Vow of silence: how much do you talk about your novel in progress?

Nail Your Novel vow of silenceIf you’ve hung around here for a while, you might have spotted that I’m writing my third novel and it’s called Ever Rest. Assuming you give two hoots about it, or even just one, you’ll have noticed that’s about all I give away.

I’ve mentioned Ever Rest in posts where I talk about a writing challenge that taught me a new trick. I’ve occasionally asked for help on tiny points of research (glory be to Facebook and Twitter). I’ve revealed occasional pieces of music that I’m using in its Undercover Soundtrack. If you subscribe to my newsletter, you’ll get updates when I discover a particularly breathtaking piece – but I won’t tell you what it’s telling me. Aside from that, the most tangible thing I’ve ever revealed was when I whipped away its working title (I first introduced it as The Mountains Novel). Even in craft posts, I have not explained the slightest thing about the story or characters.

A time of sharing (no, not Christmas)
Am I the only author to feel so inhibited? It’s quite normal to post about characters in progress, or significant locations, or to pin pictures, or publish snippets or early chapters. It’s the ethic of contact, involvement, engagement. It keeps the fans topped up. Certainly I revel in our connected lives and I’m a confirmed social media junkie. But I can’t work with an open door. Or perhaps, because my books need a long gestation period, such sharing would usually be premature for me.

But wait…

Ah, no, I must confess to one lapse. On Facebook I was nominated in a round-robin to share seven lines from the seventh page of a work in progress. I suddenly imagined the fun of instant feedback so I threw caution aside and contributed a paragraph. I may have bent the rules. The excerpt probably wasn’t on page seven unless you squeezed the point size, and it definitely isn’t on page seven now. What’s more, it didn’t give much away about the novel, because without a context, it was just pretty lines. I enjoyed the fact that people seemed to like it – and thank you, commenters – but I felt even that had revealed too much. I felt I’d invited readers in too soon.

Also, as I edit, I realise I’m more protective of those lines, because people responded so warmly. What if, when it comes out, they were looking forward to that passage or the thing it promised? Chances are, they won’t remember it, but it’s skewing my judgement. Good writing needs a ruthless mindset; you include only what’s good for the book, not the pieces you like or the crowd-pleasers.

So this vow of silence is important to my writing method.

Nail Your Novel vow of silence 2

But we might need to pitch…

But sometimes we might have to talk about our WIPs. Won’t we? Suppose we’re at an event and get a chance to talk to an agent or publisher? Well, if the book isn’t likely to be finished for a good few months, you can probably sketch it vaguely and talk about your influences and experience. Agents won’t judge you until they can read you, and they might be grateful not to be pitched a book that’s a way off the finish line. (They’re certainly frustrated by the hordes of authors who send them three chapters of something that isn’t fully written.)

And what should you do if you tweak an agent’s interest? For heaven’s sake, don’t rush to finish. You don’t have to lose the opportunity – get connected on social media and chat with them occasionally to keep the contact warm. Send the book when you’re ready.

Even unto the husband

I don’t even tell Dave (Mr Roz) about Ever Rest. He knows the basic concept, because I brainstormed it with him in the early days. Correction: the early years. This book has been creeping through my mind for decades. When Dave asks how I’m getting on, he gets vague pronouncements like: ‘I thought this character wasn’t going anywhere, but I suddenly discovered what I needed.’ I think he’s learned there’s nothing more irritating than a spouse with a policy of Not Talking About Her Book.

And indeed, it is a policy. No matter what the provocation, I don’t discharge about my novel before it’s fit to be read. I believe in keeping the pressure bottled up, so I give the best of it on the page. The title of Ever Rest might, if you can be bothered, lead you to assumptions; but those, my friend, are merely the tip and I probably couldn’t explain it all anyway. To do that, I must finish the story.

Let’s discuss! Do you have limits on what you’ll share about a work in progress? What do you happily talk about? What do you keep under wraps?

