writing tips

Dinner Party Etiquette for Writers: No-one Cares About Your Novel

Don’t think I haven’t heard it, that glum sigh when someone asks what I do, and I tell them I’m a author. You know why the sigh? Because they think I’m going to bore them for the next forty five minutes with the epic tale of my latest masterpiece, pausing along the way so they can nod and tell me how brilliant I am. Then they’ll blandly say ‘that sounds really interesting,’ and I’ll say ‘well, it’s hard to explain but it’s better when you read it.’

Except I don’t do that, because it’s DIRE and AWFUL and no-one wants to interact with people like that. So normally I make a joke about being poor, and they make a joke about being the next J.K. Rowling (and I don’t go into a long rant about how she’s the exception to the publication rule) and we return to talking about the weather, or accounting, or something that isn’t my work. Easy.

I am a big fan of not talking about your WIPs. Or even outlining your novel. Even when people ask what it’s about, they don’t actually want a four page synopsis. They want an X meets Y approach: ‘Yeah, it’s like Indiana Jones, but set in space.’ ‘Oh, well it’s kind of like Romeo and Juliet, but between McDonalds and Burger King employees.’

I often give the advice to keep your stories close to your chest, especially when they’re in progress. Partly, because I think ideas are precious, partly because I think that energy and passion should be channeled into writing them down instead of talking about them. And partly because I’m doing dinner party guests across the country a massive favour. It’s the equivalent of sitting there and talking about how your kids are the best kids ever for an hour. Except at least when that happens, you give other people the chance to but in and talk about how great their kids are. You can’t do that, unless you’re in a room full of writers.  And you can’t expect other people to know that’s what’s going on, so you’re going on about your epic fight scene (that you haven’t written yet) in chapter thirty four, and the woman next to you can’t exactly jump in and go ‘oh yes, my son Marcus has excellent swordmanship. He beheaded two goblins last week!’

The context doesn’t fit. And here’s some smart thinking- these people may buy your book if you remain that mysterious author who gave them a brief snippet of what you’re working on. If you’ve told them the whole thing, they’re not going to give a crap. Even if it is interesting to them, who buys a book when it’s been narrated to them all evening by someone who isn’t Stephen Fry?

However…yes, I will admit, there are moments when it’s good to talk about your work. What I’m talking about here is sharing your passions, talking about who inspires you, who you want to be like, what you want to achieve.

I don’t really talk about my books when I’m writing them, occasionally give a brief outline, usually about a sentence. But I’ve started talking about my research, the work I’m doing on my MSc, working with writing and body image, and eating disorders. When you’re passionate about something, and you’re learning about it, you want to share it, and suddenly everything becomes relevant. Whilst I’d still say reigning yourself in at dinner parties is important, sharing the seeds that have sent you on your path, the things that have inspired you in your work can often bring great connections and contact with people you never would have met.

So share your passion, your inspiration, your fire…just, don’t give away the ending. Because it may surprise you.

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