Today’s You Tell Me comes from reader Paulina Petrova, who writes:
I wonder if other writers talk to someone else about their idea (the plot of their story) while writing their novel or feel that when they do this they kill their muse.
I often wondered about this before I wrote WONDERBAR. Does it kill the magic if you say the idea out loud? Does it cripple you with doubts if the person you’re telling doesn’t get it? Should you get it down on paper first and then see what the world thinks?
Or does it help to tease out the idea aloud? Does that early feedback save you time and effort?
What say you?
I've learned not to share with my family. On the otherhand I do keep updates on wordpress and have offered a poll on some of the things I'm doing so that I can get some feedback. I also enjoy reading the comments and hearing new ideas from what other writers see and offer.
Marilyn Peake says
I talk to my husband about my ideas for new writing projects, and I talk to him about some of my newer ideas for the project as I develop it. I don't ask him to read the book or short story until it's completed, though, except if I get stuck and need an opinion, because my husband and I notice that if we read the same material over and over again, we stop noticing details as clearly. After a project’s completed, I’m happy to consult an Editor or publisher, but I don’t talk about it with the world until after it’s published. Until my work’s actually published, I’m always open to changing it, and I’m more hesitant to change a story if I’ve already discussed it publicly. (In regard to my science fiction novel, GODS IN THE MACHINE, for example, I’m now working on the third version, with several new characters and a new plot, and I’m glad I didn’t put excerpts online because I’d be much less likely to want to change or delete sections that were already posted on the Internet.)
I start with a situation and ask a "what do you think about " question to my wife. She read each chapter as I finish the rough draft and keeps me in check.
J. T. Shea says
Before writing it? Not much. During writing? A fair amount. My muse must be hard to kill.
When is it okay to bring your chihuahua on safari? What is your philosophy of magenta? Jenny, in Ireland we talk of little else. I think Nathan found his chihuahua on safari.
And what say you, Nathan? I mean about sharing your ideas first, not about chihuahuas.
Lani Longshore says
I'm in two critique groups, and will sometimes discuss ideas about other projects with them. They've been wonderful with the works in progress now, so I trust their advice.
Falls Apart says
I tell people; a lot of the time, they give good advice.
Writing is normally such a solitary experience, I take every chance I have to make it an experience between people. There's only a few people I talk to about my ideas, though, because they're the writers; if I talk about my ideas with anyone else, I tend to get really superficial responses like "Oh, that sounds great!"
And while that's an awesome thing for your friends to tell you about your writing, that's not what I need when I'm telling someone about my idea.
Sharing your writing makes it better. Friends are able to give you different perspectives on your ideas and they make it easier to get through the bad moments of writer's block or a lack of inspiration.
R.D. Allen says
I tend to go on about it to my family for a couple days. Usually the whole idea doesn't surface until I get a synopsis and some character study underway, but I don't tend to keep much of it to myself. In return, my family has saved me from a bad plot mistake more than once. 😉
I talked about ideas with my critique partner and my family have some idea about the stories I have out. I don't like telling the world though, as the idea might not work out or change completely.
Great topic for writers, and I found the comments really interesting. It's interesting – maybe people are different.
For me, I really, really, really want to share my new bright shiny idea, but I've found that's dangerous and I have to be careful. I'm easily discouraged. It's a shame – I'm struggling right now with following up on an idea that some people didn't like, and with the best of intentions, gave me 'constructive feedback'.
Arrgghh. No, don't give me constructive feedback!! Eeek. And I don't want other people's ideas about my idea either. That derails me. It needs to be purely mine, or I lose energy for it, for some reason.
On the other hand, I've found if I do share my idea, and someone loves it, I get all energized and enthusiastic. So, I think what I really need are people in my life who will say the following:
"Oh my god, that's incredible. That's the best idea for a book I have ever heard in my life. You have to write this or the world will forever mourn the loss of such a masterpiece. Stop talking right and write. Write, write, write, and don't come out until you're done. Write!"
That would probably get me writing.
I'm just saying.
Kerry Gans says
I used to have one writing partner I would eagerly share every idea with, but she passed away several years ago.
