What are you working on now?

“What are you working on now?” Lovely readers, kind interviewers, beloved family and friends, please, please, please, let us call a moratorium on this question. Because the answer is one or more of the following:

  1. Promoting this book I just published.

  2. Nothing because I’m paralyzed by publication anxiety and/ or writers’ block and/or creative fatigue

  3. I’m working on a new book and I don’t want to talk about it.

I was in the audience at an event last year where the question was posed to Claire Cameron. She said that she had in fact been talking so much about her book-in-progress that her publicist pulled her aside and asked her to stop.

It can feel like a jinx to talk about the project you are working on. For one thing, you never know if the story you’re writing on will make it off the hard drive (the novel I was working on for a year and a half got abandoned last Fall). For another, we often don’t know what the final thing will be, what form it will take. This is the nature of creative work. In a project’s early stages we are just sniffing around, doing a bit of background reading, following our noses and delving into some subject or fleshing out a character, without any idea where the work will lead. Characters and storylines and themes get abandoned. Stories change and evolve from one draft to the next. You set out to write a coming-of-age tale set in 15th century China but what gets published is a dystopian space travel fantasy.

And finally, most of us are private and protective of our work. When a novel is in progress, it is so fragile and unformed, it feels like I need to hide it from direct sunlight and prying eyes, nurture it alone in a dim room and give it time to fully form before casting it out into the world. As much as I want people to read my stories and buy my books (and help me pay the bills, please and thank you), it is a gut wrench sending anything into the world, to be judged and discussed. When The Boat People hit the shelves, I bid it adieu. God speed, first novel. That book, those characters, they don’t belong to me anymore. I can’t control how they are experienced or read or understood, whether the story is loved or hated. The book and its characters belong to readers now.

But the new thing I’m working on, it is all mine. For this interval of creation, anyway. So forgive me if I’m not ready to share. With any luck, it will be published one day. And then it’ll be yours.