Writer’s Toolbox

Ask The Writer

Your most pressing and perplexing questions about writing answered here by Gotham teacher Brandi Reissenweber.

Friends and family often ask me what my novel-in-progress is about but I'm reluctant to share. I trust them so I don't know why I feel this way. Would it be better for me to get over this and talk about it?

Plenty of writers keep their current project under wraps, even with friends and loved ones. For some writers, this is a way to stay sane while creating. Who needs unsolicited advice and ideas when you’re having your own inner riot over characters, action and perhaps even the novel’s worth? Some writers even find that talking about their book makes it more difficult to write it, as if voicing the plot takes away some of the discovery so instrumental to writing it. This isn’t true for all writers, though. Some like to think through and hash out ideas with others and bring the insights and clarity gained from those conversations to the page.

Only you can know what will work for you. Think about who you are as a writer and where you are in the process of writing your book. If you’re still sorting out what the book is about—a common state during the early drafts—then you might find that the time alone with the characters promotes more concentration and focus. If you’re nearing completion of your twentieth revision and are eager to start getting feedback, discussing the project with people close to you might be a good entrance into that next phase.

Consider your motivations for keeping mum. Are you worried about theft? If so, put your mind at ease. While ideas are vital, a work will thrive or fail by the execution of those ideas. J.D. Salinger wasn’t the first or last author to write about a teenager struggling with issues of identity and alienation, but his choices along the way make Catcher in the Rye particularly compelling and memorable. Perhaps you’re worried people won’t like your ideas or you’re insecure about the possibility of failing. If this is holding you back, you’ll need to come to terms with it when the time is right. Sharing the book with others—a writer’s group, editors or agents—will be necessary if you’re interested in publishing.

Even with some thought, you may not be able to put your finger on what’s holding you back from talking about your novel and that’s okay. Listen to that voice that’s encouraging you to keep quiet as you write. We often know what’s best for us, even if we don’t understand why. And there’s no harm in keeping quiet—unless it stops you from moving forward with the project. You can keep all those questions from loved ones at bay by sharing with very broad strokes—“I’m writing about love and disillusionment”—or by simply being honest about your reluctance to share.