You’ve heard it said: Don’t talk about a work-in-progress to anyone. Of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s seven writing tips, this one came in at number three.
Perhaps it should be number one, because the success or failure of a piece of writing may hinge on this idea alone. It’s why authors are vague when they’re asked what project they’re working on. You’ve heard that asked at readings and book signings, and unless the work has been fully drafted, you’ll likely hear a non-answer.
This is as it should be. Once a writer talks about a project, it isn’t quite his or hers anymore. That’s particularly true if the first draft isn’t complete. Others’ reactions come into play. If a friend or family member offers an odd look, the writer may start to doubt the project or the direction it’s taking. That is particularly true if one hears a negative reaction. The writer may lose heart though that original ending or direction may be exactly where the piece needed to go.
Words do have power. Once a writer describes what a project is “about” it starts to take a form which, if still in progress, may or may not be what it winds up being. Saying too much can affect the ending, steal the momentum of the writer finding our for herself/himself what the piece is about.
Moreover, telling someone that a piece is about a certain topic tends to categorize the work, shutting off some of the imaginative energy.
This all sounds very esoteric and touchy feely, but I’ve found this to be quite true. Vague descriptions of work in progress need to stay that way, so the writer can preserve the magic as long as possible.