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  1. #1 by Veronica Knox on December 13, 2015 - 7:48 pm

    Roz. I have to agree with being the strong silent type. My first allegiance is to story – a close second to my writing comfort zone which is a bubble of privacy because it suits me better than anything else.

    Listening to another’s agenda is like driving faster because the car behind you is in a hurry. I simply don’t. I live in the Canadian woods on a single lane unlit highway through bear country. I drive slow and steady.

    No way am I taking on more more tension than I already have navigating the publishing industry.

    • #2 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on December 13, 2015 - 9:11 pm

      Veronica, you make many good points. We need to create in a ‘bubble of privacy’. That’s how we get to the truth. And I love your comparison with driving. Here’s to a safe arrival.

  2. #3 by Melissa Gijsbers on December 13, 2015 - 7:49 pm

    With my most recent WIP, I’ve been commenting on Facebook as I finish each chapter, along with a tiny bit about what’s happening – either in the chapter or in life (eg, my son has his birthday party yesterday, but I still wrote my chapter, and was looking at dress fabrics as I went). I have a standard synopsis that I share when people ask, but I don’t tend to share details of the story.

    • #4 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on December 13, 2015 - 9:13 pm

      Hi Melissa! Interesting method. When you revise the book, will you also be keeping up the commentary? And will you confess if you’ve moved scenes, given events to another character, spliced two characters together…? (This is another reason why I don’t say a thing until the book’s finished – I change EVERYTHING!)

  3. #5 by Viv on December 13, 2015 - 8:16 pm

    I find I regret mentioning anything much about works in progress because it seems to transgress against some powerful law. I’ve recently changed the title of a main WIP and while I’d long to tell people, nope, not going to happen, and nor is any sort of reveal, until I’ve completed the first draft (not too far now, anyway)
    I’ve had also the problem of discovering real life colliding with fiction, having had to change tack in another WIP because of real events and people becoming too close to what I’d planned (quite unexpectedly) and having changed that, I’ve found yet another real life set of circumstances has come along (complete with some frankly terrible ptsd-style flashbacks from a time in my life I’ve worked hard to try and put behind me) and stymied the progress yet again. This weekend is signalling the culmination of what I can only see as “the beginning of the end” for me, in so many ways. If that sounds annoyingly mysterious, apologies. I’ll be glugging gin in a little while, to try and numb the fears.

    • #6 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on December 13, 2015 - 8:55 pm

      Viv, I’m so glad you posted here, mysterious or not. I know your work draws on difficult times. Sending good wishes your way, for fiction and real life.

  4. #7 by MG Mason on December 13, 2015 - 8:23 pm

    I put snippets up on my blog and while I do reveal information, it’s never anything that I think might compromise the plot or any plot twists. It seems to build interest, and that’s my ultimate aim. It would be daft to give it all away!

    • #8 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on December 13, 2015 - 8:57 pm

      Aha, you raise a good point – plot twists! That’s another of my reasons for not wanting to reveal any of my story, or talk about the characters. And not just because it might spoil a surprise. I want to lead the reader very precisely and carefully, so they discover everything in the right order.

      • #9 by MG Mason on December 13, 2015 - 9:03 pm

        Agreed, that’s what I set out to achieve when I do post snippets or discussions, to reveal important points without giving anything anyway. Like how they used to make film trailers before they decided to reveal the whole plot!

        • #10 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on December 13, 2015 - 9:14 pm

          I’m with you on film trailers. What is it with trailer-makers these days? Have they found people like to be reassured about the ending before they’ll watch it? Seems crazy.

  5. #11 by sknicholls on December 13, 2015 - 8:31 pm

    When I wrote Red Clay and Roses, I didn’t talk about it with my husband, and I didn’t even have a blog. After I got my blog set up and under way, I did feature articles about content and about settings in the book to peak interest, but it was a historical fiction type novel, so there was lots to work with.

