Thomas Vaughan, the seventeenth century alchemist, wrote that to aspire to occult knowledge four things are necessary: to know, to dare, to will and to be silent. That’s pretty good advice for writers, too - especially the last part. Keeping your mouth shut about those glittering lights in the distance is one of the hardest things you have to learn.
It’s so tempting to talk about your work before it’s properly finished but it’s rarely a good idea. The danger is that you talk away some of the inspiration. You say so much about your story that when you actually sit down to write you find you are slightly bored by the prospect. You’ve used up some of the psychic energy that you need to keep you going through the long process of writing and now you find yourself inventing activities to distract you from writing. Eventually so much time has elapsed since you felt really excited about your story that you just quietly forget about it.
Losing interest isn’t the only danger that ensues from giving in to the temptation to talk too much about what you’re doing. There’s also the question of losing face. Every writer knows about this because it can happen to you at every stage and if it hasn’t done yet, I guarantee you it will sooner or later.
You get excited because an agent has asked to see the whole manuscript, because a publisher writes you a nice letter, because you’ve been shortlisted for an award, because a film company has optioned the rights – whatever. You allow yourself to dream. Before you know where you are, the dream is leaking out. You start by telling your partner, then you find yourself telling members of your family, then close friends; soon everybody knows. And then when the whole thing falls apart in your hands, you feel such a fool.
Let’s face it, the whole business of writing is full of opportunities for humiliation. Two close friends of mine are currently going through the process of sending off their novels to agents and I’m watching them absorb the pain when those manuscripts come back with a note saying that the agent just doesn’t quite love it enough.
Every day of the week someone says to me, ‘It must be wonderful being a writer.’ And of course it is. But it’s a long road and when you look down you see that you are walking on other people’s dreams.