by JT Ellison
“I was brought up in the great tradition of the late nineteenth century: that a writer never complains, never explains and never disdains.”
– James Michener
Well. That says a lot.
I’ve been doing some heavy duty thinking lately. Brainstorming on a new book mostly, but also about some of my goals for the year. I maintain a personal blog on my website, and one of my goals for this year was to create a world that was predicated on what I enjoy reading from other personal blogs – snippets of the author’s life.
There’s just one big issue with that for me. I’m not good at sharing.
Quit guffawing… it’s true. You’re different. You’ve been kindly allowing me to grapple with issues, weighty and otherwise, in this slot for five years now. I feel like we know one another, even if it’s just a little.
For the rest of it – I try, very hard, to measure out my words and thoughts with care, making sure that only the things I want out in the world are out in the world. I am the Queen of the regretful tweet – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone back and deleted one after it was sent, cringing for some reason or another. I can’t seem to just toss a little ‘this is what happened to me today’ blog together, either. Oh yes, sharing news is easy, but sharing me? Not so much.
I think it’s more than a natural reticence to be open with relative strangers. I’m barely open with the people who know me.
I think it all comes down to the fact that while we’re all circling the sausage factory, none of us truly want to go inside and see how it’s made.
Because making a book is a very, very messy business.
There’s the title search. The plot development. The character names. And then, the actual writing. The hair-pulling, the cowardice, the grand plans, the failures. The calloused fingers and cramped wrists and lost nights. The attempts to settle your overactive mind with a glass (or two) of wine and prayers to an unknown deity that it will turn off, just for a bit, so you can be normal. See this for some stark reality into what goes on in our brains.
Writing a book is so much more than writing a book.
And nowadays, being a writer doesn’t mean the same thing it did 5, 10, 15 years ago. Being a “writer” now means you’re responsible for creating an amazing product, bleeding onto the page, meeting that deadline and wowing your team, editing and revising and copyediting and galleying, THEN going on the road, tweeting, facebooking, blogging, bookclubbing, skyping, conferencing, and sharing the intimate details of the process with everyone and their brother, all while coming up with and writing yet another masterpiece.
Here’s one of the problems.
Writing is a solitary endeavor. It’s meant to be. I don’t know how many writers could be collaborators as well; I know for a fact that it’s not up my alley. I like to live in my own head. I like to observe. But I also really enjoy talking to my writer friends. I love talking to fans. Sometimes, a little note on Facebook is all we need to turn a bad writing day into a good one. Our virtual water cooler is our office.
Here’s the other thing. Writers are interested in writing. We read books about it. We’re interested in others “process.” We’re fascinated by the agony everyone else seems to go through, and identify because it’s our agony as well.
We talk at length about our daily word counts. We openly discuss our blocks, our peccadilloes, our nightmares. Our impetus. Our concerns. We gossip and teach and discuss at length. We extrapolate our worlds into the minds of others, daily, hourly, as the thoughts occur to us.
Even our editors and agents are forced into this overshare. My agent doesn’t tweet or blog, but my editor does. They too are expected to open the doors on their process. And I have to admit, it’s disconcerting to know that not only are our fans and friends watching our every move, our bosses are as well. There isn’t a corner of our creative lives that is private anymore.
Does this transparency help us, or hurt us?
Are we devaluing our art through constant discussion of HOW it’s created, rather than enjoying the end product alone? Because every word that’s written discussing writing is another word that isn’t part of a creation. And creation, to be honest, is the writer’s paramount responsibility.
Do you see James Patterson tweeting? Hardly. But he can put out 17 new books in a year, because he’s focused on creating. Same with some of the other big dogs I admire – the Stephen Kings and Nora Roberts of the world. I look at them in awe and wonder. HOW do they write so much? HOW are all their ideas so clever and original? WHAT IS THEIR PROCESS LIKE?
See, I’m guilty of my own argument – I’m just as curious as the next person. This unknown veil we’ve lifted is quite entertaining, and enlightening. I’ve learned a great deal by following the right people on Facebook and Twitter. I’ve made great friends. And lost a few along the way, when they didn’t agree with me, or vice versa.
But what, exactly, is the point? Are we to be writers, or networkers? I think the time has come to choose.
