Wednesday, November 13, 2013


post by Lynn

Pick a little, talk a little, pick a little, talk a little,
Cheep cheep cheep, talk a lot, pick a little more

Pick a little, talk a little, pick a little, talk a little,
cheep cheep cheep, talk a lot, pick a little more
- music and lyrics by Meredith Willson

Do you recognize that? It’s from The Music Man, one of my mother’s favorite musicals. As a little girl, I was fascinated with how that song managed to sound like a group of women at my church, and a flock of chickens, all at the same time.

Fun stuff, but I’ve been curious for a long time about the role of talk in the creative writing process.

I was in a writing group with a guy who wrote great, amazing stuff in response to writing prompts. He’d share what he had written down on the page, and when he ran out of the written words, he’d tell us the rest of the story. And then, he’d never finish the story in writing. Such a shame.

So, should a writer talk or be mute?

Marshall J. Cook, in Freeing Your Creativity: A Writer’s Guide, says it’s a matter of order.
“In the idea-gathering stage, you should let everybody know what you’re working on. They’ll contribute materials for the mental composting that helps you develop possibilities… as the idea gets ready to take specific shape and form, you must protect it from the corrosive effect your words could have on it. Your imp wants to tell the story… and does so strictly for the joy of the telling. If you let it blab the story now, the imp may lose all interest in telling it again, on paper, later. … Your first telling will likely be your best telling in terms of the richness of your invention. Save that first telling for putting words on paper.”

Robert Frost put it this way, “Talking is a hydrant in the yard and writing is a faucet upstairs in the house. Opening the first takes the pressure off the second.”

On the other hand, I know from my previous career in training that some people are external processors – they need to talk a thing through in order to know it well.

It might be the usual thing: know thyself. Experiment and see. If you talk up a writing project in the early stages, and then find it has lost its oomph when you go to write it down, you might want to bite your lip next time.

As for me, I like to talk about the art and craft of writing in general terms, but don’t like to discuss specifics about my characters or plot lines until it's already written into a first draft.

I’m curious. What do you think – talk and write, or just write, or it depends?


Anonymous said...

I write before I talk. If I talk about it, it won't get written. I've read that if you talk about an action you're intending to take, it activates the same brain reward centers as actually doing the action. So once you've talked it out, there's not much additional reward in actually doing it.

Anonymous said...

I often find myself saying what I write before I write it. Even in my third Thursday poetry group when we write together for about fifteen minutes, I frequently whisper what I'm writing. Others titter, as they wonder what's coming out.

Lynn said...

Abbie: I've often heard that reading your writing out loud is crucial. I do it, but usually only in revision.

I'm thinking you probably have a very finely-tuned ear. Which is an asset, since we all create sounds in our heads as we're reading.

Thanks for posting.

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