Shut up and write
I’ve been debating for awhile now about whether I should use this blog to talk about the book I’m trying to write. I’ve mentioned before that I’m working on one, but I haven’t gone into details about it. Today, I made the decision that I will not be blogging about the book on here until it’s finally done (which right now feels like ‘never’) – instead, I’m going to shut up and write.
I read a great post on the New York Times website by Mark Slouka called Don’t Ask What I’m Writing in which he brings up the dual nature of writing and talking about it with other people: I hate being asked what I’m writing about, or how it’s going, because when I talk about it, it all sounds stupid and improbable; but I also hate not being asked because I want to hear that I’m not just wasting my time writing nonsense.
So far, I’ve erred on the side of, ‘tell me I’m not wasting my time/life’, and gave a mostly done draft of the book to some friends, who all gave me feedback, which I then tried to incorporate into the unfinished book. This was a really terrible idea. The feedback was mostly positive, and most people want me to hurry up and finish so they can find out what happens – but you know, so do I, and trying to incorporate feedback into an unfinished story is making hard to go forward. My poor little ego liked the praise, but actually doing the work is harder now that I am trying to crowd please by taking into account criticism I asked for – much of which is actually pretty spot-on for the chunk of the book that exists. Add in the inner critic (made up of equal parts of bully and helicopter parent)and hardly a new word has been written in months.
What have I done to try and work my way out of the black hole that is the blank page? I talked about the book. Repeatedly. To several people.
Yeah, I’m a genius.
Mr. Slouka points out that we writer types are always making openings to talk about the work. We say things out loud, apropos of nothing, like: “The work went really well today! I think I’ve got that plot problem licked.” And woe to the person who hears this. They will respond, mostly out of politeness, and that’s all the opening we need to talk about the work. And we’ll talk about it ad nauseum, essentially working out our neurosis with a captive audience while scanning them for signs of liking, or not liking, a particular thing – which we’ll then take back to our desks and try to keep in mind while we write the next bit. We’re a needy bunch.
As a friend of mine recently discovered, writing by committee sucks. It sucks a lot. It is a project doomed to being a failed patch-work quilt of words that don’t work, especially if the project is not yet finished or ready for criticism.
So, I am going to try to follow Mr. Slouka’s advice:
1. Trust a few, necessary voices.
2. Try, as much as possible, to avoid torturing these brave souls with your own insecurities.
3. Shut up and write.