Writing & The Art of Secrecy

Notebook and pencil

When I started my writing journey, I became an undercover agent. I didn’t give myself a code name, but I treated my manuscript like a Top Secret classified document. I didn’t let anyone read it. No one. Not a person, a dog, or a canary saw my work for three years, two months, and eighteen days.

There was a good reason for this in the initial stages. I had soul searching to do and I didn’t want positive or negative feedback to influence me. Secrecy gave me the freedom I needed to develop a skin. It heightened the mystery and made the process more fun. I felt as though I were embarking on an epic adventure.

The heart of my quest was to find out what lay at the core of my desire to write. Was it vague inclination? Was it passion? Could writing drive me? Could I love it? Did I want to pursue it as my career path?

I answered those fundamental questions by typing one word after another. The words led me into a world of potential, wonder, and raw creation. I fell in love. Writing became my passion.

The timing gets fuzzy, but I was well on my way to those answers by the end of the first year. And herein lies my mistake: I continued to write, edit, and rewrite in a vacuum. I maintained the covert agent, classified document approach. I failed to recognize that the goal of secrecy had been accomplished. I was now secure in the knowledge that I wanted to write novels, and that I would endure any suffering necessary to improve my writing and succeed. In short, I had a skin.

My manuscript, however, was an assortment of exposed bone, tendons, and bleeding capillaries. I got confused about why I wasn’t sharing my work with anyone else. I thought that I needed to protect it from outside influence until it had a skin. So I kept writing without outside critique and without delving into any books or resources on craft.

I did eventually put my manuscript through two rounds of beta readers. I began reading up on my craft. Recently, I hired a developmental editor. I wish I’d started sooner. It is less painful to rewire a skeleton before it has muscle and nerves packed on.

Don’t misunderstand: secrecy has a place. Showing your work too soon can be fatal. Talking about an idea before writing it can rob it of its power. There is a time for mystery and code names. When your manuscript is nothing but a bright orb of pure vision, don’t share it. Wait until is has bones to give it form and substance and a sketch of what it could be—perhaps in a different order, perhaps in its current shape.

Pay attention to the process. Put out feelers. We aren’t meant to edit in a vacuum. Sharing your work is scary, but you are capable of bravery. We need each other: fellow writers, fellow readers, fellow lovers of words. It isn’t about creative control, it’s about serving the work and writing the best possible story. That isn’t something we can do alone.

As I write this, I face yet another revision. I’ve read and reread a compilation of my manuscript’s failings. I see how far I have to go. It is painful. I’ve shed tears, not so much because of the task ahead, but because of the time I’ve lost.

I accept my mistakes. I take a deep breath, lift my chin, and move ahead. I will write novels. I will endure any suffering necessary to improve my writing and succeed. Worlds await discovery.

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