To tell or not to tell, that is the question! I told. Given that I’m blogging about it, it’s clear that I decided to tell lots of people that I’m writing my first novel. One of the main reasons I told is that I’m useless at keeping secrets when it comes to myself. Absolutely useless. I’d love to work for MI5, but I’d be the world’s worst spy. The worst! I like to share. I like to talk about what I’m doing, new experiences, things I’m going through. Writing a novel is a really exciting thing really scary thing. I think I’d go insane if I didn’t talk about it.
But there were other reasons I told. One of which is that in telling people, it became real for me. Suddenly, people had an expectation: either that I’d succeed, or that I’d fail. These expectations were a source of motivation for me.
I’ve seen plenty of writers recommend that you don’t tell, and play it safe. Certainly, telling people too early in the process, when you aren’t fully committed and/or you don’t know what shape your story will take, is probably a mistake. I feel that once you’re confident in your story, and you know you’re going to write it, what’s the harm in telling? I can only see benefits.
I’m going to list the reasons why aspiring writers are advised not to tell, and explain why I disagree with them.
1. People won’t believe that you’re serious about writing your novel:
I’ve met a few people in my life who tell me they’re writing a book. Most of the time I don’t believe them, and I’m usually right. The reason that I don’t believe them is that though they can tell me what the story is about, they’re usually very vague about how far they’ve progressed in terms of writing it. People like evidence. They don’t like wishy-washy statements that don’t come with any data on the work you’re doing to progress your novel. So, to ensure that people take you seriously you’ll need (a) a communicable idea and (b) quantifiable proof that you’re actually writing something, word counts, draft numbers, chapter numbers, hours that you spend at your computer writing… those are measurable things that demonstrate your commitment.
2. People will think you’re having some kind of manic episode:
Let’s face it, that’s possible, but if you’ve often hinted at your love of writing they shouldn’t be too surprised. You should mention that you’re writing other bits and pieces before mentioning your novel. Lay the groundwork. That way, they’ll recognise it as an important part of your personal journey and are more likely to give you encouragement and support when you decide to do it. Otherwise, people are liable to think that you’re just doing this on a whim, or having some kind of personal crisis, or that you’re just, quite simply, insane. I’ve always said that I’d love to write a novel one day. My friends know that I like to write. They were aware that this was something I wanted to do. I presume that your friends and family are similar. When you have your big idea and you commit to it, your real friends will believe in you, and this is important.
3. People might think you’re not capable of writing it:
So what? Let them. This will make you determined to write a good book and put the hours into learning the craft. Use the eye-rolls and the doubt of the naysayers to spur you on, to read and learn and practice.
4. You’ll put pressure on yourself:
If you’re totally committed, why wouldn’t you want to put pressure on yourself? If you’re anything like me, pressure is your friend. It’s a motivator. Telling people makes you accountable to yourself, and to others. Every time you face someone, and you know you haven’t touched your book, that encounter will feel awkward. That potential for awkwardness will make you less likely to run and hide from your dream.
5. People will expect it to be completed faster than possible and you don’t want to be hassled about it:
Tell people that it will probably take you a couple of years to finish your first novel, that way they’ll give you breathing space. Consider your own limitations. Your first novel might take a lot longer than you expect as you learn the craft and find what works and doesn’t work for you in terms of structure. Then there are the external factors- family, work-commitments etc. Manage people’s expectations.
6. The book mightn’t do well, so it’s better to hide my plans until I see how it goes:
My dream is simple: I want to write a novel that I’m proud of and that I believe to be a good book. Just like you’ve probably read many novels you don’t rate, there are going to be people that hate your book. I’m writing a book that I’d enjoy reading. That’s the standard I’ve set for myself, and that you should set for yourself. I can’t control how other people react to my novel. If I wrote to please others than the story wouldn’t be mine and it wouldn’t be authentic.
Communicate your dream to other people in those terms. Don’t tell people you plan on winning a Nobel Prize for Literature. Don’t tell people that you’re aiming to sell a million copies. No matter how good your novel is, those things outside of your control. Writing a novel? Now, that is within your control. And the worst that can happen is that in telling people, you’ll sell a few more copies.