Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Don’t Talk About It

By Steven Pressfield | Published: June 12, 2013

Are you writing a novel?

Pregnant

Be careful with your baby

Don’t talk about it.

Are you recording a new album, planning a new product launch, gestating a new philanthropic venture?

Keep your mouth shut.

Talking too soon is bad luck. It’s bad karma. I go even farther. Here’s a short quote from an upcoming book called The Authentic Swing:

I’m superstitious. I have habits.

I always give a false name to the book I’m working on. I never use the real title when creating the working file. Why? Because the devil might see the real title. Then he would have power to jinx it. I called Gates of Fire “Spartans.” I called The War of Art “Resistance.”

Granted, I’m probably a bit over the edge to engage in such elaborate prophylactic machinations. But I believe (though I can’t prove it) that in some occult dimension of reality an as-yet-unbirthed idea is vulnerable to evil juju.

“First rule of Fight Club. You do not talk about Fight Club.”

More than that, I believe that the luck, the chi, the mojo of an as-yet-unborn work can be bled away by its author running his mouth prematurely. Sometimes I’ll meet a writer or director or musician and they’ll start blathering excitedly about a new project they’re working on. I always stop them. For their sake—and for the project’s.

Conserve that energy.

Keep the genie inside the bottle.

I can almost feel the air going out of the balloon as these artists blab about it.

Talking too soon is Resistance.

Premature yakking is a form of self-sabotage.

Another way to look at it is that that work-in-progress is your baby. It’s a fetus, gestating inside you. Don’t expose it to germs or daylight or gamma rays from Jupiter. Protect that fragile life-form.

There’ll be plenty of time to brag about your baby once she’s born. Give her time. Let her make her debut. Wait till she has a name and a Social Security number.

Then, when she’s blinking and bawling, out at last into the wide world … then you can mount to the rooftops.

Till then, shut up.

Don’t talk about it.

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

36 Responses to “Don’t Talk About It”

  1. Takis
    June 12, 2013 at 1:51 am

    Very useful and necessary point that demands all our attention. I used to do it, I used not to talk about my projects, but at some time, I thought that I was superstitious. And all this was bullshit. Because our enemy was only Resistance. But this is another form of Resistance too. Thank you Mr. Pressfield for reminding us what to do, and especially, what not to do.

  2. Basilis
    June 12, 2013 at 4:07 am

    Strangely, it is so true…

    When you talk too soon about what you are up to, even the closest people to you start to feel the resistance stronger and try to make you loose your focus.

    When you (the writer, the musician, e.t.c.) are working for a breakthrough, you try to reach a new level. And if you make it in the future, it will mean that they will have to try to make it also. Their own dreams will immediately demand it, but the resistance will always be there (of course) to make things impossible…

    It’ will be easier for them to destroy the seed you are trying to plan right now, that to be ready to create their own garden of dreams in the future.

  3. June 12, 2013 at 4:45 am

    In my case I have gone the opposite route. For years I have had a book idea. The outline and summary chapters have been sitting in my documents folder with no pressure to complete. A couple of months ago I finally decided to share with friends that I am in the process of writing a book. Since then I have dedicated time to complete the first draft.

    It seems that by verbalizing my intent I was able to flip the switch in my mind to make it a reality. So instead of feeling resistance, I have felt positive pressure. I consider the friends I have shared my project with my accountability partners.

    • June 12, 2013 at 3:57 pm

      That’s very interesting, Jennifer. “Going public” sometimes helps. It enlists shame (or the possibility of shame if we fail to do what we said we’d do) and that can be very positive. I remember reading somewhere about a restaurant that solved it’s problem with “no-shows” by having its hostess ask, when taking a reservation, “Will you arrive at that time?”, then wait for the customer to say out loud, “Yes.”

      The simple act of saying “yes” aloud constituted a commitment that the customer felt obligated to honor. No-shows dropped by 40 percent.

      • Erin
        June 15, 2013 at 11:00 am

        I’m going to be one of those annoying semantics people here. I so rarely do this, and I apologize in advance (in that very Canadian way).
        Shame is about being at the core bad, guilt is about doing something bad. One can recover from guilt, but rarely from shame. In this instance, writing a book she said she would, it is a guilt motivated action as it can elicit something positive; a book. But shame never elicits goodness because the shamed person does not feel worthy enough to even try.
        Guilt is useful, shame is never ever useful.

