Charlotte Rains Dixon  

Talking Your Story To Death

Mouth_surprising_open_268839_l Have you ever talked about a story so much that you then could never write it?

I have. 

When I was a newer writer, this happened to me several times.  Sometimes it was in one-on-one conversation, but mostly it happened in a critique group I attended.  I loved that critique group, adored the people in it and enjoyed our weekly meetings.  But, looking back, I think we just talked too damn much.  I was working on a novel then and I never was able to pull it together, though I got about three-quarters of the way through.

Talking about it took all the energy from it.

Of course, I now belong to a different critique group which is no less amazing.  And we talk and talk and talk, too.  So what's the difference?  Why was I able to finish my novel, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior, and feel satisfied with it, whereas before I couldn't? 

Perhaps it has to do with confidence.  In this group, when people talk about something that isn't working, I'm able to take that criticism and figure out my own solution to it.  Before, I'd always do exactly what the others' said, even when I knew it wasn't right, because I lacked confidence.  As I ponder this, it also has to do with confidence in the collective wisdom of the group, as well as myself.

Still, I've learned not to talk too much about my work.  When people ask me what the novel is about, I give them a vague answer.  Now that is it finished, I don't have to be quite so protective.  In truth, I need to be less protective and figure out a decent elevator pitch, so I don't find myself opening and closing my mouth and saying, "Um, well, it's about this woman….and she goes to LA…and…" By that time my questioner is so bored she is walking away from me.

But when a work is in progress, I find it beneficial to me not to talk about it too much.  I've finally learned just to tell people that.  When they ask me what my novel that I'm working on is about, I answer, "I've learned not to talk too much about my work while it is in progress, because it sucks the life out of it."

People generally respect this, perhaps because it sounds very writerly and somewhat mysterious.  Well, the creative process is mysterious, isn't it?  And we learn what works for each of us only by engaging in it.

I'm a bit in awe of all the writers on Twitter who happily gab away about their works in progress.  They even tweet lines from their writing and others comment.  Laurell K. Hamilton, best-selling author of the Anita Blake series, tweets constantly about her characters and what they are doing.  Part of me wishes I could do this because it seems so natural to all of them.  But I've learned that I can't.

So, do tell.  What works for you?  Do you talk about your writing in progress?  Have you ever talked a book to death?

0 thoughts on “Talking Your Story To Death

  1. Jessica

    Hmmm. I find I end up talking my story to life. But that is probably only when talking to a select group of people – most notably my father and my brother. We get into these intense sessions where we bat around ideas, come at things from different angles, discover connections and go off on tangents. Just yesterday my brother pitched an idea for a trilogy he’d just started mapping out. We haven’t stopped talking about it since, and just in a day it has grown into an amazingly complicated and meaningful story.

    Having said that, I have kept stories back from my dad and brother for precisely the reason you state. I usually try to ride out my first draft without them. Then, once I’ve read back over it and decided what I want to change, I begin talking about it. I’ve already made most of the decisions myself, I’m just seeing if they come to the same conclusions or if they find something I’ve missed.

    The thing that kills my stories is letting anyone read my first draft. I have very enthusiastic friends who want to get in and help whenever they can. However, I find grammar notes and “did you mean this?” notes on first drafts are just demoralizing. I lose my confidence, and approach the second draft wondering how much of what I’m doing is me as a writer and how much is because my friends have said it needs to be changed.

    So, I’m working on become a more confident writer and person. My first draft is my private copy. Once I’ve worked out the bugs, then others can see it. Until then, it’s my special secret. Some excerpts might do the rounds from time to time…but I figure those excerpts are mostly testing the waters to make sure I’m still funny.

    Also, not letting out partial information or manuscript copies tends to cut down on lynching mobs who want the next chapter.

  2. Charlotte Dixon

    Jessica, I find that I need to get about three or four chapters written–enough so that I feel confident I’m going somewhere–before I take anything into my group. They are so good about recognizing the difference between first draft stuff and later versions that I don’t have to be more guarded. But you make an excellent point. Probably every writer needs to figure out when they will be comfortable sharing their work and when it will be damaging.

  3. Patty - Why Not Start Now?

    I totally agree about protecting our babies, writing babies or any other budding creative babies. I’m too fragile to risk feedback too soon; I need to get my work, whether it’s a piece of writing or a workshop I’m creating, to a certain point before I can talk about it. The only exception is two people who are very, very close to me!

  4. Derek

    With me I see my writing ideas like ghosts and when I talk about them, I am sort of exorcising them by familiarity. Something I don’t really want to do! I love the mysterious and I need to have those stories keeping me guessing, what’s going to happen next.

    In this relative world, everything gives way to its opposite and I often see this happening with my ideas. A good idea becomes a bad idea. An exciting plot becomes boring. In Zen, this is called the dualistic nature of the mind.

    When I find a good idea and talk a lot about it, I find the answer here is absolute commitment to see that idea through to conclusion and just let my feelings about it swing from negative to positive as they wish.

    I was watching a drama on TV about a young doctor that was just weeks from realizing her dream of becoming a senior consultant, when suddenly she had a strong impulse to just quit at the 11th hour – she just couldn’t see the point in any of it. Her colleagues supported her by telling her to quit after she had qualified, which of course she didn’t. Her quitting mood had swung back again to enthusiasm for her dream.

  5. Charlotte Dixon

    Patty, fragile is a good word–as if the writing will shatter and break if it is exposed too soon.

    Derek, love the ghost metaphor, I’ve not thought of it like that!

  6. InMyDreamsItWasSimpler

    I’m guilty of talking too much about a project till even I am bored with it. Of course that sucks the fun out of writing it later. Sometimes though, I’ve learned that it helps me to clarify my thoughts and brainstorm when I discuss it with a few people who I can trust, and who are on the same page as me.

  7. Charlotte Dixon

    Lena, yes that is the biggest danger, isn’t it? Sometimes it is much easier to talk than write.

  8. Charlotte Dixon

    InMyDreams, I love that comment–talking it out until you are bored with it. That has so happened to me. It is much more fun to play with on the page.

  9. Lena

    For me it’s a balancing act. Sometimes talking with other writers can help untangle a snarl in the old wip. But there is such a thing as talking the life out of a project too. Ex. if you’re talking more than writing… 😛

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