How Much to Tell, How Much to Keep Secret

Talking is a hydrant in the yard and writing is a faucet upstairs in the house. Opening the first takes the pressure off the second.

ROBERT FROST

I have a superstition that if I talk about a plot, it’s like letting sand out of a hole in the bottom of a bag.

SHIRLEY HAZZARD

I find that discussing an idea out loud is often the way to kill it stone dead.

J.K. ROWLING

Keeping It In

Writers are secretive beasts.

It’s an occupational hazard, and comes with the territory. The writer’s current project is always a mystery to the people around him. Even loved ones will often be kept out of the loop. And that’s too bad, because secrets are bad for relationships.

They are, however, good for writing.

The False Because: Plagiarism

Luckily for writers, the people around them always believe that the writer has a good reason for keeping his secrets, even though that reason happens to be wrong.

Because to non-writers, the reason why their writer friends are so secretive is that they’re afraid of plagiarism. Nobody wants to have their million-dollar idea stolen, after all.

 

But in reality, plagiarism in the literary world almost always comes after the book is already published. A plagiarist, after all, isn’t going to take a risk in stealing unpublished work. They’re instead going to set their sights on books they already know are bestsellers.

The majority of book plagiarism today comes from hacks who copy the entire text from a bestselling book and then use a selective paste function to change all the names of the characters. They then sell the new text as an ebook on Amazon and watch the fraud dollars pour in.

But, even though it isn’t the truth, it is sometimes easier for the writer to use the plagiarism excuse when keeping his secrets, because the real reason why writers are so secretive is harder to explain to a non-practitioner.

The Real Because: Fear of Obligation

Once the book is written, the writer has a bit more leeway in telling people what the book is about.

But before the book is written—while even a single chapter remains unfinished—there exists a danger in being too free with revealing secrets. That danger takes the form of obligation.

Because in order to write the book as it needs to be written, the writer has to be free to change his mind and amend the story as it unfolds. Even the writers who are staunch outliners need the freedom to introduce spontaneous changes.

But if the writer reveals details about the book before it’s finished, those details turn into obligations. The writer has promised that the book will be a certain way, and by locking himself into that certainty, he hamstrings himself. And what would have been a creative work becomes, instead, a yoke and a burden that changes writing into drudgery.

Until the work is finished, the writer can’t be sure he is proud of it. He has to get the book ready for public exposure, and that process cannot be rushed.

The Sorrow of Secrecy

As most of you know, I am currently submitting a project for publication. The professionals to whom I am submitting know the details of the work, but here on the blog, I refer to it only by the codename “A9”.

And it’s not fun keeping this a secret. The book, after all, is done and ready. However, when the entire internet is the potential audience, it pays to be even more cautious in keeping secrets. I likely can’t reveal any details about this book until I have a publisher under contract.

I could be wrong. I don’t have enough experience in the industry to know how much secrecy is necessary at this stage of development. But the book could still go through a lot of changes once I have an agent and/or editor. I don’t want to paint myself into a corner.

But I also don’t want to keep secrets from you. I want to start marketing this book right away, and I have an impulse to do just that. There are a lot of people on the internet who would be intrigued by the ideas contained in the work, and I’d love to talk to them about it.

But I have to be cautious right now. Keeping the book under wraps is part of my efforts to deliver it to the right publisher. The story is being saved for the people who can actually do something for it. This book deserves the best chance it can be given.

The Hope for an End

So I’m sorry that I have so little to say about what I’m currently doing. I’m not doing it to be selfish or unwelcoming.

But with this apology comes a silver lining: if a publisher picks up project A9, I should be able to release details gradually. And you can trust me when I say there’s a lot of good ones waiting to be known.

In the meantime, I wish you all luck in your own writing endeavors. Let’s hope we all get some good news soon.

Thanks for reading.

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