    An abrupt genre change to comedic Regional Florida wacko crime fiction and I poured over the book with my husband because its his favorite genre. I posted all sorts of things about my character profiles and writing process. NO excerpts though. Didn’t want to give anything away and I feel your pain about self disclosure. Your writing is like a piece of your soul. I was almost timid, a little embarrassed. Then, after the beta reads I put the book on the shelf for nearly a year, took it down and re-read and re-wrote and sent it to an editor. I’ve been pretty quiet about it. Actually I’ve been pretty quiet in general, but I feel I’m losing the hype I had already generated last year, and how do I get that back???

    • #12 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on December 13, 2015 - 9:15 pm

      That’s quite a change in genre! Your point about hype is useful – how long can we sustain hype for? Put another way, can we finish the book before our community loses patience with teasers?

      • #13 by sknicholls on December 13, 2015 - 9:28 pm

        For me, the answer to that question was no, I put the book on the shelf to let it breath and focused on another project, and now that I’m back to this one, I’m virtually clueless how to proceed. How do I even introduce it. I did a short Christmas gift exchange scene between my two main characters on my blog that hinted at their personalities and the friction between them. I haven’t blogged in a while, so I don’t know how well it went over, but it got several likes and a few comments.

  6. #14 by Lesley Rice on December 13, 2015 - 8:40 pm

    I don’t talk to my husband, but I do talk to my son, he’s the one with the talent and the training. We work together in our writers room (the dining room) and bounce ideas off each other when we need to, talk about arc’s and conflict and symbols and through lines. In general he’s very supportive.

    When I decided on a science fiction setting for my novel, and since my husband is an astrophysicist by training, I thought he would help me add useful detail, but he kept shaking his head and telling me inconvenient truths. The speed of light is something of a problem. A month ago when I finished my draft, I gave it to my husband and today he reached page 124. That really is all the discussion I need, my story clearly needs major revision!

    • #15 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on December 13, 2015 - 8:59 pm

      Lesley, it sounds as though your astrophysicist husband could be a useful ally if he’s willing to help. I usually find that such problems as the speed of light are inconvenient at first, but when I find a solution I feel all the more satisfied. Fingers crossed…

  7. #16 by Carol Riggs on December 13, 2015 - 8:47 pm

    I don’t even like sharing the title, especially if it’s a title I like…maybe I’m just paranoid! I chat some plot stuff with my hubby and perhaps the critique partners I trust, but I tell nothing online besides general vagueries. The “I’m writing” or “I’m revising” type of stuff.🙂

  8. #18 by Mary Foster on December 13, 2015 - 9:10 pm

    Keeping a lid on your story is good advice. Well-meaning friends often enquire how my work in progress is coming but, after all this time, I’m still learning how to tactfully decline giving it away. General comments like, “working right now on developing one of the characters” usually earns a blank look and polite smile. It’s awkward for both of us.

    • #19 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on December 13, 2015 - 9:16 pm

      I like that answer, Mary. ‘Working on the pace’ etc is often far too technical and boring for the average enquirer!

  9. #20 by acflory on December 13, 2015 - 9:58 pm

    Oh thank god! I can’t share my head space either. Part of it is that need to remain flexible [and ruthless] where the story is concerned, but a far greater part is my own need to…/feel/ the story. Comments and suggestions from outsiders, no matter how good are always rational, so while my head is saying ‘great idea, use it!’ my gut is saying, ‘no, this isn’t me’. Easier by far not to say anything at all. So nice not to feel alone.

    • #21 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on December 14, 2015 - 9:57 am

      It seems you’re not alone, Andrea – I’m surprised by how many commenters are agreeing with me!

  10. #23 by John Poindexter on December 13, 2015 - 10:11 pm

    I have been putting pieces of two novels that I am working on, on my blog as I have nothing to write about at the moment for the Blog.

    • #24 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on December 14, 2015 - 9:59 am

      Hi John! Do you not worry that you’ll have nothing left when you’ve completed the novel? Or are you getting valuable feedback and encouragement?

