Twice-told Tales

“Don’t be ‘a writer.’ Be writing.”
William Faulkner

It’s happened to you, I’m sure. Soon after you make a new acquaintance, he or she asks you what you do. And as soon as you answer, “I’m a writer,” the next two question usually are, “Oh, what have you written?” and “What are you working on?”

I love talking about books, writing, and my work. Just wind me up and get me started, and I’ll keep going. I’ll share some ideas from Birthing the Elephant, my how-to guide for women entrepreneurs and talk about how the idea for my YA novel came to me and what the story is about in broad brushstrokes.

But, thanks to Hemingway, I try to resist making it a tell-all fest and gabbing on and on about precisely what I’m working on at the moment. That’s right, Hemingway. As an ex-pat, he spent many an hour in cafes shooting the breeze with other writers — F. Scott Fitzgerald among them. But he rarely talked about the pages he’d just written or was planning to write because he felt it sapped his creative energy.

Just recently, I came across support for Hemingway’s belief in Dorothea Brande’s great guide, Becoming a Writer. In a section called, “Keep Your Own Counsel,” she observes: “…words are your medium, and effective use of them your profession, but your unconscious self (which is your wishful part) will not care whether the words you use are written down or talked to the world at large. If you are for the moment fortunate enough to have a responsive audience you often suffer for it later. You will have created your story and reaped your reward in approval or shocked disapproval; in either case you will have hit your mark. Afterward you will find yourself disinclined to go on with the laborious process of writing that story at full length; unconsciously you will consider it as already done, a twice-told tale. If you can conquer the disinclination to write you may still find that a slightly flat, uninterested note creeps in, in spite of you. So practice a wise taciturnity. When you have completed a fair first draft, you can, if you like, offer it for criticism and advice; but to talk too early is a grave mistake.”

Fascinating! “To talk too early is a grave mistake:” As soon as I read this, it had the ring of truth for me. I remembered times when I’d done exactly this and how it felt — and how reading Hemingway’s words a while ago had struck a chord with me. Now I know why.

How about you? Do you find that it’s best to keep your daily, ongoing work “close to the vest” — and refrain from talking about it? Or do you often find yourself, as I do, tempted to share more than might be wise about what you’re working on? How do you handle this? I’d love to hear about it as we all write on.

About karinwritesdangerously

I am a writer and this is a motivational blog designed to help both writers and aspiring writers to push to the next level. Key themes are peak performance, passion, overcoming writing roadblocks, juicing up your creativity, and the joys of writing.
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2 Responses to Twice-told Tales

  1. I used to think that if I talked about a new project, it would “commit” me to that project. I’d have to follow through. But it doesn’t work that way with me–the more I talk about it, describe it, the less compulsion I have to write it down. Also, sometimes when I talk about an idea for a new book, people advise me, “Write it as a short story first.” That doesn’t work for me either. If I have a satisfactory short story, I’m not likely to stretch it into a book. So I try to keep quiet, but it IS fun to talk writing–publishing–reading; it’s as good as gossip,

  2. Hi Martha,

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience. I know what you mean — I’ve found this to
    be true myself: talking about a writing project does seem to deflate it, so keeping quiet
    sounds like the best approach. I also agree that writing is fun to discuss — just how much
    to say or not — now that’s the challenge!

    Write on,

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