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Talking About Writing

For me, writing is a private activity. And yet I’m writing this on a public forum. But, hear me out.

I would like to talk about what I’m writing (very occasionally, but that’s true for all conversations). Sometimes I think it’d be nice to brainstorm with other people, talk about worldbuilding, swoon over characters. If nothing else, it’d give me another topic of conversation in my arsenal.

And I think it’s wise for writers to talk about what they’re working on. We get so wrapped up in our own heads that we need a reality check every once in a while.

But I’m discovering that, just like every writer’s style is different, every audience is different. Some people are helpful as a sounding board in the pre-publication stage. Others…? Not so much.

It’s different for each writer/sounding board pair. I can’t talk to my DH about writing, but other people find him an excellent helper when they’re trying to figure out what happens next in a WIP. If I had to guess, I find him difficult to talk to because he’s likes to plan everything out, to the nth degree, before putting a word on the page or starting a project (DH says it’s more nuanced than that, but it’s close enough for government work). I tend to start with a very loose plan and add to it as I go. So our conversations on writing go something like this:

DH: Well, what does Sir X want to get out of the fight with Villain Z? Sir X is your protagonist, right?

Me: Yes, he is, and I’m not sure why he’s after Villain Z. They have some sort of past, and Villain Z is being villainous, so now’s a good time to take him out.

DH: What kind of past?

Me: I don’t know yet.

DH: How can you not know?! The whole book is about them trying to kill each other!

Me: True, but I’ll figure it out eventually, and add it in later. Half a story is better than no story, and I won’t be able to write at all if I have to understand every character’s motivations from the beginning.

DH: *seethes quietly*

Me: *seethes quietly*

 

Yeah. Not very helpful and not conducive to good communication from either of us. But there are other people in my circle who are more helpful, possibly because they ask more open ended questions. And DH is helpful once I have the first draft on paper/pixels, because he helps me see gaps in the writing.

The point of this little ramble is that you, the writer, need to screen your beta readers/sounding boards/assistants carefully. Your best friend might be a terrible writing companion. That doesn’t make them a bad person. But for the love of God, remember not to talk with them about your WIPs, unless you want to drive each other nuts. Or, almost as bad, lose the ability to write in that particular universe, which is what happened after I talked with DH about worldbuilding in the Avalon universe (it’ll come back eventually, but that single half-hour discussion killed my momentum, and that’s rather irksome).

Talk about writing. Talk about what you’re working on. But talk with people who will help you, not people who will hinder your progress. This may take some trial-and-error, but both parties will be much happier in the end.

This has been a public service announcement. You may now return to your regularly scheduled programming.

16 Comments
  1. I find * most * people are not much use as sounding boards. Because *most* folks are unwilling/unable to provide feedback beyond “it’s good” and other superficial comments. Case in point: in my current WIP, several characters are so blatantly symbolic of deities in the Greco- Roman pantheon, I often read I’m insulting my readers by being so obvious. Yet *most* don’t get it. I then started surveying them. *Most had not read either anything by Homer, and knew of Troy only by the recent Brad Pitt movie. (This makes me an elitist, I presume.)

    February 5, 2020
    • Margaret Ball #

      Surveying potential readers is often a shock! It’s easy to think they’re as familiar as you are with the material you’re using. I once whined to my husband that I would really like Eleanor of Aquitaine to cross paths with Saladin but it wouldn’t work because he was only ten years old at the time of the Second Crusade. He responded by taking a quick survey of his high-IQ, STEM-educated colleagues and reported that exactly one of them had some vague idea of who Saladin was.

      Still didn’t put him in the book, though. I have my standards.

      February 5, 2020
      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard #

        Another man with the same name? 😆

        February 5, 2020
      • Of course. Even if hardly anyone else would know that you were being inaccurate, you would know, and that would ruin everything. If you break the story for yourself, it’s awfully hard to impress anyone else with it.

        February 5, 2020
      • I would have noticed. One more like that and the book would have ended on the Didn’t Do Their Homework-pile. 😉

        I found too much ‘altered’ history in Iggulden’s Roman novels, and as a result I never read anything else by him, either, since I don’t trust him not to change things for the sake of a story – as if history doesn’t have tons of good stories as its stands.

        A way to more creative freedom is to use fictional MCs that have their own story. Sure, the interaction with historical characters and events should still be correct, but those characters can have their own story within history. I could not write books like Sharon Penman; it would feel to restricting. My historical fiction is a) based on less well documented times / events, and b) I use mostly fictional main characters.

        February 10, 2020
      • Mary #

        Besides, those that don’t know wouldn’t care.

        February 10, 2020
        • Mary #

          By which I mean, care about the character.

          February 10, 2020
    • TRX #

      > Greco- Roman pantheon, I often read I’m insulting my readers by being so obvious.

      I’d recognize the names of five or six, but I have no idea what their attributes might be. It wasn’t part of any of the public daycare systems I was incarcerated in, and I never felt any pressing need to follow up on it.

      February 5, 2020
    • Mary #

      It’s really hard to think yourself into a frame of mind where you don’t know what you do.

      The real trick is to make it unimportant whether they do, or don’t, recognize them.

      February 5, 2020
  2. ” I often read” = “‘m often afraid.” Dogdam auto-correct. The superfluous ” either” is all me. Can’t blame that on gremlins.

    February 5, 2020
  3. Zsuzsa #

    I’ll admit that I’m a lot more like your DH than you: if I start writing without knowing why X and Z hate each other, I’m highly unlikely to figure it out as I’m drafting. Best case scenario, I’ll have to stop and write an outline after several chapters. Worst case scenario, I’ll just keep spinning along on irrelevant points until it turns into something unsalvageable.

    I don’t know to what extent planners and pantsers (to various degrees) can talk each other through the process. I could envision them being able to play off each other’s strengths, but I could also see how something that one considered irrelevant would be absolutely critical to the other.

    February 5, 2020
    • Blake Smith #

      “I could also see how something that one considered irrelevant would be absolutely critical to the other”

      I mostly agree with this, but in my case, I’d add a timing component. It’s not that my darling’s remarks/questions are completely useless, they’re just not relevant for the early stages of writing (for me; everyone’s different, of course).

      February 6, 2020
      • I phrased that wrong. What I meant was, “Irrelevant to the question of what happens next in the story.”

        February 6, 2020
  4. dakorillon #

    I hear you! Amen! I have several stories in Purgatory, because I talked about them to/with people. Finding Alpha readers/talkers to, is absolutely impossible. It’s like winning the lottery, it CAN happen, but it’s not something you can predict or that most are ever likely to win.

    And family can be the worst…I finally figured out why, for me, anyway. It’s because I trust/respect them too much. So, if they say anything contrary to what is in my mind…I start doubting myself, the story, everything….and there it goes, off to Purgatory for you! LOL.

    February 5, 2020
    • Mary #

      People you know can be dangerous because both you and they are inhibited by the effect it may have on the relationship, too.

      February 5, 2020
      • Blake Smith #

        My dad is this way, which is frustrating because he’s a smart and insightful guy. But I think some of his reputation for intelligence comes from being smart enough not to talk about things he doesn’t understand. Since he doesn’t know much about writing, he doesn’t give good feedback. Oh, well. I can always go to him when my ego needs boosting; he’ll read my stuff and say, “That was great!”

        February 6, 2020

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