Friday, November 12, 2010

When Do You Tell?

"As for my next book, I am going to hold myself from writing it till I have it impending in me: grown heavy in my mind like a ripe pear; pendant, gravid, asking to be cut or it will fall." ~Virginia Woolf

"I think it's bad to talk about one's present work, for it spoils something at the root of the creative act. It discharges the tension." ~Norman Mailer

"Sleep on your writing; take a walk over it; scrutinize it of a morning; review it of an afternoon; digest it after a meal; let it sleep in your drawer a twelvemonth; never venture a whisper about it to your friend, if he be an author especially." ~A. Bronson Alcott

So, at what point do you talk about a project? I personally tend to agree with Norman Mailer that talking about a story too early in the process is a bad idea, simply because talking is so much easier than writing and if I can get a story out of my system simply by chatting about it I may lose my impetus to write it. The story goes flat like an opened bottle of ginger ale. Better to just let it stay shut-- or better yet, to shake it a little in my mind, so that when I do crack it open it has a little oomph. Plus, if I talk about a story too soon I run the risk of having someone accidentally squash it with a casual comment ("Oh, I read something just like that." "That sounds really complicated," etc.) Story ideas are fragile when they are new. Sometimes I start to describe a story to a friend, only to realize that it is still really just fragments, as hard to get a hold of as the memories of a dream. I get that Orpheus and Eurydice feeling: I have to get this thing out of the underworld of my subconscious before I can turn and look at it head-on. Expose it to the light too soon and it's gone.

And then, of course,there are times when I wouldn't share even if I could. It's a delicious feeling, having a new story idea-- warm and secret as a note from your crush tucked in the back pocket of your jeans. Sometimes I just want to savor it a little longer on my own.

But once a story has reached a critical mass of words on the page there comes a tipping point when I really want to talk about it, especially with other writers.
That's when I like my critique group the most. They come in like adoring aunts and pinch my story's little cheeks and never tell me that it looks like Winston Churchill and its diaper stinks. There's plenty of time for that later-- a whole critique process, in fact. But that's after I've gotten a little distance, when I'm ready to hear it.


Douglas Hulick said...

I've found that over the last few projects that I prefer to get together with a couple of people in the very early stages to talk about the book, the plot line, etc. and have them help brainstorm a bit of structure with me. It's very easy to say "It's about THIS", but sometimes once you get past the "THIS", it can deflate. I find the air of ideas from others, even if those ideas never make it into the final work, help me get the process rolling beyond the initial spark -- a breath to the flame, if you will.

Likewise, I find that I tend to think story better when I brainstorm. Sometimes that it with others, sometimes it is me having a conversation with myself on the page; but I find I am less likely to complete something if I keep it to myself any more. Then again, I work solely in the longer form, and it may be harder to keep a book in your head to yourself than it is a story. It's been so long since I wrote a short story, I can't even say how I would approach one anymore.

Process varies, from writer to writer, from project to project. The important thing is to stay flexible. At some point, the usual may not work, and you may find yourself needing to talk (or to stay silent) about something when it goes against past practices. But that's all part of the fun of discovery. :)

Laura Bradley Rede said...

Douglas, I agree. It's good to stay flexible and taylor your approach to each individual project. I also agree that brainstorming is hugely helpful, although I don't tend to brainstorm out loud with others much (too much input can feel overwhelming to me at the start of a project.) But I do have to brainstorm on paper; otherwise I'm apt to settle for the first idea as-is, which may not be the most original. And nothing beats a good brainstorming session when you're stuck in a plothole!