When I began writing Always Gardenia, I gave myself an absolute right to silence.
If asked what I was working on, I’d answer, “A novel, set in contemporary Seattle.” If pressed for more details, I’d demur, because I have learned that if I rattle on about the plot points I have in mind, or specifics about the characters or settings, two things happen.
First, I start to lose the urge to write because I have already communicated the story line and other details through talking.
Second, I may be asked questions that I can’t yet answer or have to defend ideas that are still in the early stages of development. I end up feeling confused, maybe even tempted to jettison the project.
My right to silence meant, of course, that I did not join a writing workshop or critique group.
Writers who want to start a novel are often advised to find one of these groups. The thought is that we need other writers to give us support and encouragement, and if we share our early chapters, we will learn what we are doing well and what needs work, thus saving us time and making us better writers.
But I knew that in creating Always Gardenia, I needed solitary privacy while I drafted the manuscript and revised it (and revised it). I didn’t know where the story was going and was only just getting to know my characters when I’d finished the first rough chapters, so what useful advice could anyone else offer me?
I needed the solitude, no one scribbling comments on an unfinished draft, to give me the courage to write exactly what I wanted to write in exactly the way I wanted to write it. For inspiration I read passages of Barbara Pym novels, Jane Austen novels, other excellent novels. For encouragement I printed out every drafted page and admired the growing stack of paper. I actively visualized holding the finished book and glimpsing someone I don’t know reading it.
Once I had a complete manuscript and had revised it three times, I hired a professional editor to read it and give me suggestions. It is a truth universally acknowledged that it is the rare friend or family member who can offer honest and useful notes on a manuscript. No one wants to risk a friendship with criticism that a vulnerable writer may not want to hear. And a smart, skilled editor is a special creature not necessarily found among one’s list of friends and relatives.
Only when the manuscript was almost ready for publication did I share it with my sisters and a few friends, to thank them for their patience during the many months (years!) that I’d been working on Always Gardenia. They had been curious but had not pestered me for details.
My current project is a novel for children, set in 1985 in the Northwest, the story told from the POV of an 11-year-old boy.
For the rest, I claim my right to silence!