I have not found another writing partner that I share ideas with, but I do like to get very early feedback from crit partners or groups. Once I have what amounts to a polished first draft, I go to people for feedback or help with places I'm stuck.
So although I no longer share at the idea phase, I still find that early collaborative experience is vital to knowing if I'm on the right track or if I need to rethink some things.
Orange Jeep Girl says
I actually enjoy talking out my ideas with my friends. I bounce off my ideas and they tell me if it's too crazy… Or not crazy enough…
Since I'm a writing-by-the-seat-of-my-pants type of gal, I not only don't discuss the idea in detail, I literally can not. Still, I give people random tidbits about the setting or concept as they occur to me, and it's wonderful to be able to gauge enthusiasm or lack thereof at an early stage.
Dale Harcombe says
None of it. I find if I talk about it I lose the impetus to write it.
Zee Lemke says
I'm very much a talker. I moved four hours from my hometown and I'm lost without my girlfriend to bounce things off of. Her advice is excellent when she gives it, but usually I just tell what I'm thinking. Ninety percent of it never sees type, but a lot of the fun is in making up silly parts.
That said, when I've hit my stride writing, there are days when it can be hard to get me to talk period, I'm inside my head so completely. Happened more when I didn't have a day job though.
Ishta Mercurio says
I usually talk it out with my husband. I get an honest opinion, and I get to hear myself think, which helps a lot. Sometimes talking it out helps me work out the kinks.
I bounce ideas off my writing group and closest beta readers. I don't do it with strangers.
If you share with the wrong person, & they just don't get it, it can kill a friendship, at least for the time being, until you get over it. Makes you realize how attached you are to your little baby! Critique groups are great. Especially the non-verbal communication–which you don't get with e-mail critique, of course. If there's a blank, polite look on their faces, it's a big clue that your writing isn't clear.
Liz Fichera says
Story ideas pop into my head all the time, but I have a 48-hour rule. If I'm still thinking about it after two days, then I'll probably start jotting it down, maybe even writing a first chapter. If it's different from what I normally write, then I'll run it by my agent and a couple of trusted writer friends.
I share tidbits here and there like pics of my characters, their names, etc. But the plot I keep to myself until it's there on the pages. Years past, I talked about my ideas but I was ridiculed for even thinking I could write a book, so that's stuck with me. I've just come to the point, where I'm taking your advice and opening up a page on FB and letting the cat out of the bag. We'll see where we go from here.
Richard Albert says
I think it depends on the story, but almost every aspect of my long work is reviewed (at least the idea is) by someone else, either before or imediately after I commit it to paper. I find that talking through ideas with my wife and writer friends saves me a considerable amount of time editing on the back end. That said, if an idea is ready to burst out or if it's a short piece, I tend to stay "nose-down" and writing without regard… They can give critique latter, when I have time to worry about that. 🙂
Davy DeGreeff says
Early in the process, I keep ideas cooking with the lid on until I decide I'm comfortable getting feedback on the plot, just to see if it's an idea that catches attention. This has helped me avoid some projects that I later realized had weak legs, but also gave me a rush on my current WIP when I described it to someone who was half-listening. At the end she said, "that sounds awesome, I'd see that", and freaked when she realized I was describing a book idea, not a movie that was coming out soon. It gave me confidence to know the bare bones of my story were capable of getting people excited.
With my most recent idea, the thoughts were occurring to me while on a long drive with a friend, so we were playing "what if…" for most of the car ride. By the end, what I thought would be a short story could easily be a full-length novel. I loved it, but that isn't my MO.
DD Falvo says
Writing comes easier than speaking for me–so I find it especially difficult to verbalize unformed ideas. It always feels like I've sold them short. Once you say an idea aloud, it becomes REAL–and that stops the magical creation process–leaving it like an undercooked meal. You can put it back in the oven but it's never as good as if you had left it there all along.
My feeling is: "How can I know what I think until I see what I say?"
I always tell my husband. He always responds with, "I'll have to see how it works out when you write it."
It's frustrating, because I'm looking for feedback on the idea (a "brilliant" would be nice), but he has a valid point. I'm always so sad when a book cover sets up an incredible premise and then delivers an unoriginal story.
I'll keep telling him my ideas because I need to hear them out loud, but I only share them with him. He's the only one I know who won't try to give suggestions, and I need my stories to be mine.