I read something last week that started me down this primrose path – about the designer, former ballerina Jamie Wolf, who created Natalie Portman’s engagement ring. It was an interesting article, but one line at the end leapt out and smacked me in the face. She said:
“To quote one of my favorite ballet teachers, ‘No one wants to see how hard you are working.’”
I read that, and it shook me.
Because it’s true.
Think about the ballerina. She bleeds for her art, in the most literal of senses. Have you ever seen a dancer’s feet? They’re painful to look at. Torn and shredded, bruised and deformed. But will she ever show you the steps that it took to get those feet? The hours and hours of blood, sweat and tears? That the deformities are a point of pride? That if her feet aren’t mangled, it shows she hasn’t been working hard enough? Remember the old quote, never let them see you sweat? Ballet epitomizes that saying for me. Dancers work incredibly hard so that when you experience their art, it looks effortless.
So do writers.
But for a writer …I can’t help but wonder…. Am I littering the world with sausage casings? Do my thoughts on “things” matter? Is that what I’ve been doing for the past five years? Is that what social networking boils down to? Letting the world see how hard you work?
That concept sucked the sharing right out of me.
Maybe it’s what I needed to hear at the moment I needed to hear it. The pressure of continuing a constant chatter of information has started to take its toll on me. I really like my bi-monthly blog here. I don’t know that I need more than that. I want to go back to the days, just a few years past, when the interaction with readers and friends would be through thoughtful essays rather than thoughtless quips. Even as much as I enjoy Twitter….
I seem to have drifted a bit off course here. Apologies. It seemed important to make clear that I love my interactions here, that we all do. I’ve always loved it.
But I think the truth of the matter is this. I’ve started to wonder if readers truly want to see how hard we’re working. Part of creating a product that people adore is the mystique that surrounds it. Do you want to see the desk littered with empty whiskey glasses and spilled bottles of mood stabilizers? Or do you want the fantasy, the aura of the successful writer—the quiet, hardworking wordsmith who’s bringing down the house with an amazingly well crafted story?
Look again at the Michener quote.
“I was brought up in the great tradition of the late nineteenth century: that a writer never complains, never explains and never disdains.”
I want to be that writer. I want my work to eclipse me. I want my work to be the only thing that matters.
My question for you today – do you think writers should go back to Michener’s era and shut up? Or do you want to see how the sausage is made?
And writers – do you think having to lay bare your soul on a personal level as well as bleed onto the page for your art is worth it?
In the spirit of sharing, a signed copy of SO CLOSE THE HAND OF DEATH will go to one commenter. And don’t forget we have a new CAPTCHA system to alleviate the “Buy my watch now!” spam we’ve been getting, so double check that your comment has posted. We hope this is temporary.
Wine of the Week: Cline Ancient Vine Carignane – so delicious it almost made me cry. You have to try this. Let it open for at least fifteen minutes though.
For me this is a matter of degree. I don't desire a day where writer's shut up about process. I think mystique is often a fancy facade for bullshit. I like honesty. I like sausage. I like to watch.
I think this comes down to balance and choice. I enjoy reading about other people's creative process. This goes for potters, artists, musicians, writers and software developers. My enjoyment may be marred however if I thought that their explanations impeded their creativity. I want the books too.
These days I make a concious choice of how I much time I spend delving or skimming online. I try to keep my input of shared knowledge to a trickle not a flood. Shared knowledge sometimes entertains me, or informs me and or distracts me.
Sometimes it even influences me.
For the first couple of years I read Murderati from a reader's point of view. Perhaps crazily the more I read of writer's struggle to produce work they were happy with ( sort of, most of the time) the more I could relate to my own way of thinking. I'm sure I get most things done through sheer bloody mindedness . I rediscovered a desire to write gradually through the insights shared here. I knowingly stumble along a developing writer path now. Slightly crazed, frustrated often beyond belief, with glimmers of hope.
I vote sausage watching, because of information shared, now I don't just watch. I do.
My editing sucks this evening…pretend it's correct. Look over there are all that other stuff happening.
What an interesting post. I like to know how things work, but sometimes what you get when certain writers talk about their 'process' is another layer of marketing.
But show me the sausage factory by all means. If there's mechanically recovered meat in there, I want to make the choice not to eat the product ;-]
And here I was ready to add a few more smells I remember!
