In episode 64 I shared reasons to go ahead and open up about your project. After listening to some of the benefits, you might have wondered why we wouldn’t always talk about our projects with people. Why not take advantage of that great input and the energy and fun of collaboration and developmental input? Why stay secretive?
Today I’ll share six reasons people choose to stay secretive about their writing projects.
1. So no one steals their idea
It’s a common concern. Some writers won’t talk about their projects with other writers or in a public setting, in case someone would overhear and decide to grab it and write it themselves. Some are so nervous, they even hesitate pitching their projects to editors, for fear their idea will be rejected during the pitch but then passed on to some other writer to be developed for that publishing house.
When you’ve generated some idea, some story, some concept you feel is yours to create and shepherd, it is kind of freaky to imagine someone else taking that and running with it.
Are these fears founded?
Some believe it happens more than we’d like to think, but other industry experts say it doesn’t. For example, Jane Friedman addresses the concern of idea theft in an article where she says, “Most people don’t view unpublished writings (or writers) as an untapped gold mine” and she shares Jeanne Bowerman‘s take on this fear, that it is possible for someone to steal your idea, sure, “but they can’t possibly execute it or interpret it in the same way you can. No one can be you. That is your best protection of all.”
Whether or not you choose to be secretive, don’t sit on your idea. If you’ve got a project in mind, write it. Get your version out there. Be the first.
2. So no one inadvertently absorbs their idea and claims it as their own
This is similar to the first reason, but instead of someone intentionally stealing your idea, this is a subconscious act. You talk about it to someone, and they forget the source. Or maybe they just overheard it and they sort of absorb the idea eventually thinking it was theirs all along.
The only way to avoid your idea getting out there where people can absorb it, is to keep your writing project a secret from everyone. But remember, to refer back to Bowerman’s point, even if someone were to use your idea, they still have to do the hard work of writing it. And no one will write it the same as you will. As she said, that’s your best protection. So don’t be too afraid.
3. To keep their project from getting shot down
Let’s say you phone a friend to tell her about your exciting new idea or project, but you catch her on a bad day or while she’s binge-watching The Gilmore Girls. She may not sound all that interested after you explain your idea. You might think she’s feeling blah about your project when she’s simply feeling blah or preoccupied. But it’s too late. You think she hates your idea and all the joy drains away.
This seems to happen most often when the idea is in its embryonic stage. Or maybe it’s just a tiny tadpole of an idea. If that’s the case, it’s delicate, fragile, still taking shape. Give it time.
Maybe you can tell your friend later, when you have more of the storyline to share or you know all the content you plan to cover in your nonfiction book And maybe you catch her when she’s well rested and fully caffeinated. She can listen carefully, she’ll catch your vision, and then she may blow you away with her enthusiasm. Until then, keep it under wraps.
4. So they don’t have to admit they never followed through
What happens if you share your idea with people, then end up not writing it?
They’ll ask about it. “Hey, what about that romance about the two food truck owners you told me about?”
“Oh, yeah, I gave that up. It just wasn’t taking shape.”
“But I loved that idea! Are you sure you aren’t going to write it?” And they try to convince you to write it, or just by bringing it up you start to feel guilty, like you’re someone who doesn’t follow through and finish things.
If only you’d stayed secretive about your projects, you could let go of the food truck romance and move on without anyone knowing.
Telling people about an idea can get confusing and disappointing to them if you make an executive decision to scrap it. Stay secretive and no one needs to know if your idea gets shelved.
5. They don’t want people bored or sick of it
When it comes to traditionally published books, the timeline is different from one publisher to another, but some report it takes on average two years from idea to release and that was my experience.
Getting that timing right is tricky, because you want your marketing efforts to come together, but if you start talking about it too early, people are going to tire of it, and you’ll start to hear them say, “Hey, isn’t your book out yet?” If you wait until closer to the date, when the book is in its final stages, it’ll be much more exciting for everyone involved.
6. If they talk about it, they don’t write it
Sometimes simply talking about a project seems to convince the mind we’ve actually produced the piece.
Marilyn Yocum said this is her experience. She told me in a Facebook interaction, “I learned a long time ago and have had it reinforced many times: If I blab about what I’m writing, I’ll talk it out instead of writing it out. There’s something about holding back that fuels the fire to write.”
We need as much fuel and as much fire as possible, so if that sounds like your experience, hold back. Stay secretive.
What’s a writer to do?
You have some decisions to make.
You can talk about your project at a certain point in its development, or not. You can talk with close friends or focus groups or no one. You may decide to stay secretive about your projects with everyone.
There’s no right or wrong choice here, and different projects and personalities may call for different philosophies.
I have to say, I’m curious about your choice. Do you speak freely and open up about your writing? Or do you hold your cards close?
Would you let me know in the comments below?
Click on the podcast player above or use subscription options below to listen to the full episode.
- #23: Never, Never, Never Sit on a Story
- Jane Friedman on Idea Theft
- Marilyn Yocum’s Facebook comment
- Marilyn Yocum’s website
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Featured image by Isabelle Kroeker.
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