How Sweet the Silence

I read something the other day about how we have a better chance at accomplishing goals when we keep them to ourselves.

That struck home, because the first time I wrote a book I didn’t tell anyone. Not my kids, not my husband—not until I had a completed first draft. Back then my youngest was three years old, so it’s not like anyone was asking, “What do you do all day?”

Since that novel was published, however, I’ve struggled to write the next one. I’ve started several, and if you follow me on social media, you’ve probably heard about them, because like most of us on social media I’ve fallen into the habit of publicly announcing my hopes and dreams almost from the moment they’re envisioned.

This doesn’t work for me.

Sometimes there was good reason my plans fell through. I joined National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November 2013 ready to pen my next novel. I told everyone. And then I got content edits back for The Fourth Wall, and spent the rest of the year knee-deep in edits.

The early months of 2014 were devoted to “preparing for launch”; I’d never been through the publishing process before and had a lot to learn. But by March I thought, Okay. I’ve done all I can do and now I’m just sitting here waiting for a publication date.

So I joined Camp NaNoWriMo on April 1, ready to pen my next novel. I told everyone. And on April 2—yes, really—I received the email with my publication date. Two months away.

Now—one year later—I’m going to tell you what all authors know and most don’t talk about for fear of sounding like ungrateful jerks: once you’re published, everything becomes harder. Your reasons for writing get lost and what you swore you wouldn’t care about—the numbers—becomes all you care about. And then it’s hard to keep going, because the numbers will break you.

I didn’t bother joining NaNoWriMo this last November. Instead, I read throughout the fall and then all winter long, and when people asked me what I was working on I usually told them the truth: nothing much.

But something happened recently, on April 1, to be exact. On that day I made a last-minute decision to join Camp NaNoWriMo, ready to pen my next novel. I told no one. And I ended the month with 30,000 words toward this new book.

So, what’s my book about? I’m not telling. 😉

Not yet.

What I’ve discovered is that keeping quiet about my works-in-progress has enormous benefits for me. For example, if I’d announced on April 1 that I was starting a novel, I may have been completely deflated three days later when I realized I wasn’t writing a novel at all, but a rather long short story. Still, no one knew my original plan; I could change it and write a book of short stories if I wanted. All that mattered was that I was writing again.

So that’s what I did. Last month, I quietly wrote a book of short stories.

I know. It’s impossible to get a short story collection published unless half have already appeared in The New Yorker, or you’re famous, or whatever.

But what if I didn’t know that? Like a scrappy pilot once said while navigating an asteroid field, “Never tell me the odds.”

Or what if all that really mattered was the sense of accomplishment that comes with creating something you can be proud of? That’s where I started, and finally that’s where I’ve returned.

I’m proud of these stories, I can’t wait to tell you about them, and sometime very soon—I promise—I will.

Comments

  1. Oma Naranjo says:

    Way to go Elizabeth. I look forward to your stories. I enjoy your writing. Love you.

  2. This is a great reminder to me. Every time I announce anything that isn’t completely buttoned up, things change. It doesn’t keep me accountable, it makes me feel like a failure when life gets in the way or I change my mind or something I thought I felt passionate about ended up feeling like a slog. This is a lesson I have to keep learning. I need to keep my goals close until I have accomplished them. Even though I love watching other people work toward their goals and there is a part of me that wants to be that person…I’m not. I’m a quiet storm, not a loud one. Thanks for this xoxox.

    • You’re welcome, Shannon! And thanks so much for commenting. 🙂 It’s hard to resist sharing, especially with the fun and supportive communities on social media. But it’s also kind of fun keeping quiet about it and then surprising people with good news. Glad I’m not the only one who works better that way.

  3. Liz Keen says:

    I agree with you. I find that inevitably, my announcement to do ANYTHING pretty much means that I won’t be able to follow through for some reason. There’s something about me and expectations and failure. 😉 I’m also a little superstitious even though I try not to be, and that might be part of it. I actually sometimes don’t like to put on goodreads what I’m reading. Too much pressure! For a while, I would only add books when I finished them.

    This is something I’m working on – trying to be realistic about what I’m going to actually be able to do…

    • Hi Liz,

      It’s easy to feel pressure on Goodreads! I think that’s smart to add books after you’ve finished, especially if you’re reading books by lesser-known authors. I only post ratings/reviews if I can give a book three or more stars, at least where Indie authors are concerned. So I try not to add them unless I’m finished and liked the book. Big-time authors I don’t worry about, since I know they’re not stalking me and my rating won’t hurt their feelings, haha.