Provoking, JT. As the cliche goes, people are people. Some talk. Some absorb. Some do both. Others lock themselves in their lair and hardly ever step out.
I guess, for me, if I were ever to be a known author, I would simply try to be natural. People pay to read my thoughts in my books. If I happen to blog, host tweet-ups, speak at signings…I hope I will just be me. That's who they're a fan of.
You're who we're a fan of. I like you the way you are.
I'm trying to make sausage, too. But I can't seem to keep the casing on the little funnel thing. And when I do, the casing splits and there's sausage all over the place. And I put the stupid fine grind plate in for the Italian sausage, rather than the breakfast sausage (Duh! Idiot!).
And even when I get the grind plate right and the casings stay on the funnel and they don't split, either the grinder gets clogged and I have to take the whole damned thing apart and start over, or I get the spices wrong. Last week I put in too much fennel and forgot the anise and it was horrible. Geez. It tasted awful and I needed like a case of Altoids to get the taste out.
But by watching how other people make the sausage, I'm slowly getting better. I started by remembering to cut the bones out of the pork butts before trying to grind it. Then I figured out that I needed to actually plug the grinder in for it to work. Then I understood that certain types of spices tend to work better. My sausage is better than it's ever been, and some day, maybe some day soon, it'll make it to the meat case, right between the chicken breasts and the steaks.
And what a lovely day that will be.
My version of what you do is a team effort. I'm like the team captain but everyone I've learned from is part of the eventual success story. So for me, I need to see how the sausage is made, and I appreciate every writer who lets me into their meat room.
"do you think writers should go back to Michener’s era and shut up?"
Moot point for me, as I am incapable of shutting up. As comedian Ron White puts it "I have the right to remain silent, but I do not have the ability."
I don't think the typical non-writer readers want to know about our word counts, rituals, and other process details. I think some (the ones we reach on tour and online) do like to know the stories behind the books and the person who has lived and learned those stories. True fans like to know what your plans are for future books and to share in your successes along the way.
Those beliefs shape how I use blogging, Facebook, Twitter, etc. I also think we can spot online activity that is inauthentic. If an author isn't comfortable talking about personal stuff online, she shouldn't do it, both for her own privacy but also for the quality of content. I, in contrast, am not comfortable talking about the business of writing, so I usually don't. As someone who reads your stuff online, you seem to be dong a great job creating interesting content in a way that at least appears organic.
I think sausage baring souls reaps the rewards of sharing with other writers but not with the general public as such. Writing is magical story telling that draws readers in, like others flock to see the Nutcracker, not the long, boring, gruelling hours of practice. We want the magic not someone's personal angst unless it's the angst of the wonderfully created character.
I don't think writers "have to" bare their souls or even participate in all the online networking – look at someone like Anne Tyler, who doesn't even do interviews!
And clearly, as evidenced by something I read on FB today, some writers should not be sharing their thoughts where the general public can read them and realize how disappointing it is when someone you respect and admire reveals a very mean-spirited side.
But, to some degree, I also think the online possibilities have given many of us, not just writers, the opportunity to share things we might not otherwise share. And maybe that's good, in a way.
With things like this, I tend to look at it from a sociological perspective. It's where we are as a society and culture, this online sharing of minute details of our lives. In a developmental way that we can't see the whole of, we are needing to reach out. And it's become the 'norm' to do so. I suspect it stems partly from the shift from living and working in small, closely knit communities – so often these days we don't know our neighbors, don't know the people local to us – so we create that online.
I've gone off on a tangent here, but I think, as usual, you have tempted with your thoughtful, important questions! And for me, that's a really good thing.
Speaking as one editor: Never tweeted. Never followed. Never will.
Wow, the comments so far have said it all! Dusty, love that quote…that's why, despite the fact that it's all been said, I'm posting a comment. That and the signed book offer! <big grin>
I like anything an author wishes to share. I like to get to know people, the good and the bad. I don't mind hearing about struggles. We are all people and unless something revealed is morally reprehensible, I don't mind people being themselves. And yeah, if it's really that bad, I suppose knowing can make you more informed about their writing and the choice to purchace. We're all flawed.
And please…don't mix alcohol and mood stabilizers! 🙂
I've always liked Spencer Tracy's quote on the subject: "No one will ever know how hard I work not to let the gears show."
