Monday, September 26, 2011

On Writing: Let's Talk About Something Else

     “What’s your book about?” It’s an innocent enough question, and most times well meant, but it tends to send me into a minor panic.
     It’s not that I don’t know the answer. Hell, I can rattle off my elevator pitch, and use my smartphone to send you a five-page synopsis, before the doors ping open for your floor.
     But, somewhere deep in my shoes, I feel if I talk about my work too much, it won’t come true. The spell will be broken, and I’ll be left holding the dusty splinters of what used to be good ideas.

     Part of my superstition, I’m sure, stems from childhood wishing rules. Blow out the candle, or toss in the penny, but don’t tell anyone what you wish for. Some of it may come from a lack of confidence in my ideas. This story, this web of bubbles and lights and smoke, is supported in large part by my own ego and hubris. One sharp rock might be enough to do the whole thing in.
     There’s some soft science behind my reluctance to divulge, as well. In 2009, an NYU psychologist and his team did a study that showed people were less likely to complete a task if they talked about their intentions to do it, first. (You don’t have to take my word for it.)  The conclusion suggested that people who talk about their intentions tend to present their ideal selves —“I will write a book” or “I will go to the gym every day” — and most can’t live up to the reality. I have a book, at Draft 1.5, but what if it’s not as good as the ideal I might present? What if I can’t live up to my own hype?
     So, I try to dodge the question. It’s easy enough on the out; I just introduce myself with the day job. There’s enough fodder in “high school teacher” to launch 1,000 conversations: pro, con, and neutral.
     Among other writers, though, there is no escaping, “What are you working on?” or “How’s the book going?” Usually, unless I’m workshopping, I shrug, dodge, present some pabulum, and offer to make a beer run.
     So, pick a reason for my squirming. One of those, all of those. It’s nothing personal. I’m not worried you are going to steal my ideas. I just, you know, don’t like talking about it.


  1. You had better get into the habit of talking about it, because from the bits I've read, it's going to be wonderful. I'm your biggest fan (said in my Kathy Bates voice)

  2. Hey, look! There's a sweaty man in a gi!

  3. Interesting post Rob...I have heard of other studies that "prove" when you tell people about your goals/plans you are MORE likely to follow through because you've created accountability. So, how's that book coming along?

  4. Eh, you know ... there are some pages, a few dozen chapters, about 100,000 words. Some words I use more than once.

  5. Excellent post! I too have read that sharing your goals makes you more likely to complete them. It definitely helped when I was training for my first (and only) marathon. However, writing's a bit different. It's a bit more private I think.