Admitting to Writing

A few weeks ago Miss Snark had this to say Don’t ever talk about your novel socially until it’s published. Ever. here. She followed it up with this post in which she expanded upon her thesis.

In general I’m in complete agreement with Miss Snark, but I just don’t buy this one for a number of reasons, some of which may be genre specific. 2013 update: Exactly six years on I find this even more ridiculous than I did at the time.

1. I’m an F&SF author, and making the rounds of cons and talking about your work in progress is a big part of career development.

2. I wrote full time for a while before selling a novel. If I hadn’t talked about the novels I was writing I’d have had an awfully hard time explaining what I did during those years, since most people you meet will at some point ask you what you do.

3. Much of my social circle is now made up of professional and aspiring novelists and English professors. Talking about unpublished novels is a huge part of the normal conversation. It was not always this way, but developed in part because of a willingness on my part to both talk about my work and to welcome other writers into my life.

My life wouldn’t be nearly as rich if I hadn’t always been willing to talk about my writing. Further, those aspiring novelist connections really helped me get through some rough times on the way to publication.

On the other hand, I don’t think I talked about my first novel socially before it was finished, and that I would highly recommend.

It’s an interesting topic, and one made more so by the massive amounts of support her pronouncement generated in the comments thread. I’m wondering whether that’s about her audience, genre, or what.

2013 update: I’m going to pull out and edit some of my comments from the thread that followed as well, since they expand and clarify my thinking.

Comment 1) If you read the whole comment thread and the surrounding context it becomes pretty clear that Miss Snark’s not just talking about pitches to agents in inappropriate places (which is not just rude, but stupid and actively counterproductive to boot). She’s pretty clearly talking about discussing your writing to anyone anywhere outside of a business setting. Later she says this:

“It’s rude. It’s rude to talk about something no one else knows about or can read. Like showing your vacation slides…the only person really interested in how good a time you had is …that’s right: you.”

and this:

“I don’t care if you think it’s ok to do this. It’s not. Not ever. If you think you’re the exception, you’re not.”

I will concede that my first point falls into one of her exceptions. However, 2 and 3 are very clearly outside her acceptable window.

The comparison to asking for legal advice or medical advice only holds for the instance of the inappropriate pitch, which I won’t defend. A more appropriate comparison would be to say that a doctor may never talk about medicine at that bar or barbeque or whatever. Likewise the lawyer may never talk about the law.

I find this simply silly as I have discussed medicine, med-school and medical issues with doctor friends at any number of social settings. Likewise, I regularly talk about writing and works in progress at social events. The idea that one would exclude the possibility of talking about one’s work at any social setting is frankly ridiculous.

Oh, and though I’ll concede the point on cons as business events, they’re also social events and its the social side that is much more likely to see me talking about my writing–as opposed to panels where I’m mostly talking about the specifics of the panel topic.

Comment 2) If for example she said: “You should never pitch an editor or agent that you happen upon in a purely social setting. Never.” I’d mostly be right there with her. As I said above, it’s not just rude, it’s also stupid and may well close a door forever.

But she very specifically says don’t tell anyone, not just don’t pitch agents at dinner parties. Four of six points are pretty clearly addressed to the idea of telling no one, not just not telling publishing professionals. This is made clear by the fact that she explicitly names publishing professionals in points 5 and 6.

(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog May 1 2007, and original comments may be found there. Reposted and reedited as part of the reblogging project)