It's true of dance, writing, acting, art, everything – our job is to create a seamless whole that makes it virtually impossible to see the gears. On first viewing. At the same time, ti's our job as writers to look deeper, and repeatedly, and see how the gears work, and how we might employ those gears to make our own work – work.
It's always seemed to me that we have a lot of writers and aspiring writers on Murderati, who like to see the gears, so it feels right here.
As I've said before, I made my "personal" blog very specific to craft because I felt uncomfortable talking about myself all the time (and got creeped out by how intensely a few anonymous strangers seemed to be watching my personal life.) Am I cheating readers who want to know all about me? I don't know. Great topic.
On a more pragmatic note, I have found and purchased your books because of the peaks I got into your particular sausage factory here.
Great illustration of the fine line we all walk as writers. The fact that you take it so seriously, J.T., is one of the many reasons folks want to hear what you have to say.
I'm always amazed at how some writers (you, Alex!) can write so beautifully about craft. I have such a hard time explaining how I do what I do that I'm a little embarrassed about it. It feels much easier to share random thoughts and silly bits and pictures of my cat. Would I bleed to entertain readers or to please a marketing department? No freaking way.
Oversharing on the part of any artist is dangerous. I avoid films featuring actors who make verbal asses of themselves in their personal lives. And, I confess, there are a few writers whose books I won't pick up because they're unpleasant people who make a lot of noise. If a person spends most of his or her time bleeding their creative energy all over the place, how seriously can I take their work?
I used to prowl around bookstores, picking up random books in search of new authors. That's how I happened upon Zoe years ago. I don't do that so much anymore. Now I'm more apt to download a new book than to roam B&N as I was did.
Anyway, after burning through Fourth Day last year, I ended up at her website in search of any hints as to when I could expect the next book. (I was dying to know what happened to a certain someone left in limbo). Her website led me here. Murderati, in turn, gave me all of you. Without this sit, and all you choose to share, I'm not sure I would have found your books. I've enjoyed all I've read and have plenty of blacklist to still get through.
Point being, blogging/social media is here for good or bad and it's the way in which a lot of us readers find new authors these days. That being said, I don't believe tweeting has ever turned me on to an author or kept me a fan of one. You need to have a presence on the web, but that doesn't mean you have to share more than you're comfortable with sharing. Oh and to be honest, most of the books I've picked up after reading a blog were due to one of the commentators remarks regarding the author or the book, not the author's blog itself.
I'm almost reluctant to step in here because this is such a fascinating conversation… as always, being able to write and ask y'all questions helps me process my own answers.
Catherine, I agree wholeheartedly that Murderati's sharing has been a Godsend to many – myself included. I'm so glad to see others like that as well. Heartening to hear your thoughts today.
Zoë, I want my sausage and eat it too…. ; )
Chuck, you're a darling. I struggle with the fact that I enjoy the interactions a bit too much, to the detriment of my work time.
Chris, fabulous metaphor, my friend. Well put. Glad to know the sausage making business is well in hand down there in Florida.
Dusty, I'm starting to wonder if I have that disease as well…
Alafair, thank you – you're too kind. I've found it's easier to be quippy than bleedy, if you know what I mean. And really, aren't we all well overdue for a session of drunktweeeting Nathan Fillion?
But you've hit on something so interesting to me – the balance between the reader readers and the writer readers. Finding the right line to walk is where I struggle. It's like writing about Nashville – too much insider baseball alienates the folks who don't live there.
And that flows perfectly to you, Grace. I don't want to be boring to the readers, just like I don't want to alienate readers with too much inside info. *tap dances away*
Billie, there's the rub. I guess I'm the one who wants the fantasy of the hardworking writer. When folks get on their soapbox, or are mean-spirited, I just hate it. And I'm turned off their books forever. No one can be perfectly happy all the time, but dumping bad karma on the universe doesn't help things either.
Neil, can't say as I blame you. : )
Debbie, I wonder where the line is? I saw something online this week that blew my mind. Intensely personal information, tossed out for anyone to see. I guess because I'm relatively private, I'm always surprised when people share personal details with strangers.
I suppose it’s important to know what kind of readers you have.
There are those of us who want insight into the soul of the author. Those who want to believe they have the “inside track” which makes them special. There are those who don’t give a damn, just want a good read (but they don’t read blogs, or tweets). There are as many types of readers are there are words in a book.