  4. June 12, 2013 at 4:50 am

    I’m totally living by this rule.
    Plus it is very entertaining to see frustration of people inquiring: “What are you up to these days?” and respond: “You know I do not talk unless things are finished. When ‘it’ will be ready, you will be first to know, till then you must wait.”
    😉
    Happy shipping in silence, ya’ll.

  5. Walt Kania
    June 12, 2013 at 4:56 am

    Good advice.

    Also, the more you talk about great plans, great ideas, the less likely you are to actually do them. The yakking makes the brain feel almost as good as if you’d actually done the work. Ergo, nothing much happens.

    Been there more times than I can count.

    • June 12, 2013 at 7:28 am

      Derek Sivers gave a good(and short) TED talk on this.

  6. John Chidiac
    June 12, 2013 at 5:00 am

    I’ve done this too many times to count. Letting the air out of the balloon seems the most apt metaphor to me. You can call it a superstition if that helps, but to me it’s simple mechanics: if you are prone to share what you’re working on before the work is done — or unless you’re trying to enlist the help of others to get it done — you’re letting all of that good energy go to waste.

  7. Steve E
    June 12, 2013 at 6:39 am

    There actually is a TED video by Derek Sivers with data and research to back this up http://tinyurl.com/2erytrz

  8. June 12, 2013 at 7:21 am

    In my practice of psychotherapy, I often encourage my patients to not talk about our conversations outside of my office (the alchemical retort) – it’s about maintaining the Hermetically sealed vessel. If the vessel leaks the alchemical work is slowed – sometimes to a stop. It’s hard to NOT TALK sometimes, but it’s important. How does one intensify flavor when cooking? COVER the pot. There are other times when talking is useful – when I’m trying to “expand the narrative”. “Solve et coagula”

  9. June 12, 2013 at 7:52 am

    While I try to live by this rule myself I’ve seen the opposite work quite well for some others. I have been seeing people on Facebook with no books in print start author fan pages. They post snippets of what they’re working on and people start to join. I know of one writer who has amassed almost 2000 followers and she’s not even done the book yet. When it does come out she’ll have an audience and will get quite a few sales right off the bat.
    Us indie writers have to function a bit differently to survive. There’s no room for modesty or keeping things to yourself until the time is right. You have to lay it all out and openly encourage people (repeatedly) to check out your work. In the indie world nobody is stumping for you, but you!

  10. June 12, 2013 at 11:38 am

    Really agree. Not ALWAYS wise enough to obey when enthusiasm gets upper hand ( but I am sure energy is finite) and expending it in blather deprives creativity. Perhaps that’s why the marketing blather comes so hard, its a habit long lost for reasons of jinxing.

  11. June 12, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    Amen & amen, Steven!
    I got a sense of this, maybe 2 years ago, when I excitedly told my wife about my 2nd novel. It was amazing to me that immediately after I told her with great specificity about the characters & plot & even certain scenes, I had a sudden feeling of disinterest in the project. And I was obviously passionate about it. Hence the desire to share.
    It was weird, though. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I knew that talking about it had somehow “cursed” it. Like it was done now.
    2 years later, I find it difficult to sit down & finish it, though I know it will make a terrific story.
    Thanks for verbalizing this. When we look at it as nothing more than another form of Resistance, we can prepare for the beat down.

  12. June 12, 2013 at 1:05 pm

    My family has learned that I do not talk about Works-in-Progress. It sometimes frustrates them, but it needs its private, gestation time.

    The concept that too much publicity, or talking about something too soon, attracts “negative energy” – even evil energy – is deeply rooted in Jewish mysticism – the Kabbalah. Modesty is important for its own sake, but also to ward off the “evil eye.”

    On a literary level, think of the eye of Sauron. We don’t want it looking at our Frodo.

  13. June 12, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    Yes, yes, yes.

    I have hundreds of ideas every month. Dozens for new books. I’ve committed to a few (well…two). And of those two, I’ve spoke about one to let people know it’s coming…no title, no real details – just the topic.

    I like to keep this stuff a secret. It’s hard as hell though – I feel like I’m fighting the war alone 99% of the time…but when I actually ship – completely worth it.

