Early on in my 15+ year journey as a writer I received two pieces of advice that I ignored. I should have listened a little closer and tried a little harder to follow these two pearls of wisdom. I offer them here for you to consider. As with any advice, rules, or conventions of writing, do with it what you will. Nothing is set in stone. We all must forge our own path in how we approach our creative efforts.
When I graduated from law school, I got a job as an administrative hearing officer. I wrote a lot of decisions and orders for the next four years. Every decision was reviewed by two people, one of whom read for the quality of the writing. A few years after I left that job, I started writing fiction. I kept in touch with Jeanne, the woman who served as the editor back then. When I told her about my fiction efforts, Jeanne offered me advice as I started to tell her about what I was working on.
“Don’t do it. Don’t talk to people about what you’re writing.” I ignored her and I shouldn’t have. It’s an odd thing. If you write novels, you generally are committing to the life of a hermit with your idea and your work. For months, and in some cases years, you toil away without any real encouragement or endorsement of what you are doing.
It’s one of the challenges of being a writer. You spend so much time working in silence without confirmation of the value of what you’re doing. It can lead to major doubt which can lead to major writer’s block which can lead to losing all of your hair.
Here’s what I noticed though when I started telling people about what I was working on. A couple of things happened. First, the pressure to produce something people liked grew considerably. Second, the idea of the story lost its luster. I think it was the second aspect that Jeanne was mostly concerned about. And I find it to be true.
Once I tell somebody what the story is, or what my idea is, I all too frequently start to experience problems with my writing. I … just … lose interest. Once the secret is out, it just doesn’t seem as exciting anymore.
I should have listened to Jeanne way back when. I’m going to follow her advice from now on. As much as possible, I’m not sharing with people what I’m working on until it’s done. So … I can tell you that I have a project I’m going to pursue for 2021. It’s an ambitious one. But I ain’t telling you a thing more about it.
The second piece of advice I received right around the same time. After I finished One Night in Bridgeport, I had all sorts of ideas for what I wanted to do next. I started something, and then more ideas kept popping into my head.
I asked my dad (who is also a writer) how he decided what to work on. His advice was essentially to pick something and see it to its end before starting another project. “You may never finish anything if you don’t,” is the paraphrase of his final thought on the topic.
Dad is a very wise man and I should have listened to him. As my ideas developed into more complicated stories and I found hurdles in my way, I would shift from one story to another. And years later, I have at least a half dozen half-completed, half-baked novels that sit on my computer and taunt me.
In the last year, I have managed to finish a couple of things. The Irrepairable Past and The Dime. But there are those other stories that continue to intrigue me and I keep trying to push open the door on one of them. When nothing happens, I consider one of the others. It has become this vicious cycle. Too many works in progress and no idea which one I should pursue first.
Add to this that bits and pieces of all of these stories have been shared on my blog and … yes, Jeanne was right … that seems to cause part of the problem with getting back to each of these projects. So, I keep cycling through them and pondering which one to pick up.
I do know this. I finished Irrepairable and The Dime because I committed myself to it. The idea that I was going to finish them no matter what, and focus exclusively on each story until I was able to type “The End.”
This is now what I’m doing. I’m combining the advice of those much wiser than me. I have a project that I’m committed to for 2021. I will not be diverted from it until it is done. And I’m not going to tell you think more about it.
What advice related to writing have you received over the years that you followed? What advice did you fail to follow that you wish you had? What advice would you give to writers?
That is good advice, Mark. I think discussing unwritten details of a project would pretty much kill it for me. Best to keep it to oneself until at least the first draft is done.
I’ve been trying to come up with advice I should have followed, but I can’t think of any. I probably didn’t follow it and forgot all about it, which may be a good thing or a bad thing.
Hope you’re having a great Christmas Eve!
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