There are readers and there are writer-readers. I’ve read your books because I’ve read your blog. I’ve read Murderati because I’m interested in writing and I’ve found the rati struggles and successes interesting. I feel I’m “hanging” with writers and I want to identify with that.
And for most of us writers, misery loves company. Writing is lonely enough without the society of like minded that has come about because of the changes in marketing. Can you see Hemingway at an Independent Book Store? What fun.
Keep pouring out those gilded words.
Alex, such a great point. It IS our jobs to look into how the sausage is made, and I guess the grace of the social networking output is in how much we show of that. It's like me talking about autopsies at a dinner party – there's a certain spot where people want to go, and you better know the line so you don't cross it and freak everyone out. Knowing your audience is paramount.
The other, and possibly bigger, point here is that scrutiny from strangers, not all of whom are wholesome and interested in the books. I've been creeped out and freaked out many a time. I'm naturally spooky, and having my personal stuff out there in the world for the unsavory types to see isn't what I want from social networking. It's why I never turned on places, things like that.
Chris – the question certainly isn't Murderati – it's the broad spectrum of places where we broadcast everything. I didn't do a good job of making that clear enough – too much too say and too little space to do it, I think. But yes, absolutely – I've bought people because of process. It usually screws me up, too, because then I try to emulate them : )
Ideally, I'd rather have the work analyzed rather than the process or the author. But I don't know if we have that luxury any more.
Laura, hugs. You know how I struggled with this post – thank you for the kind words. And yes, the badly behaved superstar is always a turnoff for me too.
I am not a natural teacher. Perhaps that's one of my problems.
Kim, interesting point. There's certainly no way to quantify our social networking. I don't know if it really sells books to the point where the time spent justifies the time off work. Of course, that's the argument about book touring, but I've seen firsthand that touring does make a difference in sales. Maybe we're looking for the results in the wrong way. So if anyone figures that one out, we'll all be grateful!
After I posted the previous comment, I realized I was guilty of doing the same thing I was complaining about, more or less. And that fortunately I could do something about it! So I went back to the conversation in question and addressed it directly – and feel much better than I did when I posted here this a.m. This is one of the things I love about the opportunities with the whole issue of writers and others "sharing" online – in this medium I was able to interact, get clarification, and walk away feeling like there was resolution. And remind myself that yes, it is very easy to spout off and hit send/create/comment/etc. But that doesn't have to be the end of it – thank goodness.
When I go looking for a book to read, the last thing I do before putting my money down is check the author's web page. If there is a blog I read it, at least one entry. It doesn't matter to me what type of blog it is, whether it's personal or just about the books or process. What I am looking for is a sense of whether or not the author's books will be interesting to me. Most often a little backstory does it for me. Too much promotion in a blog turns me off, but I do read the promotional sections of the web page, itself. I like to know where that information is, and I like it to be up to date and accurate.
I enjoy, love, Murderati, and like many commenters I have discovered new authors here. But I don't want to know any more than what a writer wants to reveal. However when a writer is comfortable talking about their – stuff – I often find it gives more to the entire experience of reading. Some authors should not do this if they can't hold their ego at bay a bit or worst of all in my mind – keep from revealing a bit of contempt for readers.
I often regret what I post, myself, but I am not going to stop being myself. I don't reveal everything about myself, even though it might appear that I do. I need to be myself somewhere. My lovable Rati are not responsible for my health and wellbeing. Your opinions of me have no effect on whether or not I get the wheelchair I need that costs more than my Volvo, and if you don't like me it won't effect my independence.
Thanks for the thought-push, JT.
I find the conversations in this blog fascinating. I started reading Murderati every day when Tess said on her blog, go over to Murderati, etc.
And I have discovered these amazing authors because of this blog.
It gives me the opportunity to get to know the author and what that person finds interesting to talk about that day.
If you want to tell me how the sausage is made, I am intrigued. Your world is so different from mine.
If you talk about yourself, your friends, your pets, I get to know what kind of person you are.
When reading your books, I think of these things and it makes it all the more fun.
Thank you for that.