  11. #25 by Paula Beavan on December 14, 2015 - 12:01 am

    I should do this, but in the early chapters I am so excited and share bits and send chunks to friends to read and then BAM, I start changing things and they get all “but what happened. . . ” I really need to close the door until after I edit LOL

    • #26 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on December 14, 2015 - 10:00 am

      Aha, Paula – the temptations are great, aren’t they? It’s a world of instant contact.

  12. #27 by tracikenworth on December 14, 2015 - 1:05 am

    I feel the same way. I worry about not sharing things on my blog as I know many writers do but I know that things may change before I finish it and so I’m reluctant to break my silence.

  13. #29 by michellejoycebond on December 14, 2015 - 1:27 am

    Great post! I feel the same way–especially about my husband. He’s an engineer and VERY detail-oriented, so he can break the creative flow by scrutinizing the unfinished canvas. I only usually share the barest details with critique partners before trading with them and almost no details with any friends or family–even when the book is finished. The main reason for this though is because I’m notorious for being terrible at summarizing my ideas and would rather just have them read the book.🙂

    • #30 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on December 14, 2015 - 10:03 am

      Ah, the tyranny of the summary! I was talking to a friend about this on Twitter. He said that most plots or characters sound like nonsense when taken out of context. This is why writing a synopsis or cover blurb is so soul destroying.

  14. #31 by raulconde001 on December 14, 2015 - 4:24 am

    Good luck with your novel. I believe of advice if I am doing a novel, I would be silent about it. I agree on your advice that no author should be in a hurry to do their novel and publish it right away. It is a great feeling when strangers will read our novels once it is published. One thing is take your emotions in once criticized and learn from the critics, of most good and bad reviews of our books.

  15. #33 by Kathleen on December 14, 2015 - 4:26 pm

    This was interesting to read, because my “vow of silence” is a result of paranoia, the fear that someone will say, “Oh what a good idea,” and beat me to publication it. (Written that way it sounds pretty egotistical.) I wonder how I can purge that particular neurosis?

    • #34 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on December 14, 2015 - 7:38 pm

      Ah Kathleen, I’m with you there. I know each of us would approach an idea in a thoroughly different way, but it would still be galling if someone streaked past me with the same thing I’m working on.

  16. #35 by Lisa Ciarfella on December 14, 2015 - 10:03 pm

    so, this is good topic to banter about. I’m in novel mode now, and on my blog i have sort of like a synopsis of it on my about me page…but maybe i shouldn’t. after reading all these comments im thinking, probably not…I’m just starting out though, and still don’t have much to blog about….
    hmmmm….what do u think? is it like putting the cart before the horse???

    • #36 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on December 14, 2015 - 11:17 pm

      Lisa, I’d take the synopsis off your blog. In these days of instant access, there’s probably no point in getting people interested in your book if they can’t act on that interest and buy it. And a synopsis will probably give too much of it away. If you’re stuck for blogging topics, try reading other blogs to see what they do. It might be that blogging isn’t a natural thing for you – it doesn’t suit everybody. And if you’re already putting time aside to write your book, you should keep doing that in preference to blogging. I’d have a website, though, so that you have an online home to send people to.

      Would anyone else like to chime in here?

      • #37 by Lisa Ciarfella on December 15, 2015 - 2:31 am

        Thanks for that Roz. Much appreciated. I will bounce those ideas around and see where they lead. But definitely taking off the synopsis today.

  17. #39 by Gargi Mehra on December 15, 2015 - 12:41 pm

    I rarely, if ever, talk about my WIPs, except with a writing mentor and perhaps my hubby when I need someone to bounce ideas off. My main worry is that the whole thing will change drastically from what I talk, and the added worry that the more I talk about it the less I’m writing it🙂

    • #40 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on December 15, 2015 - 6:55 pm

      ‘The whole thing may change drastically…’ another excellent reason for keeping quiet until it’s ready! As is your point about talking instead of writing.

