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What are you working on? Don’t tell me about it.

The most common mistake any beginning writer makes is talking about the book (story, etc.) they’re writing (or thinking of writing). It’s natural to want to tell someone you’re close to what you’re working on. It is also a bad idea. Finish a first draft, at least, before you talk about your work.

I don’t discuss what I’m writing until I’ve gotten all the way through it. I have to at least be satisfied that I’ve written it out before anyone else can know what it is. I don’t tell anyone–not my friends, my relatives, even my husband. This can be hard. People want to know what you’re writing; they’re excited to hear about it. Tell them you’re superstitious. Or deny you’re working on anything at all. (Maybe don’t lie to loved ones. But acquaintances, sure. Lie away!) It’s that important.

Here’s why: in the beginning, your confidence will most likely not be shaky at best. The last thing you need is to hear yourself telling someone else what will sound to you like the most boring/unlikely/terrible story in the world. You’re not a good judge right now, and anyway all stories can sound bad if you sum them up in a few words. What if James Joyce was struggling through Ulysses and explained it to one of his pals? “This guy, he walks around Dublin. It’s going to be good, though. I know I’m not making it sound great.” His friend raises a skeptical eyebrow and BAM Joyce gives up and all of history is changed and the rest of us don’t have to pretend we’ve read Ulysses.

Even if you share your story with someone who’s excited about it and incredibly supportive, any input she gives might throw you off your game. “That reminds me of this great book I read last year!” (You hear: “You are unoriginal and should give up.”) “You should put in that character you wrote about in your last story–I loved her!” (You think: “But I don’t want to put her in but maybe I should? Or I should give up.”) “I love that story and you are perfection!” (You decide: “I am in fact pure crap and if I write this she’ll find that out, so forget it I give up.”)

Most importantly, though, the urge to tell a story can dissolve once it’s told. Be aware of this. It’s the urge that will keep you going in the beginning. It will keep you working hard to create something people will want to read and understand. Once you tell it, in whatever form, it’s out there. It’s no longer alive in you.

There’s a reason you want to tell this story, and you deserve to respect that, and to see it through. Share it with the outside world, and you’re likely to dismiss it, or lose the need to write it at all. Believe me, I’ve talked out too many stories. It’s a great way to avoid actually doing the work. Don’t let that happen. Keep it to yourself.

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