I just read a blog post by Steven Pressfield, a highly productive creative writer whose stark and muscular writing style tends to float in on enormous angel wings. If you have not yet read his “The War of Art” you’re missing out.
In his most recent blog post, Steven urges writers to fiercely protect their ideas and projects, to the point of superstition. And I agree. I’m not only a relatively private person but I am convinced that sharing my creative work with the wrong people or at the wrong time can devastate not only my projects but my creativity.
But is this really true? And if so, how can we know? Do we harm our creative potential or opportunity by playing it too close to our vests?
In a world ruled by the over-share of social media and a gospel of vulnerability, do we do ourselves a disservice by holding back?
Traditional Practices Meet Neuropsychology
In Pressfield’s article Don’t Talk About It, he writes “Are you recording a new album, planning a new product launch, gestating a new philanthropic venture? Keep your mouth shut. Talking too soon is bad luck. It’s bad karma [. . .] in some occult dimension of reality an as-yet-unbirthed idea is vulnerable to evil juju.”
‘First rule of Fight Club. You do not talk about Fight Club.’
“More than that, I believe that the luck, the chi, the mojo of an as-yet-unborn work can be bled away by its author running his mouth prematurely. Sometimes I’ll meet a writer or director or musician and they’ll start blathering excitedly about a new project they’re working on. I always stop them. For their sake—and for the project’s.”
Pressfield echoes a pre-social media practice of writers and artists who generally operated with an implicit understanding that there would be NO talking about Fight Club.
Take for instance, Dorothea Brande’s 1934 classic Becoming a Writer. Her advice: “keep your own counsel.” She described student-to-student critique as an event when readers “seem to need to demonstrate that, although they are not yet writing perfectly themselves, they are able to see all the flaws . . . and they fall upon it tooth and fang.” More importantly, she writes that writers should only keep their writing to themselves but keep silent about their professional altogether.
There is an excellent psychological reason for an author to keep his profession to himself is that if you confess so much you are likely to go further an talk of the things you mean to write . . . afterward you will find yourself disinclined to go on with the laborious process of writing . . . unconsciously you consider it already done, a twice-told tale.
Let’s sit with that for a second: And talk of the things you mean to write.
This actually agrees with modern brain research. The conversations and actions you rehearse mentally, either by thinking it out or talking it out, convinces your subconscious that the action has already occurred. It also primes or coaches your brain to connect an emotional perception with the mentally rehearsed action. This is at the heart of performance-based visualizations or affirmations.
If you have already convinced your subconscious that you’ve written, guess what? The urge to act might not be quite as compelling. In addition, who are you talking to? That sounding board is likely also functioning as a reader.
You know, I exclaimed one night after my boyfriend had shared his interesting theories on the links between sociopathic behavior, male identity, and fraternities, that would be a really cool book!
I had drank too much beer. We were leaning in against a chalky pool table and throwing crooked darts at a busted up board. I had forgotten that I don’t write suspense. Most fancifully and conveniently, I forgot who I was as a writer.
What if the main character was in a frat and was victimized sexually by his frat brother . . . .as a type of hazing! What if these two came back into contact many years later – both high-level business people. And that later contact triggered the abuse memory. Then, our hero’s life just falls apart!
Heh! It still sounds like a good plot. But, I’m not the writer for that job.
Here comes the boyfriend: Yeah, but it’s not going to make sense to write A, B, or C because . . . and people out there don’t really care about . . .
The arguments continued to the point I was convinced it was a terrible idea.
And guess what? He hadn’t even given me time to explore the concept before shooting it down. He was not a good “reader.” But that’s my fault, not his.
Your Writing, Your Self
It turns out Plato actually has it right, even in the age of social media. Audience does matter, not only regarding product, but also process. Choosing readers is a critical decision. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, try visiting many of the critique & share forums on major sites like Goodreads.
There, on any given day you are likely to see blood in the water while snarky, inexperienced, uneducated readers glut on someone’s working material. I know we like to think these things aren’t happening, that the forums and groups are safe spaces. Unfortunately, I think we can all call to mind too much evidence to the contrary, even though it assaults our ideal vision of what these gatherings “should” be.
It often hurts me greatly to see writers expose themselves unnecessarily to the wrong readers; I know their process can be devastated and that just plain sucks.
I realize this might be an unpopular observation and you might be able to refer to some functional groups that provide safe spaces for writers of similar goals and skills. That’s wonderful and I wholeheartedly support your journey and experience. It really sounds like you found the right readers for you. That often requires understanding one’s goals and experience level so let’s explore that further.
Who are You & What Are You Doing Here?
What type of writer are you, what are your goals, and what is the quickest, easiest, most joyful way for other people to support you in those goals. There is a whole world of writing and writers out there. Here are some basic writer profiles:
- Writers who write for personal reasons and want to share it with others. Writers who write for personal reasons and do not want to share it with others.
- Writers who write in an inspirational vein. Writers who write in a critical vein. Writers who write in an entertainment vein. Writers who write in an informational vein. Writers who blend these into any combination.
- Literary writers and non-literary writers. Writers who flirt on the border.
- Writers who want to publish and writers who do not want to publish. Writers who don’t know.
- Writers who want to professionalize and writers who do not want to professionalize.
These basic profiles should guide your self-questioning:
To what extent do you write for personal reasons? How much influence does the personal have over the social?
Do you prefer writing in a critical/literary, inspirational, informational, or entertaining vein? Or, a combination of these? This is a deceptively simple question.
Think about it. If you write in an inspirational vein, the last – and I mean the LAST thing you want to do is throw your work out there to writers who work in a contemporary critical vein. Your readers need to know, understand, and RESPECT your goals. I am working through SARK’S WINS program. It’s not a skill or technique-based program but it is helping me work through emotions that come up during my process. The vast majority of writers in the program are inspirational writers – they write about their personal experiences in an artful way in order to inspire and uplift their readers. Their writing tends to focus on symmetry and answers unlike my work, which is critical and focuses on complication and exploring questions. We are ALL writers even though generally, they are not my readers. That said, I very much enjoy reading their work because I like inspirational work!
Do you want to publish or not? If so, you absolutely need to share your writing with skilled readers who support your goals and process. But they still need to be the right readers.
Do you want to professionalize or not? You want to make your livelihood with your writing.
- Example 1 (blogger): They write mostly for personal reasons (emotional catharsis, for example); they like inspiring people so they tend to be an inspirational writer; they are interested in publishing online and possibly in print; they don’t necessarily want to professionalize.
- Example 2 (Great American novelist or poet): They write for personal and cultural/social reasons (they are engaging with enduring conversations undertaken mostly by scholars or activists); they like asking questions and writing the entire experience without the social need to make others comfortable; they are interested in publishing in print; they want to professionalize.
- Example 3 (fantasy or horror Writer): They write for personal reasons (maybe it’s fun); they write in an entertainment vein; they are interested in publishing; they want to professionalize.
These are just 3 examples. As you know the possibilities are endless!
You can see by reading these examples how each writer will pursue different readers, educational or professional opportunities, and different writing groups or editors.
Which brings me to the end of this article because it’s too gosh-dang long already. I’ll continue this conversation next week when I write about different sharing groups, how to evaluate a group whether online or in-person, and how to ultimately decide if sharing your work in a particular forum is the right thing for you, your work, and your process.
And remember: there are always 3 people in the room. You, your work, and your process.