Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Hoarding your Stories

At a con this year (one of the many, many cons), I was taking a rare break between panels when I was approached by an emerging writer who wanted to chat about his story.  He made himself comfortable without waiting for my reply and started on a rant.

It wasn't a bad rant, but my head was buzzing and my feet were hurting and I was really thirsty, but he obviously needed to chat, so I let him go on.  And on.

He spoke of his epic piece of fiction that was several books long, and how he wasn't sure how long it'd be, and it was hard to figure out what to do next since his friends expected so much since they loved it and were basing videogames and comic books off of it.

I had to interrupt, mostly because I had a panel coming up. And did I mention he was going on?

"What's your goal with this story?"

He looked stunned at the question. He didn't actually answer it, if I recall correctly.

I had to go, so I quickly told him a bunch of stuff and resources he should check out (and possibly made his head explode).  I told him he needed to refine his craft, first.  His whole first book was a prologue and backstory, not a book, no matter how much he loved it. It probably wouldn't get picked up by a publisher but, if he wanted, he could consider self-publishing (and hiring a professional editor to help him out).

Then I told him to stop sharing his stories before they were done.  It steals thunder.  We begin to worry about what our readers think before they can even get a complete view of the manuscript. We obsess over individual opinions instead of overall character integrity. Sharing a story before its time can stunt it, because we might get feedback that doesn't work for it, not because readers are ill-intentioned, but because they don't have a complete view.  Or, like him, he could get feedback that's overwhelmingly positive and he grows afraid of the horrible things the story demands he does.  (I also told him to get an impartial critique group.)

Since then, I've chatted with quite a few writers about hoarding stories and most agree.  It makes sense, really. The same applies elsewhere in life. For example, one of my best friends is ridiculously pregnant with her second child.  She's due any day now, and I don't yet know the name of her new daughter. When my nephew was born, my brother and sister-in-law did the same thing, not revealing the name until he was born. The reason they gave, which I respect to this day, is that everyone will want to weigh in on the name.  Once the child is born and the birth certificate is signed, it's harder to start critiquing.

Good point, eh?  A story is similar, even if not as interchangeable as a name (mind you, for less than $200, you can easily get your name changed in my province...)  Just like new parents get familiar with the name of the child as they grow accustomed to the idea of this new life in their world, so must writers get used to their characters and feel the story out. Alone.  Speaking with one or two trusted advisors is great, of course. But keep it small, and hoard it.

I'm very excited about my new book.  It's crazy fun action and more horror than ever before. It's a different spin for my stories, and I'm loving it. But I spoke about it to someone I shouldn't have, and I knew it, and it robbed a lot of my energy.  It's not easy to begin doubting the premise of a book. After all, it's a big undertaking, so we want to get it right.  We're about to spend hundreds of hours on it, so we want it to be succesful.  I also don't have a contract right now, for the first time since being published, and I'm hoping this book will help me reach the mythical "next level."  So I have a lot riding on this book, which means I have to play my cards even closer to my chest.

I have to hoard the writing so that it can grow and be the best vision that I can make it, before sending it out into the world to test readers. But when I get excited, I talk.  It's something I'm learning to curb. Because this new story will succeed best if I give it time to grow, and not rob its energy by doubting its potential success and getting too many cooks working on the stew.

My story.  My vision. My potential success/failure. 

So there. Damn it.