The New York Times runs occasional pieces on writing in its Draft feature. They are of variable quality. The latest one, called “Not Telling” is pretty good. The writer, a novelist I’ve never heard of named Alice Mattison, is obsessively secret about her novels while she’s writing them:
If I talk about the book, I believe — I cannot help believing — my characters will be angry, and will no longer confide in me about their embarrassing, troubled lives.
She won’t even talk about the novel with her husband:
Once, I decided I should tell my husband a little about the novel I was writing. I informed him that I was about to do so and he sat up straight and looked eager. He’d been waiting for a while. I said — certain I was revealing something of interest — “It’s in five parts.” Then I sat back and waited for enthusiasm.
I have a lot of sympathy. I share my drafts with my writing group, but no one else. My lovely wife has been informed that I’m writing another one of those Walter Sands private eye novels, but that’s it. In my case, I’m not afraid of my characters getting angry; I’m afraid that talking out loud about the plot will make it sound stupid — to me as well as to the listener — and I’ll lose the hubris I need to keep going. At an early stage of writing, my plot is kind of stupid. Not to mention my prose is scattered and unfocused, as I figure out motivations and settings. But I need to stay confident that things are going to get better. I need to keep the world I’m creating safe from outsiders until I’m sure enough in it to pull back the curtain. Then, if people don’t like what I’ve created, I can figure out what, if anything, I need to change — without deciding the whole damn thing’s no good.