The times they are a changin'… In response to Mr. Michener's quotation, we live in an age where, in general, there is greater demand for transparency; and that's partly because we have more of the implements for providing that transparency. Frankly, I find it quite remarkable that Murderati has fourteen people willing to share thoughts of craft and life with its faceless audience week in and week out. And, of course, you all (aka, y'all) are able to do that because of this pathway known as the Internet, one of those tools used for transparency. And with that tool, you have created a community here. And the thing that unites a community is sharing.
You've probably seen those books that are geared for children about how things work (how a plane flies, how that wooden ship gets in that bottle). When I'm in a bookstore and see one, I page through it because I am fascinated. When I was a kid, World Book Encyclopedia didn't come close. A portion of the intrigue of that book and this blog revolves around the idea that little kids ask, "Why?" and bigger kids ask, "How?" Well, asking, "How?" of a writer sometimes means receiving those nuts and bolts, of which page counts and dead end plots and killing your favorites and you made your protagonist limp because it was a character idea you had while people watching in Paris are a few. And, besides, if what you wrote one day didn't do it for me that day, I would stop reading and come back the next day because one thing that I am very sure of is that you're a bunch of interesting people.
First, when I read I want the author to be invisible. Keep me unaware of the wizard behind the curtain and don't even show me the author photo or bio on the jacket until I finish the book.
HOWEVER, as a writer I want to know everything about fellow writers' processes. The more minute the detail, the better. I take comfort knowing other writers can't write in the morning or they stress about word count too or want to smack characters on the side of the head to wake them up. But I prefer to get this info face to face in a bar at a conference or sitting in a panel audience. Spare me the hourly Twitter updates interspersed with non-stop self-promotion. Really don't need the daily Facebook links. Would I be out of line if I said too much contact reeks of desperate? Dangerously closing in on an Unfriend move?
Loved everything about this post, JT!
I can speak for myself as a reader and a fan. I searched out the diaries of John Steinbeck and Jack Kerouac and others in an attempt to get a sense of who they really were and how they really felt about things, separate from their works. I was interested in the struggle, I wanted to know if there struggles were at all similar to mine, or if I was just fooling myself thinking that I had something important to say in my writing. Being able to read their innermost thoughts and to see their fears and failures helped me understand that we are all just humans and that we all occasionally rise to greatness, but that it comes from hard work and, sometimes, chaos.
On the other hand, I also like seeing my favorite authors as being more than average and I don't necessarily want to know all the details of their lives. It's an odd balance. Mostly what I learn from reading blogs like ours at Murderati is that we all go through very similar situations and have similar attitudes about our work process, and that what we really need to do, the only thing that really makes a difference for us, is to keep writing and to finish our next book. All the rest of the machine – the tweets and facebook announcements and interviews…none of this makes a difference if we don't have a book to shop.
Murderati Fan – an interesting point I hadn't considered. That feeling of inclusion, whihc I know I love, is certainly part of the driving force behind this. Hmm… food for thought. Thank you!
Louise, I don't think we do either. And considering even seeing the face of the author changes the complexity of the story for me, the rest has followed along rather quickly.
Billie, writing the misunderstandings is vital. Sarcasm, humor and the like are often misinterpreted. I know that's usually the impetus behind me pulling something – the voice in my head and the voice in other's eyes didn't match up. Glad you were able to fix things in your head today.
Sometimes, yes, I think we should shut up. The less we know, the more mysterious the author is, so you're buying all of his/her books trying to find clues to who they are in their stories.
And maybe that's the way it should be.
Reine said: *However when a writer is comfortable talking about their – stuff – I often find it gives more to the entire experience of reading.*
That's what I was wondering – if readers and writers are getting more out of these interactions, or less. Thanks for letting me know it's more – at least for you! And don't stop being yourself. You give all of us strength and hope daily, and we wish it back to you.
Pauline, thank you. Another vote for the sausage. And I agree completely, this is a pretty cool environment.
Sandy, fabulous insights. It makes me wonder this – do our multiple interactions take away from the blog or add to it? Are you likely to come because you see a post from one of us on Facebook or Twitter, or do you seek us out daily regardless. That's for the newer readers, not the old hats.
Rochelle, definitely. (she says, after having posted three BSP tweets…) Honestly, I use the different venues for different purposes. But here, Murderati – this is where I bare all. It can get ugly, that's for sure. But yes, I feel the same way – too much contact does feel a bit desperate. I'm trying to make sure I avoid falling into that world.
