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Monday, September 15, 2014

I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you

When our bed and breakfast guests discover that I am also a writer, they often ask when it is that I get any writing done. With a laugh, I tell them I rise every morning at 4 AM and write for an hour and a half, then take my hour-long walk before showering and beginning the preparations for breakfast. 

Yeah, right.

The truth is, I admit to them, that little outside of the jotting of ideas and the occasional blog happens while we're busy with A Butler's Manor. Pretty much all my writing gets done between Columbus Day and May Day. I've mentally beat myself up for this for years, until I realized something key the other day: The reason I don't write when it's like a racetrack around here isn't only because I'm too busy with my day job. It's because during our long season, I'm driving the wrong vehicle, the Extrovert SUV. And that is completely opposite the Introvert one-woman kayak I need to be in to write.

Guest relations are at the heart of our bed and breakfast business, so I spend a great deal of time interacting with people, sharing pieces of myself with guests as we trade stories and find points of commonality. This is marvelously enriching to the soul and it brings me a great deal of personal satisfaction (and lots of ideas for characters and potential stories). But writing, by contrast, requires me to go inside myself and not share, not talk...instead, to nurture the germ of an idea, listen to the developing voice of a character, find his or her story. It is the introvert side of my otherwise pretty solidly extrovert personality.

So balancing these two parts presents a conundrum when faced with the common question people ask of writers everywhere: "What are you working on? What's your new book about?"

The classic flip response (she said with a smile): "I'd tell you, but then I'd have to kill you."

See, I really can't tell you. If I try to articulate it, I will lose it. The tender shoot of the idea is so tenuous that I fear that to vocalize it will kill it. Certainly it will remove the impetus I need to get the words on paper to tell the story. If I verbalize or worse, brainstorm it, I've told the story, and I've lost the drive, the need to write it down.

People asking these innocent questions don't realize this, of course. They assume you can already encapsulate your story into that magical 25-word TV Guide blurb, the one that writers are told they must learn to develop to pitch their (completed) work. Speaking for myself, I have difficulty crafting that 25-word blurb even after I've finished writing the book, much less before I've even fully conceived one.

Not all writers feel the same. Some are energized by sharing their WIP (work in progress) and collecting early feedback. There are sites all over the web that enable them to do exactly this. And no one way is right. Kudos to those who can share their ideas and still bring enough passion into the project to complete the book. Alas, I am not of their number. With the exception of A Butler's Life, which I had sold to Frederic C. Beil Publishing and was on deadline to complete while active in a writer's group where we shared chapters of our works in progress, I learned that any project I spoke of -- or worse, offered for critique before I had a completed draft -- died the quiet death of ennui.

So for me, the adaptation of that great line should be," I'd tell you, but then I'd kill the story."

(By the way, ever wonder who first spoke those immortal words? Nope, not Jimmy Cagney or James Bond. It is found in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes novel "The Hound of the Baskervilles," published in 1901, to wit:

Sherlock Holmes: I didn't really ask, Dr. Frankland, but what exactly do you do here?

Dr. Frankland: Oh, Mr. Holmes, I'd love to tell you. But then of course, I'd have to kill you.

Sherlock Holmes:  That would be tremendously ambitious of you.)

Here's to tremendously ambitious stories, nurtured in quiet places, growing and developing underground like endive or white asparagus until they reach a maturity fit for the light of day.

And here's to productive months ahead, as the days wane and light receeds early and I pull back into my more introspective writer side.

Sorry, I really can't tell you what I'm working on. But stick with me, and I will...

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