Thursday, May 30, 2013

Writing 101: Every Author Needs Secrecy

Do you talk about your books before you're done writing them? Share tidbits and excerpts before the final draft is done? Ask questions about what readers want?

Stop. Every author needs secrecy. Otherwise, you end up writing for other people...and not for you.


Every writer has their own process, but there are some universal truths when it comes to writing a book. And one universal truth that really matters: stories change.

I thought about a book I wanted to write for years and years, from the time I was a child. Finally I decided to start bringing it to life. Originally, the story was going to be told from the daughter's point of view. I was going to kill her mother early and the whole story was going to be about this girl's struggle.

I started researching, and planning, and imagining. And pretty soon, I wasn't telling the daughter's story at all. I was telling her mother's, and she did not die. Everything about that book changed, from love interests to plot to the big ending I envisioned. And when I was done, only tiny pieces of my original plan remained.

Stories have a life of their own. If you interrupt a story's natural evolution by spilling too many details to too many readers too early, you are doing the story (and yourself) a great disservice.

The truth is, you don't know what you've got until the story is finished. You don't know where the process will take you. But you do know one thing: you need room to go in new directions. You need space to make changes and new discoveries.

You need your secrets. Because those first ideas are going to change, and stories are going to grow. Let them, and don't lock yourself into a plan too early.

I didn't talk about that book until the first draft was written. I just let it evolve and take me where it wanted to go. That book is my favorite thing I've ever written.

Hold tight to your secrets. As an author, it's the secrecy that gives you your greatest power. When you give secrets away, you're shutting out creativity. So just remember this one piece of advice: shhhh.

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  1. I have to agree. For me, writing is such an incredible process of discovery, and while I dislike revision it is occasionally necessary. Sharing details of the plot, etc., takes the freedom away.

    That said, when I started writing my first novel, I shared a lot of ideas and early chapters with a friend, and the discussions (arguments) we had forced to me think about the details in greater depth. Plus she did some illustrations for me, and these prompted me to create some additional elements.

    But I think there's a huge difference between sharing with a select handful of friends and sharing with the general public.

  2. I've read other authors say the same thing and I think there's some truth in it. Certainly it's dangerous to share details of a novel with someone who is likely to discourage you, and getting too many opinions can just leave you confused. This did happen to me once or twice.

    I also agree that a novel can change direction while you write, and that certainly has happened to mine.

    That said, with my first novel took a workshop run by 2 published (and critically acclaimed) novelists so had advice on parts of it from them. I then took an MA and rewrote much of the first 20,000 words for my dissertation, so had lots of professional guidance - with a great tutor who told me to discard any of her suggestions that didn't feel right. From then on, I worked on the rest of the first draft alone. So, i'd say support of the right kind can be very beneficial.

  3. Thanks for your comments! Great points.