This question can be approached from a few angles and is kind of hard to tackle, which is why this is the fourth first sentence I’ve written for this blog post. So let’s just dive right in.
Angle #1: I don’t talk about my WIPs (works in progress) because I don’t want someone stealing my ideas.
That’s the fear, isn’t it? If we share our work in writing groups or online, it’s not just the emotional vulnerability of putting ourselves out there. Plagiarism is real, and nobody wants to lose years of work to someone who swoops in and scoops our best ideas. So … do we just never talk about our work at all?
Angle #2: If I talk about my WIP, then I lose all the joy and momentum. Writing it feels like chewing my food twice.
If this isn’t you, then you probably know someone like this: they’ve got the backstories and world building and character design all planned out. They talk about it all the time. But as far as actually getting words down on the page and writing it … it’s not happening. Talking is joy. Maybe talking is less work. And once you’ve said it and gotten an audience reaction, what’s the point of writing it down for an audience you won’t actually see?
Angle #3: I don’t talk about my writing because nobody’s interested.
Maybe your topic’s too niche, or maybe you don’t have writing friends. You don’t want to talk about your WIP because it’s not a conversation – it’s just the other person waiting for you to run down so they can have their turn.
… or maybe a bit of all three?
I’ll say straight off that the people I talk to in real life get a lot more details about my projects than anyone online, possibly because of all three of these reasons. If all I tell you about my novel is “a serial killer kidnaps the woman he wants to write his bestselling biography,” we’re never going to write the same story. Even if you somehow stumbled across my summary on the NaNoWriMo website years ago and spent all this time working up your own version, it’s not my book. (And even that summary is pretty darn vague.)
But do I keep my WIP talk vague solely so nobody steals the idea? No. That’s not the only reason.
Part of it is Angle #2: if I already tell people all the interesting bits, what else is there? You’d know the climax (which should be, of course, the most interesting bit). You’d know who lives and who dies and how it all comes out. So … why read it if you’ve already been given the CliffsNotes version? Don’t people get those so they don’t have to read it?
And yeah, part of it is Angle #3: I know not everybody cares about my work at all, much less half as much as I do. I don’t want to bore people with long info-dumps. That’s not a conversation – that’s a monologue. So I’m careful even in person, when I’ve got body language and such to judge when someone’s attention wanders. (Here on my own blog I get to ramble as much as I want, I guess. You can always click away.)
There’s also another aspect to it. Maybe not a full angle, but at least a partial one: I don’t want to jinx it. I don’t want to get all publicly hyped about an idea only to have the project fizzle out at a later step and never actually appear. I’m talking one of the later steps in the publishing process nobody wants to think about: contract signed, manuscript delivered, and still something falls through. Complete superstition, I know, but it’s still totally there for me.
So online I’m incredibly vague. In person, if we don’t really know each other, I’m the same level of vague: unless it’s been officially announced, I deflect. But, if you’re in my writing group, or if you’re my husband …
Yeah. They get the CliffsNotes. The questions. The rambling “I don’t know if x or y should happen” and “I’m thinking of killing Z.” The people who are there for the process get to see the entire thing – the excitement, the frustration, the internal debates. My writing group gets weekly updates because everyone gives weekly updates. They want to know about the comments I get back and how I’m either going to address them or argue against them. They’ve heard about so many manuscripts I’ve completed that will never, ever see print.
(They’ve argued that, someday, a library will want to collect all of my unpublished manuscripts and people will actually read them.)
So I guess the short answer is that, for most of you, I’ll talk very little about my WIPs. I’ll wait for official announcements and share exactly that much information. Which is all a personal decision about what feels right for me – you don’t have to do that part.
What I would encourage all writers to do, though, is to find community. In person, online, however it comes. Find the people who’ll celebrate each step of the process with you and who understand it – the ones who make you feel safe to share without prefacing something with “Okay nobody steal my idea seriously I mean it.” The people who’ll remember your characters’ names and ask if you’ve decided their fate yet.
I like talking about my writing, but mostly I just like writing it.
How about you? How often do you talk about your projects?
6 thoughts on ““How much do you talk about a project while you’re working on it?””
I find that I don’t like the reaction a non-writer gives to my writing ideas. Honestly, it’s probably that they need a moment to think or process, but their faces always have a “huh” look that I don’t like. Or, you get that age-old horror of “I lived this wacky experience and you should write that instead” moment. Gross. My mom, bless her heart, decided several years ago I should bang out some romance novels just to make money. You know, she’s probably not wrong. 🤣
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I mean try telling people all about the cool serial killer you’ve dreamed up. They either literally lean in or take a step back – there’s no middle ground! But the suggestions, phew … I get told about everyone’s six degrees to a serial killer. It can be cool, but sometimes it’s such a stretch that I’m pretty sure I’m the one with the “huh” look. (And serial killer romance is a thing … I actually know someone writing her dissertation on Jack the Ripper romance novels. Clearly I need to get on board.)
You probably should never tell me about your serial killer because I’ll tell you about all the serial killer movies I’ve watched and accidentally make you feel unheard with all my excitement. 😛
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I’m okay with that as long as I then get to blather at you about how all those movie serial killers are wrong. 😆
Wrong in what way? 😮 You meant Jason Voorhees would never bust through a door as if knobs didn’t exist? Seriously, the man NEVER opens a door, he explodes through them.
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Oh actually the Mythbusters showed it’s really easy to do that – even when they tried blocking the door with furniture lined up all the way to the other wall, the attacker totally just broke the door.
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