seldom mention I even write until I’ve known someone for a while. It was easy; when people asked what I did for living, I’d say grad student in literature and I’d be safely tucked in the little academic box. Shit! I am about to lose my cover…

    • emshapiro: that person hit the nail on the head! i have *always* felt that talking about my novel is like talking about a fetus, with all the precarious fear involved in doing so. but i applaud you on becoming a fulltime fiction writer. 🙂 THAT’s HUGE and so awesome! i can’t wait until that day comes for me.

    • Nate

      I get it, but I think the word fetus is too morbid there, maybe cosmetic surgery would work? “A novel is like a nose job; it’s better not shown until it’s done.”

      It is odd that something so personal is, and always is, intended to be shared. There has to be some universal personality trait of writers that corresponds to this; maintaining the sensitivity required to touch others must require some serious bunkering.

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