Everyone makes mistakes—even writers—but that's okay because each mistake is a great learning opportunity. The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them early in the process. Note: The mistakes in this series aren't focused on grammar rules, though we offer help in that area as well.
Rather, we're looking at bigger picture mistakes and mishaps, including the error of using too much exposition, neglecting research, or researching too much. This week's writing mistake writers make is talking about the work-in-progress.
Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Talking About the Work-in-Progress
I've made this mistake many times myself, and it never ends well. I get excited about an idea and start writing and developing and building it bigger and bigger. The story appears to be writing itself, and I know nothing can stop the momentum.
That is, until I make the mistake of telling someone—literally anyone—about this great juggernaut of an unfinished story. Here are the two most common scenarios:
- The person I tell has questions. These questions may be completely innocuous and mild-mannered, or they may be more direct...like, "Do you think anyone really wants to read that?" Either way, the questions will knock me off track, and it's hard to move a train (even an incredibly powerful train) once it's been derailed. But this has also happened...
- The person I tell loves my idea. They sound just as excited as I do—maybe even MORE EXCITED!!!!!!!! It's so contagious! And then...ugh...I can't live up to the excitement, or I start thinking this thing is SO AMAZING that it needs to be PERFECT!!!!! Lots of exclamation points that turn into frustration from getting overwhelmed by expectation—even if it's all just in my head
So I've learned (I hope!) to keep my mouth shut. If I get a cool idea, I keep it to myself and write. The work-in-progress becomes a top secret project between myself, my notebooks, and the cloud (just kidding: I don't share it with the cloud).
But sometimes, people do ask me what I'm working on, and I do want to tell them something. After all, I'm an introvert, but I'm a writer—and writers love to share their writing (at least a few of us anyway). So this is what I do.
Mistake Fix: Share Only What You've Already Written
This sounds simple enough, but I really mean it. Only share what you've already written. If you have a finished story (even in draft form), share that. If you have a finished scene, share that. But don't share your plans for where the story might go or backstory from where it came.
Think of it this way: You can't revise writing that's not on the page. So apply this same rule to talking about your writing: Only talk about the work that's actually down on the page. And instead of explaining what you're trying to accomplish, ask your readers what they see and think about the writing. You may be surprised what they tell you.
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