    Steve – thanks again for inspiring! I owe a lot (almost all) of my writing to you!

    p.s. can’t wait for the next book!

  14. June 12, 2013 at 6:48 pm

    Steven, I just read The War of Art and loved it! When is the Authentic Swing coming out?

    In Indian philosophy there is the concept of the Sankalpa; a resolve or intention that you embed into your psyche during meditation to empower your most important desires. Share it before the desire manifests and it’s dead in the water. This concept is an integral part of a course I co-wrote on Life Purpose. Traditional Chinese Medicine says those who talk for a living are likely to deplete their lung energy. Think about the lungs and their relationship to inspiration.

    Western culture is a culture of confession. We confess important, personal and meaningful things in very public places. In entertainment, we are told to “talk things up” before they are a reality. The New Age prescribes acting and talking as though things have already happened. There’s much delusion around this.

    Intention is everything. If we release the lid out of Resistance, we’re killing our projects. If we talk because we are sure the listener is going to take our idea to heart and add value, we are nurturing its existence and growth. Like dreams, talking of an idea or incomplete work is usually only potent, vivid and meaningful to the dreamer.

  15. June 13, 2013 at 1:02 am

    Steven, I just read The War of Art and loved it! When is the Authentic Swing coming out?

    In Indian philosophy there is the concept of the Sankalpa; a resolve or intention that you embed into your psyche during meditation to empower your most important desires. Share it before the desire manifests and it’s dead in the water. This concept is an integral part of a course I co-wrote on Life Purpose. Daoist philosophy also warns of jinxing outcomes by speaking too loudly or too much. Traditional Chinese Medicine says those who talk for a living are likely to deplete their lung energy. Think about the lungs – they govern inspiration.

    Western culture is a culture of confession. We confess important, personal and meaningful things in very public places. In entertainment, we are told to “talk things up” before they are a reality. The New Age prescribes acting and talking as though things have already happened. There’s much delusion around this.

    Intention is everything. If we release the lid out of Resistance, we’re killing our projects. If we talk because we are sure the listener is going to take our idea to heart and add value, we are nurturing its existence and growth. Like dreams, talking of an idea or incomplete work is usually only potent, vivid and meaningful to the dreamer.

  16. TV
    June 13, 2013 at 7:00 am

    I learned this lesson on my own after excitedly blabbing about a specific thing I planned to accomplish by a specific time, only to have had that goal interrupted by any number of things. These examples range from, “I’ll have my new car this weekend” to “I’m gonna get a tattoo tomorrow night.” All too often, I found that life happens sometimes, and I felt so foolish when that day came, and my friends or colleagues asked, “I thought you were going to ‘blah blah’ yesterday?”
    I also learned the humility inherent in holding that information until it’s acutally come to pass. Living in Germany, I learned that their culture frowned upon pride and boasting. One day, I noticed my neighbor had a shiny, new Audi. That’s something that Americans would typically talk about prior to buying it. Germans tend to keep it to themselves so as not to come across arrogant, showing off their possessions as if those things define them personally.
    While I value humility, sometimes it’s hard to keep my excitement to myself.

  17. MAN
    June 13, 2013 at 7:25 am

    I agree TV, Ive seen this happen before as well in my life. Just recently I was talking about a get together I was having at my house, just to have to someone change the dates on me. I have learned not to talk about certain events or happenings until they are set in stone. I like your example of humility, sometimes I like to tell my coworkers about my life happenings cause they make me happy and I hope to share that with the people I care about most; which more times that not is the people I spend the most time with – my coworkers.

  18. June 13, 2013 at 9:06 am

    Talk the walk or walk the talk?

    I’ve been on both sides. I’ve experienced what Walt Kania refers to above, my brain substituting talk for doing the walk. Talking is easy, walking is hard, and they give the brain a similar rush while allowing focus to dissipate.

    But I’ve used some talk—to the right people—to reenforce the walk. I think we usually know when we use talk to inflate, and it may be no surprise when the air goes out instead.

  19. June 13, 2013 at 10:55 am

    I agree with this and have – finally! – started living by this advice this year. Only problem is I don’t know what else to talk about, because my work is pretty much what I have going on. I have cut everyone out of my life this year because I don’t want to tell anyone what I’m up to… & I have nothing else to tell them??

