“Writing is a bit like going on a diet: you should either tell everyone or no one.”
So said Maeve Binchy in her book, The Maeve Binchy Writers’ Club. I’m sure that Ms. Binchy, known for her sense of humor, was not being literal when she gave her ‘all or nothing’ advice. But it’s easy to understand the rationale for these vastly different approaches. If you tell everyone about your goal, the ever-looming threat of public humiliation if you fail is a darn good motivator to keep working toward whatever it is you’ve publicly proclaimed you will accomplish. On the other hand, if you keep your writing (or dieting) secret, you’ll have the freedom to alter the method, the time frame, and the magnitude of the goal—without ever having to answer difficult, intrusive, and guilt-inducing questions like, “hey, so how’s it going?” from curious, nonjudgmental and genuinely supportive friends and family members.
There are times when I wish I had read Maeve’s advice years ago. It’s appealing to imagine that I could be secretly writing a book, or short stories, or essays—the existence of which I could deny without any fear whatsoever of questions, commentary, or judgment (except my own, of course—the harshest of all.) Then, when I finally finish, even if it takes years, I could just casually mention that I’ve sent out, say, a manuscript to agents and everyone would be happily surprised and impressed with my creativity and my time management skills—without having heard about all the frustrations, delays, excuses, and dry-spells along the way.
Ah, a nice fantasy… but not very realistic for me, I’m afraid. Everyone is different, and taking the “tell no one” route may work for some, but slowly and steadily, I’ve become a fan of the more open approach.
In the last year or two, talking about “the writing life,” sharing my writing (gulp!), and just being around other writers has led to new opportunities, new friends, constructive feedback, and a secure sense that I’m not alone in the challenges I face as a writer—including wondering whether or not I should even be calling myself a “writer.” More specifically, being open about my aspirations of writer-dom has led to: being part of an amazing writing group that I never would have found on my own; taking helpful writing classes I never would have heard about; attending writers conferences that I never would have felt ‘qualified’ to attend; receiving generous and honest feedback that has improved my writing; and being part of Popcorntheblog.com and its (our!) supportive community of readers and writers.
And yes, I’ll admit that being more public about my writing goals has made me more motivated to actually accomplish them— there’s nothing wrong with some good old-fashioned fear of public humiliation to keep one’s nose to the grindstone!
There are still (many) days when I flinch when asked the dreaded question, “hey, so how’s the writing going?” since sometimes I feel like it’s going nowhere, and I wish I could just say, “I have no idea what you’re talking about. Let’s go get a cupcake.” But the great thing is, when I do feel this way, I have support from other fine folks who sometimes have the same doubts, and we can get each other back on track.
Have you ever struggled with the ‘tell or not to tell’ question? I’d love to hear your thoughts!