Tell no one

Let's just keep this between us, okay? (photo by Katie Tegtmeyer)

If you are a writer, particularly if you are a writer of creative things, and someone asks you, “so, what are you writing about these days?” it is perfectly acceptable to reply, “I’d rather not say.” The reason this is a perfectly acceptable response is because writers, particularly the creative kind, are often regarded as artists. And artists are often regarded as temperamental brats. If people already expect you to be a temperamental brat, then getting all cagey about your work is just par for the course. It reaffirms your status as an artist. So, win-win.

Of course, there are plenty of good reasons for not talking about work-in-progress, aside from just keeping up appearances. I’ve found that trying to articulate to others ideas I haven’t yet totally formed on the page has a way of sometimes changing those ideas, and not always for the better. Also, sometimes when I share the subject of an unfinished piece with someone else, I immediately start to feel like it’s actually a really dumb thing to write about even if that person says, “That’s such a cool thing to write about!”…or, especially if that person says, “That’s such a cool thing to write about!” And then I abandon the story as a result. This behavior leads me to believe that I may in fact be a temperamental brat. So anyway, I’ve recently started sharing less and less about work-in-progress with others and I feel pretty good about it.

In fact, I increasingly wish I could side-step other questions in the same way.

I’m currently on the Westside of the state, visiting with friends and family for winter break. In the last week, I’ve had to field the old “what are you going to do when you are done with grad school” question a number of times. Each time, I answer this question honestly, but then immediately wish I’d said “I’d rather not say” instead.

It’s not that my post-graduation plans are so grandiose or bizarre. Actually, they’re pretty standard for an MFAer – a combination of teaching and writing. But having to articulate the specifics of how this might work to others, as well as the potential roadblocks to my plan, makes it seem suddenly dull or dumb or impossible. I feel discouraged at the conclusion of each such conversation, even if the person I’m talking to is totally supportive and encouraging (which most are).

As with writing, there’s just something about trying to explain the idea before it’s become a reality that seems to undermine it for me. When my plans are secret, they are safe. But expose them to the light of day and there’s no way they’re going keep on looking as cool. This isn’t a universal experience. I know plenty of people who love to bounce their ideas for the future off of anyone who will listen. It reaffirms for them that they are on the right track. This makes sense. And so I wonder if I am simply being superstitious, or anti-social, or, as previously suggested, a temperamental brat. But the fact remains – I just don’t feel comfortable talking about unfinished projects, my future included.

8 Comments

  • Rosie says:

    When people ask me those questions, I become enraged. I want to say, “YOUR MOM.” It’s the equivalent of asking a relative who is also a shrink, “So, who are your patients? Anyone I know?!” It’s rude, man. Of course, most of the people who ask me such questions are not nice. Or maybe they are. Temperamental brat, me, yes indeed!

  • Cathie Smathie says:

    This is beautifully written, Leyna. Tight language (as in form, not “cool”)
    I had a pretty long talk with a close friend recently about the power of secrecy. I’ve yet to learn how to find a happy medium.
    I definitely try to keep my ideas locked down until they are fully written. Otherwise they react like a caged tiger allowed to run free in suburbia (whhaaaaat)

  • Melissa says:

    I dig this post, Leyna. I share your thoughts on a lot of this. I think there’s something that feels false about sharing something that’s uncertain, whether it’s writing plans or life plans. Maybe it is a little superstitious, or at least I can’t find a way to articulate it that doesn’t sound superstitious. Maybe it’s partly that it seems as if we’ll be held accountable to the version of things that we said out loud, when we’re not ready to commit to that being the definitive plan. I know I always want to appear confident that I have a sense of where I’m headed (again, writing or otherwise), even though I know things will change and I’ll end up going in a direction I never expected. Do you think we feel the need to articulate it because everyone expects that you have a plan? Like if you don’t have a plan, people will start worrying that they need to commit you? It seems like that sometimes. Also, I like the comparison of your future to an “unfinished project.” Nice.
    Lastly, all I could think about when I read the line “when my plans are secret, they are safe” was Gandalf saying, “keep it secret, keep it safe” in that intense Gandalf way. I think you should probably just chant that to yourself when people ask you about your future.

  • essay says:

    Publisher and writers are always too private. They don’t like to response about their work-in-process and also, about their achievement. Some of my acquainted, quite modest person. Probably, it’s a character trait.

  • pr says:

    These tips are very helful for the writers. I also have a blog, so I will use these advices to make my blog more interesting. Thanks a lot!

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