I had dinner with a writer friend last week and after gushing about the novel I’m currently developing, I asked what he’s working on. After a long awkward pause, he finally confessed that he didn’t want to talk about it until he had a first draft.
I subscribed to this methodology once upon a time, holding my ideas close to my chest and trying not to “spend” them too soon. I once talked myself out of writing a novel because after outlining it and explaining it to a friend, I grew bored with the idea and eventually shelved it. I have completely forgotten what the idea was, which is further evidence that the reason I shelved the idea wasn’t because I’d talked about it too much, but because I wasn’t actually all that interested in writing it—or, rather, that the idea wasn’t strong enough to be a novel.
I believe that’s the case for most writers who lose their ideas in talking. I worked on the novel I’m querying for roughly three years. That is a long time to spend with the same characters, in the same world, going over their problems and relationships with a fine-tooth comb. If I had been able to “talk out” this idea, to talk about it enough to essentially “ruin” it, I assure you I would have. A year and a half of that development time included monthly meetings with my thesis supervisor where we did nothing but talk about the novel for hours. I couldn’t talk out this story because I was invested in it. Because the idea had legs and it needed to be a novel. Yes, there were days when I was sick of those characters because I had been living with them for so long, and there were days when I tossed out chapters or followed the wrong path, but I never wanted to shelve this story. In all this talking, I never lost the idea.
One of the best ways for me to work through an idea is to talk about it with trusted friends. Aside from figuring out if I actually want to write the story, articulating my ideas to someone else helps me discover plot holes, character weaknesses, and other areas that need development. Even better, once I describe a story to someone, I have a cheerleader who has insight into the idea. After that conversation they don’t just ask how the novel is going, they’ll say things like, “How’s my girl Eve?” or “Did you figure out what happens on the train?” Honestly, there’s no better motivation than having people who are invested in your story.
All of this is probably the same reason I’m part of a writing group, discuss writing with my friends regularly, and wanted to be part of an MFA program. Talking about writing (and about my writing) is motivating. But that’s not the case for everyone. Are you a talker or do you keep your ideas quiet like my friend? Every method has a benefit, what do you see as the benefit for your method?