Stephen, absolutely. I laughed at myself last night – Stephen King DID write a book about how to make the sausage, and it's one of the best primers out there. He has shared every struggle. And I didn't feel so alone when I read it.
Rob, you do a pretty good job at that, me thinks…
We must be on the same wavelength here, JT, because I was thinking of this very thing lately. How much sharing should I do?
It came about because I made an off comment about something that I wrote–my character is at the bottom of a mine shaft, falling two stories, and is injured. It's a great cliffhanger to the end of chapter one. But at that point, I was in chapter three and grappling with how severe his injuries would be. People can fall 2 stories and be uninjured; others can be killed. It was an off-hand comment . . . and I had dozens of people coming up with ideas. I didn't WANT ideas, and I panicked a bit because I thought what if I was already going to do one of these things and then someone thinks I took their idea? Or what if the idea was great and I used it, not because they said it, but they might have jumpstarted my own creative process?
It was eye-opening. I've been pulling back about what I comment. I'll talking about research and writing generally now, and a bit about my personal life (i.e. my son is home sick today) that people in general can relate to, but no more plot points, details about how fast (or slow) I'm writing, etc.
I think writers who want the inter-personal contact (and I do enjoy it–I'm an extrovert in an introverted career!) should do what comes naturally, but there needs to be some barrier. What it is differs from writer to writer.
I'm a shy person. You might not think that if you met me, or saw me lead a workshop, but I am. A private person. So sharing just isn't part of my nature. More than that, I don't think that sharing anything about my writing process, or woes, or whatevers can be of use to anyone because it's MY process and they have THEIR process, and I think that we are all pretty much unique in what we do to make words on a page transform into stories in minds.
Now, I don't mind sharing my opinion on what works and doesn't work in the narrative art–that's what my blog, Flogging the Quill, is all about–but that's not sharing my self, it's sharing analysis and observation of the realities of fiction on the page.
For what it's worth.
Thought provoking, JT. Everybody is different, of course. I don't care about the writing process or any of that. I consider the blog here and others as checking in with people I consider not as friends necessarily but probably more as friendly acquaintances. I don't need to be dazzled; I'm just seeing if everything's still okay with people who are on my radar.
On the flip side of the networking, I think it also provides good feedback for writers if they so choose. What if you wrote a post and nobody cared or stopped by? We're giving you positive reinforcement to continue do the good job you do — almost instantaneously. Consider that the authors of other eras pretty much worked in a vacuum, cranking out product after product.
I write a daily blog. I don't know who reads it other than my mother — it reduces the number calls from her in the week to one or two. And it's a nice exercise of what my state of mind/life is at that moment. I don't go into anything heavy or deeply personal because I'm aware it is open to the public but I can look back on things I've posted. I had a blog in 1999/2000 that is an amazing window into what was going on then that I would have otherwise forgotten.
JT and Murderati: you're doing a good job.
Geez, JT, now I'm feeling guilty of violating your privacy after asking you a "none of your business, really" question last night. At least I asked it privately. 😉 And you answered graciously, as always.
Okay, seriously, I struggle with this issue as well. I'm a very private person and there are things I just won't discuss in public, whether on the internet or with co-workers at the day job. With as much of "me" as I put out there on the internet, there's an awful lot I hold back. So I guess the result is that people can get a pretty good impression of what kind of person I am, but they don't know the details of my life. Honestly, why would they want to?
I almost never talk about my writing process and rarely will I give "advice" to other writers (unless it's to keep writing, I'm a pro on that topic). Until a writer has published a book or five, I just don't think they have the authority to go there. But I LOVE hearing how other writers make the sausage. I've learned so much from this blog (and others, to be fair), not just about craft topics and publishing issues, but also about how to handle "being a writer." And part of that learning/understanding happens when you all share something personal.
I think anyone who has spent any time at all on the internet has figured out their own limits — though sometimes only after engaging in uncomfortable oversharing. Everyone over here has established a comfort level in terms of privacy and intimacy, and it's slightly different for each individual. Honestly, JT, go with what makes you comfortable and don't worry so much about what other people might think. You're right, writing is a solitary endeavor. But isn't it nice when we can take an occasional break from it and share little bits of ourselves with each other? Um, in a totally non-zombie-flesh-eating way, I mean. That would be disturbing.
