“So how’s the writing going?”
“Good. Steady. I mean, I’ve not achieved anything. But okay, thanks. I’m still doing it.”
And here endeth the conversation.
In the real world I’m not a big one for discussing my writing. This is partly because I’m British and it feels far too much like boasting. It’s partly because, as soon as someone knows you’re a writer they’ll ask what you write and, unless you’re extraordinarily lucky, saying you’re a speculative-fiction-cum-adventure-with-a-side-order-of-crime writer is likely to induce a picture of polite blankness where a face used to be.
I don’t know about you, but I find it incredibly difficult to really enthuse about my own work. Maybe after a beer or two, or if I’m feeling especially comfortable in the situation, I can raise a little passion about my own work. But most of the time it’s the conversational equivalent of shuffling my feet and glancing awkwardly at the floor.
But there are a few people who know I write. Acquaintances who have somehow wheedled the information out of me or The Missus and are nice enough to want to know how I’m getting on. And the conversation is always based around a theme of “…erm.”
There are moments when you’re fired with enthusiasm. If you’re first-drafting, or just about to commit the contents of brain to paper for the first time, you can rhapsodise; you can convey your excitement, you can discuss the great sweep of the plot and try and encapsulate the theme in one rather drunken and gesticulatory paragraph of wonder.
But these are rare. These moments, as we all know, are a tiny fraction of the time spent ‘writing’. Mostly we are editing. We’re going over the same chapter, the same paragraph, for the umpteenth time. What is progress? Progress is making the novel better. But saying you re-read through a dozen pages and marked out three potential rewrites (that you’re probably unsure about anyway) does not a good anecdote make.
Similarly, how do you sell your audience with stories of cutting a scene? Any sensible person would be wondering why you wasted your time writing it in the first place, even though we all know that it’s an essential part of the process.
All of this goes some way to explain why I tend to do a lot more listening than talking when in such company. It explains why, when asked, my usual response to ‘what do you do?’ is to talk about my Paid Employment rather than my writing. It’s too hard, too uncomfortable. Unfortunately my Paid Employment status is so low that usually my beautiful wife will usually rescue the situation by explaining that I’m ‘really’ a writer. Which leads us straight back to the beginning.
I suppose it’s all good practice for when I’m rich and famous and am doing interviews about writing. And, in the meantime, there’s a lot to be said for keeping your mouth shut and your ears open.