Among the missions I set for myself when I began blogging about my new novel, Flight of the Vajra, was to overcome the reluctance I have for talking about works-in-progress. Not because of spoilers or what have you, but because of another problem I wasn't even fully aware of until very recently.
If I had to put a name to it, I'd call it the problem of false promises. I hate the idea of talking about something in such a way that I raise anticipation for it in a certain vein, only to have those anticipations go completely unsatisfied. I'd rather keep my mouth shut while working, then turn around when it's done and let everyone enjoy the fruits of the labor with no preconceptions. Under-promise and over-deliver, in other words.
The problem with this approach is that it works against you, often drastically so. For one, it makes you increasingly reluctant to talk about the work in any form, not just while you're working on it but even after it's finished. You find your thinking hardening into a certain mold, something like this: The book has to stand on its own terms, and nothing I say about it is going to make a bit of difference. Ergo, why say anything at all?
I wonder now if some of this is an offshoot of the "stand there and take it" school of workshopping fiction. A student in the workshop has his work read by the others (aloud if time permits), and then listens while the others give their reactions. Under no circumstances is the author permitted to defend his work during this process; the idea is to hear other people's reactions without the benefit of the author being there to speak up for what he's done. That is, after all, how the whole thing works in the real world: you may have an afterword or some other words-or-two-before-you-go by the author to explain or justify what he's done, but for the most part people read the work itself and react to that, and anything the author might have to say about it comes entirely after the fact.
Looking back now, I can safely say I internalized this method to a degree that other people would probably find extreme. I've grown reluctant to talk about something I've done until it's already done, out there, and already read by the person in question — so much so that it's also become that much more difficult for me to even advertise the work to a prospective reader. Clearly that hasn't helped me one bit, so I've had to come back down a bit from that position.
Some of it is also, I know now, a response to (shilling for overreaction to) what I have perceived as the excesses of other authors who can't shut up about themselves or their work. It's only natural for any creator to want to talk about her own world — that includes herself, her experiences, her works, and her perspectives on all of the above. But some part of me has always felt torn between a) working that much harder to steal away people's attention with that kind of chatter, or b) simply shutting up and getting on with the real work of writing, completing, and publishing. I didn't so much resent other authors I saw doing such things as much as I felt pressured, indirectly, to "compete" with them in that vein.
One of the hardest lessons any creator has to learn is where the real arena of his competitions lie. We are, no mistake about it, all in competition for the time and attention of an audience. But it doesn't follow that your gain in that department is automatically my loss. I lose no readers when a new Dan Brown novel comes out, because we're not doing remotely the same things for the same people — no more so than the pizzeria in town loses to the Chinese place because the latter offers steamed dumplings and the former does not. So a little effort on my part to get attention isn't scandalous.
And under it all there is yet one more fear: that I will offer the best I have to a prospective audience, and it will simply land with a thud. That makes it all the more difficult to stick one's neck out in the first place, when you have convinced yourself all that attention-getting is just going to look bad in the eyes of readers who are used to every last showmanship tactic in the book. But when has any of that ever added up to more than a fancy way to pretend I'm too good to go into my own tent and show people around? That feeling has to be fought.
Other Lives Of The Mind