I keep my mouth shut until the second draft. The first draft is usually too fluid to discuss anyway.
McKenzie McCann says
I talk about my stories as soon as I think of them. Well, the ones that are worth anything. I bounce ideas off my friends and see what they think. After all, who better to ask about YA fiction than a group of YA kids?
I love brainstorming. I don't believe ideas belong to anyone, they have a certain life and energy of their own, and I think brainstorming is the best way to road-test their hardiness. If an idea is strong, it will survive questioning – or evolve into one that can.
I share everything with my wife, she's my best brainstorming companion.
I do think that talking more generally, outside the safe wifespace, can sap my motivation, though. If I talk about an idea in general terms too much, the impetus to write it fizzles out, as I feel as though I've already done something with it just by yammering about it!
John Barnes says
My friends talk me out of bad ideas all the time;they would also talk me out of good ideas. So I only talk about bad ideas that seem compelling to me.
Kathryn Magendie says
One of the best things ever is to talk or brainstorm work in progress with trusted friends/colleagues . . . but I don't as a rule talk about my stuff over-much.
However, whether I do nor not, there are always more words – an endless galaxy of them swirling in my black holed brain. I think writers worry their words will "run out" or "empty" and it just won't happen, it really won't. We can let things get in the way, but the words and story is always there.
I can sometimes be a bit of an airhead, so I find it's best if I let my ideas percolate before sharing, just to be on the safe side…
But I digress... says
I am a first time writer and I want to do this right. I've had a story in the back of my head for quite a while and I have been researching it for over two years. By chance, I met a gentleman from the Philadelphia area online who has extensive tacit knowledge in a particular area of expertise and I have been using him as a sounding board about some details of the story. I do this to maintain credibility and for accuracy in the storyline.
The story is mine; the characters are mine. My friend lends encouragement, an open mind and guidance. No more, no less.
Pamala Owldreamer says
I think a lot of writers, myself included, tend to share their new idea or story when another writer asks. I belong to a lot of writer's groups on yahoo and don't think twice about doing this when asked "What are you working on?" One of my writer friends did this and found out a friend took the idea and wrote her own story and it is now a published book. My friend was devastated,angry and lost someone she thought was a good friend. The "friend" she is better off without but the loss of her idea and story she was working on is the real loss. I will no longer share my story ideas and will be hesitant to send snippets of my WIP to friends or even workshops. I will respond to questions with a genre and very vague ideas only answers. Shame on the woman who stole a story idea from her friend. Unfortunately there isn't really anything the victim can do. I guess we can't copyright an idea even if it is unique.
You cannot kill a muse or your soul. When you share something with joy, the muse moves on to other, much deeper hidden elements of the subconscious for a while. You must have faith and know all is happening as it should, is wholly safe, and will be ten times greater. Writing is a dance—not a loaded gun.
Stephen Hinojos says
I have outlines and ideas but cannot write the story itself. I tend to talk about my ideas so someone else can point me in the right direction of putting the idea on paper.
It's a great acid test for your idea. If you are so willing to risk your muse through discussion then you can only be engaged in something doomed to turn out anodine at best and probably well on course for the bargain pile (don't worry — if sufficiently inane it WILL get published.. chortle wheeze..). If your inspiration is as groundshaking controversial as it should be in order to merit your commitment then you won't want to risk sharing it with even the wall, will you? Hate to poop the insecurityfest.
Very little, I give away enough of the plot for say a book blurb. Mostly though I'll read a perticly tricky chapter to my boyfriend, and see what he says. I sure as heck can't read them to my sister all I get from her is: "Your story isn't anything like my favorite wonderful, amazing author "Add unknown name here" bla, bla, bla, I have higher tastes, so don't feel bad.
Oh thank you. (being sarcastic.)
Precedes to feel like crap.
And, then she and my mother wonder why I don't want to talk with them about my book anymore. =_= Completely unfair to compare a new writer to a published author. !@#$
My advice for talking about the plot, story, anything to do with the book stick with cridics you find online that way when you do get a bad comment (You know the kind that don't say so directly but "I hate your style write like me! My way do it my way!) Uck.