On Life,  On Writing and Art

To Tell or Not to Tell: Speaking about Work in Progress

A Promise

Some authors refuse to speak about their work in progress, often shortened to WIP. They don’t want to contaminate their fragile ideas with other people’s opinions. Or they fear colleagues might steal their plans before they can finish the book. Or they don’t want to jinx the project, as though talking about a manuscript diminishes the chances of its completion or success.

Other authors gust about their WIP. They want to whip up enthusiasm ahead of time or feed off the responses. You can learn a lot from how people react to a pitch and adjust ideas as you write. 

I’m somewhere in the middle. I’m hesitant to speak about my work in progress for all the reasons mentioned above. At the same time, I would love to share what occupies my mind, my days, my life. Talking about a WIP is like making a promise to myself and to my potential readers.

Debut Novel

Before I wrote my first novel, I kept quiet about wanting to be an author. I lacked the confidence that I could pull it off. If I told people about my goal and never wrote a book, I would make a fool of myself. So my ambition remained a secret. 

But after I graduated from college, I had to make a choice. What was I going to do with my life? Continue my studies and pursue a PhD, apply for a fulltime job, or write a debut novel? Because my desire was clear, I forced myself to tell friends, professors, and family members that I would give creative writing a try.

Years of hard work passed. 

On the day my first novel was released, my publisher organized a book party in my favorite store in Amsterdam. Many of the people I had told about my work in progress attended the evening. One friend said to me what others might have thought: “You did it! So many people say they want to write a book, but you actually did it! I’m so proud of you.”

I admitted to her that having told her about my plans had helped me to stay motivated. I had wanted to write the novel because of some deep inner drive. But I had also wanted to finish the book to prove that my ambition had been more than a vague, romantic dream. 

Current Works in Progress

My friend is no longer alive, yet I often think of her when I consider how serious I am about an idea. I imagine her asking: Are you actually going to write this thing or what? Because I wouldn’t want to disappoint her, I only speak about a WIP when I truly believe that I will—or at least try to—complete the book. 

Here are some of the manuscripts I’m working on, in order of completion: 

  • A historical novel for younger readers, co-written with my husband, about grief and artistic ambitions
  • A speculative near-future novel set in Iceland
  • A historical novel featuring ghosts and Indonesian shadow puppets
  • A memoir about my pandemic time in Vietnam and the guardianship case of my father-in-law in Florida
  • A memoir about my mother, her life, our relationship, her Alzheimer’s, our goodbye, her death
  • And in its very early stages: a novel (for younger readers?) about a peculiar visitor in an isolated village who turns the world upside down