I went for a walk with a friend yesterday and he asked me how my writing was going. It took me a nanosecond to update him: I am half way through writing a children’s novel, I have written three picture books (unpublished), I am waiting to hear back about my fourth (my best, I reckon), and I have recently started writing my fifth.
Then came the question: What’s it about?
I always struggle to answer this. I love the fact that people are interested enough to ask (well, some people) but I can never give a decent answer. And it’s not because I’m worried you’re going to steal my idea.
Nope, my inability to talk about what I’m writing boils down to three things:
1) You might steal my idea (but probably not). I might worry that you’re going to steal my idea, but only if you are a fellow children’s writer, I don’t know you personally, and I think you might be a dodgy person. In other words, I’m not usually unduly worried about this. What I am worried about is putting my ideas out into the atmosphere where some evil idea-thieving spirit can whip them away and give them to someone else. So I keep my mouth shut. (Take that, evil spirit!)
2) I don’t know what the book is about. Some writers plan things in great detail. I’m not one of them. I work using my patented seat-of-the-pants technique. I write whatever comes to mind and repeat until eventually a miracle occurs and all the little snippets come together. (Phew.) So when someone asks me what my book is about, I may say “Well, it’s about this girl… and she has a pet alligator called Humphrey… and they visit her granny… but then again, it may be her aunt… and I think there’s a cheeky monkey involved, but I’m not sure, I mean, it could be a caterpillar…” and by this time, my friend’s eyes have glazed over. It’s far easier to say nothing, or simply “It’s about a girl and her pet alligator” and leave it at that.
3) You’re in danger of extracting my mojo. If I tell you my story, it takes away some of my mojo. Some rare exotic juice is extracted from my head. This isn’t painful but it’s a highly risky procedure. One slip… the wrong word… and my mojo battery could be in danger of running out of juice altogether. Plus, if I talk about writing, I can kid myself that I’m doing it. But I’m not. Talking about writing and physically writing are two very different things (though my brain will do its level best to tell me they’re the same). As my wise friend J said to me recently, “Less talking, more writing, Bassford!”
So, in summary, if anyone asks me what my book is about and I start stammering and looking shifty, please excuse me – I am worried that an evil spirit might nick my ideas, I don’t really know what the book is about, and/or I don’t want you to extract my mojo (even though I know that’s not your intention).