Do you want to know a book writing secret? This simple strategy can make the difference between talking about writing a book and actually writing one.
What's the strategy? It's simple. Keep your book writing secret. I first heard this idea many years ago at a three-hour writing class in San Francisco. The teacher said this:
The secret of success is to keep it secret.
What she meant was to keep the writing process secret.
Why Keep Your Book Writing Secret?
At the time, I didn't realize the wisdom of these words. I didn't keep my writing secret the first time I attempted to write a book. I told people I was writing a book and came to regret it.
First, there was the time when I was at my husband's office party and had a conversation with the wife of the boss. She asked what the book was about and I told her. She immediately disagreed with my idea and actually got quite angry about it.
Even though I had enough wisdom to know that whatever set her off had more to do with her than with anything I had said, it was a very unpleasant experience.
Then there was the time not long after that encounter when I attended a birthday party for a friend. Another guest asked the inevitable question: "What do you do?" I said that I was writing a book.
She immediately asked the first question that pops into anyone's mind when you say you are writing a book. "What's the book about?" I remembered the advice to keep it secret, and said that I wasn't ready to talk about the book itself.
She actually got very offended at that and announced to the people around us that I was writing a book and wouldn't tell her what it was about.
Beyond these two rather bizarre encounters, I also discovered that people who knew I was writing a book kept asking about it. "How is your book coming?" "When is your book going to be finished?" The truth is that I didn't have a clue in those days about how to write a book. The book writing was not going well at all. I never did finish that book.
Half-Baked Cakes and Half-Baked Books
The real wisdom of keeping your book writing secret is that a book in process is something like a half-baked cake. The last thing you want to do is to take a half-baked cake out of the oven, cut it up, and serve to others. It just isn't ready yet. The cake won't be good. You'll be embarrassed. And the people who try to eat your half-baked cake will think that you are a terrible cook.
When it comes to writing a book, a book in process is a delicate creation. Your half-baked book can't stand much attention. If you tell people you're writing a book, they will want to know what your book is about when you're not sure yourself, or they will give you suggestions that will only confuse you.
Too many bakers will ruin a cake, just as too much talking about your unfinished book can ruin your book. Your path to book writing success requires you to add the ingredients, stir the batter, and bake it until it is ready to serve without a lot of "help" from others.
As an example of what I mean by too many bakers, I once took a three-month screenwriting course in San Francisco. On the first day of the class, one of the class members asked for advice about the first scene of the first act of his screenplay. That's when I realized that some of the students had taken the class before. He was taking the course for the third time. He was one of the youngest students—I guessed that he was in his very early twenties. Several class members responded with critical comments about what he had written and advice about what he "should" do to fix it. I thought that the comments were a bit brutal and not very helpful. I didn't realize then that he had already asked for help with the first scene of the first act before.
The next week, he again asked for help with the first scene of the first act of his screenplay. I began to understand why he couldn't get past the first scene of the first act. Every week, he brought in his latest effort and every week, he was bombarded with an array of comments, criticisms, suggestions, and new ideas of what he could do with the first scene of the first act.
That was when I realized the real wisdom of "the secret of success is to keep it secret." Although I didn't say this to him, because I didn't want to be one more person giving him advice, I thought that what he needed to do was go home and write the first draft of an entire screenplay by himself so he could get a sense of the story he was attempting to tell. Above all, I thought that he needed to write the whole first draft of the screenplay without asking anyone for advice. I also thought that he would be much better off if he stopped coming to class each week to experience having another bucket of cold water poured on his latest attempt.
All of the suggestions, ideas, criticisms, and weekly exercise in having his ideas shot down were not helping him discover the story he wanted to tell. And, none of it built his self-confidence as a screenwriter. He looked more and more demoralized each week.
If you decide you want to write a book, treat both yourself and your half-baked book tenderly. Both you and your book need time to bake. The last thing you need is to be bombarded with all sorts of suggestions—whether hostile or well-meaning—while you are writing your book.
What Will Be Best In Your Book
One of my favorite writing quotations has been hanging on my wall for several years.
If you feel this book deeply it will come as deep as your feeling is when it is running truest, and the book will never be truer or deeper than your feeling. But you do not yet know anything about your feeling because, though you may think it all there, all crystallized, you have not let it run. So how can you know what it will be? What will be best in it is what you really do not know now. If you knew it all it would not be creation but dictation (Gertrude Stein).
Here's my advice about whatever book-writing project you are doing. Allow yourself time and space to discover your book. Trust yourself. Give your book time to bake. If you need to talk about your book in process, talk with only one person—or maybe two at most—you trust to help you find what is best in your book.
My deepest conviction about writing is this: You cannot discover what is best in your book by talking about it indiscriminately. If you truly want to write the best book you can write, keep your book writing secret.
PS. Find out how the Book Writing Made Simple series of books can turn book ideas into published books.
Book Writing Made Simple (Volume 1) How To Start Writing A Book With The Right Question.
Book Writing Made Simple (Volume 2) How One Question Can Eliminate Your Greatest Obstacle To Writing Your Book.
Book Writing Made Simple (Volume 3) Do You Know What Your Reader Really Wants?
Or get them all in:
Book Writing Made Simple 3-in-1: How to Write a Book the Simple Way
On Writing Words: A Writer’s Essential Relations With Words
Writers Block and Your True Self: How to Overcome Writer's Block