Similar to Catherine, I started reading Murderati as a reader, drawn here by Tess originally. I've learned so much from all of you and I hope it's helped me not only be a better reader, but an inspired writer. Seeing the person behind the story and the angst that sometimes goes into it, makes me appreciate the story more. There has to be a happy medium though. At what point is too much information too much information? There are some books I would have really loved to read, but because of the author's TMI re politics, attitude, etc. (non here – never fear), I've been totally turned off. Is it my loss or theirs? Could I be missing out on a really good read. Probably. I'm all for seeing how the sausage is made, but sometimes there are some ingredients you just don't want to know about.
Allison, that's one thing I've never worried about – sharing the actual plot points, I mean. I am WAY too superstitious. I saw that discussion on your page though and remember thinking – damn, that's bold. If it were me, I'd mention the thing that gets cut. I'm not even fond of talking about titles until I'm certain I have a solid chance of it being the real deal.
Ray, that's an excellent point. I know I'm guilty of seeing other writer's processes and trying to adapt them for my own, and finding it holds me back. Of course, that's how we learn what works for us, but I've learned my lesson the hard way: Don't mess with your process!
PK, I feel blessed every day that I do have an interaction with readers and other writers. It's what keeps me going some days. And I've never begrudged the Murderati side of things – I'm talking more about whether I need to have a personal blog that has all this extra info, or whether my days at Murderati are enough. You're right, this site rocks.
KD, absolutely. And your question wasn't private, it was curiosity. I took it that way, at least. But yes, being a private person in a suddenly public profession is a challenge.
Robin, you cap off the day with the perfect comment. Some of the sausage making but not all. I'm in!
Thank you, everyone, for such a thoughtful discussion here today. It's help me make some decisions that I hope will allow me to find the balance I'm seeking, and maybe help other writers struggling with the same thing. See you in two weeks – and stop back Sunday night – I'll announce the winner here in the comments. Night, all!
I am astounded by writers who post every time they get a nibble from an agent or enter a contest or submit a story… but that's simply not my way. I seldom if ever blog about the writing process – mostly I download the things cluttering up my mind and the odd things that seem to happen to me. Like getting a refurbished printer/fax machine and using it to fax my application to Mystery Writers of America, only to discover that the previous owner's info was still stored within and my application was emblazoned METROHAVEN OF LOVE across the top. Or having an unknown man drive past me on my dirt road as I'm walking my dogs and toss something at my feet that turns out to be two dog biscuits (I'm still wondering if that was a form of Vermont courtship and if so, it was a highly inefficient one). Or losing my mother in Sam's Club and finding her only by tracking the sound of her cell phone ringing in her pocket because I'm calling it.
I like doing it – some people like reading it. And the days I start out with a blog post are my most productive writing days, so it seems to work out.
It' s kind of a conundrum isn't it? I want to be the mysterious, no interviews, no-need-to-promote writing wonder but I want to experience another writer's behind the scenes drama as well. The knowledge seeker part of me wants to know how everyone else thinks, writes, reacts. If only there was a parallel universe we could access at will with a private entrance to the writers lounge. Hmm, I'll have to think on that one.
Pauline, you're this week's winner! Please email me you address to jtellison at jtellison dot com and I'll get a copy of So Close sent out to you!
Thank you. Thank you very much!
You have made my week!
JT, your post made me a little sad, because it seems that I was enjoying something that was costing you more than you were comfortable giving. I love reading about the writer's process, if only to keep my spirit (and pen) flowing toward the days when I can write about the characters that dance through my head, using the dialects and idioms that fascinate me in ways that shoes dazzle someone else. You prize and value the same things that I do (about writing) — and if misery loves company; shared values adore other travelers.
If you didn't tweet, I'd never have met your characters or seen Nashville through your eyes (my assumption). Truth is, I can't read all the good writers out there, and I was lucky enough that you entered my tweetstream (I refuse to have a twitstream), and now I am happy to know when a new Taylor Jackson book is coming.
Please find a good place for yourself in this struggle. If you decide to interact less personally, I'll enjoy the "process" just as well. I have to admit that I'd miss the "kindred spirit" chatting. Thanks for the glimpse of "how" it works for you — it's really helped me.
My message bounced back to me. I even got hubby to double check it.
I left a message on your website.