  18. #41 by DRMarvello on December 15, 2015 - 2:09 pm

    Roz said: “Do you have limits on what you’ll share about a work in progress? What do you happily talk about? What do you keep under wraps?”

    I keep a progress meter on my blog for my current WIPs, and the meter reveals the book title (if I’ve come up with one.) I’m willing to talk about what I’m working on in general terms, such as the genre and setting.

    I write fantasy, so sometimes I’ll blog about something I’ve created for the story world. For example, a recent article was titled “Golden Dragons of the American Southwest.” The article revealed that I’m writing a story set in southeastern Arizona at the turn of the 20th century, but that I’ve added fantasy elements to create an alternate Old West. It talks about the *environment* of the story without giving away any details about the characters or plot of the story.

    I figure it is okay to offer information one might find in an encyclopedia/compendium/handbook on the series, but I try not to share much about the characters before release, and I try to avoid giving away anything about the plot.

    The above is my policy with regards to discussing the story publicly. Personally, my wife and I are great collaborators. We both know exactly where the other is with regard to progress and sticky points on our respective WIPs (she writes romantic comedy). We brainstorm solutions to problems together. In fact, we work so well with each other that we’ve started planning a paranormal fantasy series that we’ll co-write.

    • #42 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on December 15, 2015 - 6:57 pm

      That’s a good point, Daniel – we can talk about the research or inspirations without giving too much away or wearing out our welcome. Hugh Howey is a fan of progress meters. I fear if I used such a thing it would look like it wasn’t moving for months because I end up doing a lot of other things – writing, speaking etc.
      As for the Marvello double act? A project for 2016, perhaps?

    • #43 by DRMarvello on December 16, 2015 - 8:13 pm

      Yes, I think we may be able to release the first book of the series in 2016.

      My wife wants to use a pen name for the collaboration. When I asked her what she had in mind, she said “Zelda” without hesitation, which I thought was pretty amusing. So there it is. The new title will be by Daniel and Zelda Marvello.

      • #44 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on December 16, 2015 - 8:34 pm

        …. and now we’re circling round to the subject of pseudonyms! I hope you guys are good at new signatures.

      • #45 by DRMarvello on December 17, 2015 - 8:00 pm

        Signatures haven’t been much of a problem, so far. We sell 99.5% of our books in digital form, although they are also available in trade paperback editions.

        My wife’s decision to use a pseudonym wasn’t made lightly. Unlike me, she has used her legal name for all of her fiction and nonfiction up to now (having been blessed with a fairly unique name). However, the work we do together will be magical fantasy adventure, not her usual romantic comedy. If we get much audience crossover, we expect most of it to be from my fantasy audience rather than her romance audience. Besides, it seemed odd for her to use her legal name in conjunction with my pen name, although I have no rational case to make for that argument.

        She may be making a mistake. It’s possible that her audience would be thrilled to read our stories. All of my work has romantic elements, and I’m sure my wife will expand upon them. If we were planning to market the work as romantic fantasy, we’d probably go with her legal name.

        There’s no way to know if we are making the right decision. All we can do is weigh the options, choose a path, and hope for the best.

  19. #46 by Lydia Sherrer on December 15, 2015 - 10:00 pm

    I guess I’m on the opposite spectrum as you, since I’ve been releasing chapters of my novella series one a month for over a year now! Now that I’m getting close to self-publishing it all in April, of course I have to go back and take down those files, but I don’t mind at all that people have read it already and know part of what is going to happen. I’m adding and changing stuff all the time, but it always makes it better. I have a strong personality and know what I as the writer want to put out there, while I also enjoy responding to reader feedback because I’m not writing just for me, I’m writing for them too. I’m not a huge fan of posting specific lines of WIP, but general ideas I like sharing in updates to my readers. But that’s just me! Each writer and their process is unique

    • #47 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on December 15, 2015 - 11:11 pm

      Hi Lydia – yes, very opposite, but it’s interesting to hear from you! As you say, we all find our ideal way to work. Thanks for stopping by.

