Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Don't talk about it, just do it

Bennett Cerf once said that none of his authors was as good at stirring up publicity as Truman was; the publisher adored the way Truman started talking up a book long before it was finished. He had none of the usual guarded secrecy concerning his work in progress that most authors possessed. Talking about something made it real in his mind, even if he didn't have a word on the page, and so he chattered away happily, dropping hints and tidbits.
Melanie Benjamin, The Swans of Fifth Avenue

Truman Capote
The above passage from The Swans of Fifth Avenue, reviewed here a couple of days ago, was still on my mind when I read an item in the December issue of mental_floss magazine about New Year's resolutions. It gives three hints for keeping resolutions, the first of which is, don't tell others about them. "Talking about the person you want to be gives you a premature sense of accomplishment, which hampers your desire to keep working hard," the article says. If you resolve to lose 20 pounds in 2016 and tell your friends about it, they will congratulate you and say, "Way to go." You've already won the praise, so why work so hard to actually lose those 20 pounds?

My wife nearly fell into that trap when, last spring, she noticed some photo albums in the clubhouse of the condo complex where we live in Florida were falling apart. She decided she would place the old photos into new albums when she returned in the fall, and then made the mistake of telling people about it. She was, of course, roundly praised. Over the summer her resolve faded. Nobody looks at these albums from the 1980s and 1990s anyway. Most of those people are now dead. Why bother? I give her credit for showing the grit to follow through on her commitment and tackling those photo albums this fall.

As for Truman Capote, in the last years of his life he loved going on TV talk shows and speaking to journalists about the great novel, Answered Prayers, he was working on. Yet he never completed the book. Some chapters were published in magazines as short stories, but that was as far as he ever got. Talking about the book was so much easier than actually writing it, and in his mind apparently, it produced the same rewards. He did his book tour without having to write the book.

Carla Buckley
Despite what the late Bennett Cerf and other publishers may think, most writers are wise to say little about their next books until they are finished or nearly finished. I recall speaking with Carla Buckley following the publication of her first novel The Things That Keep Us Here, which I had read and enjoyed. I asked her, what next? She would only say it would be another science/medical thriller about a potentially dangerous environmental threat. Was that saying too much? I don't think so. It made me eager for her next novel, which turned out to be Invisible, without giving too much away. It must have pleased her publisher without actually revealing so much of the story that she was no longer as committed to actually writing it.

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