  20. #48 by Lisa Ciarfella on December 15, 2015 - 10:00 pm

    what’s a progress meter, exactly???

    • #49 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on December 15, 2015 - 11:10 pm

      I think it’s a thermometer bar you can put in the sidebar of your blog. You can use it to let fans know how far you’ve got through a project.

  21. #50 by Diane Tibert on December 18, 2015 - 4:42 pm

    Working with a closed door: Yes, that is what I do. I don’t like to share much of the story until it is almost ready to be published. I feel the story needs protection until I get it just where I want it to be, then I’ll start sharing. I talk about main characters but seldom mention minor characters. I might hint at the plot, but I don’t reveal too much.

    I’m five months away from the next book being released, and now I feel confident about sharing it in small pieces. That’s only because I’m on the final edit before it goes to the editor. I know I should be sharing more because it builds excitement for the release.

    • #51 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on December 18, 2015 - 8:24 pm

      Diane, I like this phrase you use, about the story needing protection. I feel like that too. It needs quiet space so I can discover what it needs to be, without distractions. Anyway, your five months will probably pass quickly and before you know it, you’ll find yourself in the spotlight with the opposite problem, one that other commenters have described. What to say about it!

  22. #52 by RSGullett on December 19, 2015 - 9:37 pm

    I am a new author (just signed) and I am really struggling with how to share parts of the story to entice readers while also protecting the integrity of the story away. Any suggestions?

    • #53 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on December 20, 2015 - 10:47 am

      What a good question! I can think of many suggestions, actually… which would be better as a post. Watch this space…

  23. #55 by Lisa Ciarfella on December 20, 2015 - 4:12 pm

    watching!

  24. #57 by CG Blake on December 23, 2015 - 7:01 pm

    Great post, Roz. I never share passages from works in progress on social media. Beyond that it depends on what stage I am at in the development of the MS. I don’t share first drafts. I share complete second drafts with a small circle of trusted writers. Of course my book editor sees my final draft. I find it harmful to share anything less than my best work.

    • #58 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on December 23, 2015 - 8:10 pm

      That’s a great point about sharing unpolished work. If anyone saw mine they’d leave my blog in droves….🙂

  25. #59 by Vesa Lehtinen on December 31, 2015 - 9:14 pm

    “Keskeneräistä työtä ei näytetä hulluille eikä herroille” “One does not show the work in progress to fools or lords” Finnish proverb.

  26. #61 by Jacob Dix on January 1, 2016 - 8:44 pm

    I’ve been struggling with sharing even a line or two for 1lineWednesday and other such hashtags on Twitter. I’ve said I’m working on a werewolf novel. Revealed a few lines. But I don’t dare tell more! Can’t. Like popping a balloon.

  27. #63 by Michael R. Lambert on January 2, 2016 - 12:24 am

    I find that I tend to bounce ideas off of my daughter (the fellow sci-fi/fantasy reader of the family), and have been using her as my guinea pig for what I am beginning to write. I found that by including her in the process, I am able to see what won’t work, before I even use it in the story. It helps that she is in my target audience (so if she likes it, odds are those like her will too). Aside from her, I doubt that I will do much revealing through social media, except for maybe a working title.

    That being said, knowing me, I’ll probably be singing like a canary avoiding death row once I have my full synopsis completed.

    • #64 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on January 3, 2016 - 11:53 pm

      What a useful – and lovely – relationship, Michael. I also use working titles. Revealing the real one is my reward for reaching the end of a draft!

  28. #65 by Alexander M Zoltai on April 24, 2016 - 7:04 am

    Reblogged this on Notes from An Alien and commented:
    Today’s re-blog, by Roz Morris, gives some excellent reasons (which you may or may not agree with…) for not discussing a book in progress, until ………

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