    PLUS… If I talk about things that are going well, then I’m boasting. If I talk about problems, then I’m complaining. If I try to give advice, then I’m elevating myself. It’s so much easier not to talk, but then.. that doesn’t seem quite right either.

  20. June 13, 2013 at 3:10 pm

    I couldn’t agree with you more. At one point I was starting work in what was projected to be a three-book series, I had it all outlined, was really enthusiastic, and was sending chapters to a couple of readers as I went…and I only made it to the fourth chapter of the first book before shelving the project. Something about me kept postponing, and postponing…I was having long discussions about points in the last couple of books, to the point that the first was really suffering.

    These days, no-one sees anything I write until I’ve finished the first draft. A lot better for my sanity that way, I find.

  21. June 13, 2013 at 4:10 pm

    I’ve heard it said …

    If you want to give the Gods a good laugh … speak out loud of your plans!!

    Good one Steve

  22. June 13, 2013 at 5:21 pm

    I agree. The more you talk about it, the more the energy for actually DOING the work dissipates. You are right once again, Mister Pressfield, keep the lid on it until it is born!! Plus I find myself tired of having to “explain” the next book to people when that dreaded question comes: “So what is the book about?” I find having to answer this (scores of times) INCREDIBLY draining. So…Monsieur Pressfield and others here….any tips on a POLITE way to respond to people when they ask the “What is the book about” question? You mention using the “never disclose to anyone” reply; however, I find the problem is that most people think you are their VERY BEST FRIEND and that this rule applies to others but not them, and they feel insulted when you don’t tell them. Any tips on how best to remain politely silenced and avoid alienating your word-of-mouth promoters before you begin? Regards Cheryl

  23. Nicky Lambert
    June 15, 2013 at 3:05 am

    The biggest reason why you shouldn’t blabber about your project and why it opens up Resistance to do so is that you’ll let the wrong type of people in on it. If you go tell everyone you meet, you will be letting a lot of people who have no experience with or understanding of what you’re doing have their say and what they’ll have to say will most likely not be supportive. Only let your mastermind group (to borrow a Napolean Hill-ism) know about your latest project while it’s gestating. We’ve learned this the hard way. My husband and I are the only members of our mastermind group at this point, so we simply don’t let our plans go outside the two of us. It keeps out the distractions and negative energy. It’s interesting you bring up the comparison to a baby. I just gave birth to our second child two weeks ago. We chose a very private birth because we wanted only people around that would be respectful of the way we wanted to handle an event that was highly personal physically, emotionally and spiritually. Having the wrong people there for an event like that is draining on many levels, just like getting comments and criticism from those who don’t get why you are pursuing your life’s calling. Most people aren’t pursuing anything significant, and if you do, it is proof that their excuses are all crap. This is why most people won’t want to see you go after your dreams. Keep it only to those very, very few who get it and actually help. Other than those few exceptions, keep your mouth shut!

  24. June 17, 2013 at 11:19 am

    How apt!! I belong to a business mastermind group, and I find that even in such a group it is best to not share some aspects of stuff I am working on. In fact I fond that maybe I need to withdraw from the mastermind group, as I constantly get challenged on what I am working on. That it would be unworkable etc . . . Instead of a mastermind group it had turned into a witch hunt!!!

  25. June 17, 2013 at 5:12 pm

    This is true for me too. Talking about work-in-progress dissipates the mental tension necessary to wrestle ideas to the page.

    I found a quote years ago attributed to Robert Frost that makes the same point; “Talking is a hydrant in the yard and writing is a faucet upstairs in the house. Opening the first takes all the pressure off the second.”

  26. June 19, 2013 at 9:20 am

    Don’t be satisfied with yourself until it is down in writing . . .

  27. Juan
    June 19, 2013 at 10:43 am

    Sorry I’m late for this, but I really wanted anyone to share some advice to what if I have talked about my goals for too long? I mean could I’ve totally spoiled all of it? Now I understand the Resistance involved in the whole thing but, can the energy be back or what?

    Thanks,

    Steve you’re been guided so you can guide many more. Thank you for passing the torch.

  28. June 21, 2013 at 9:28 am

    Absolutely agree. There’s a lot of insight about this in “The Artist’s Way,” by Julia Cameron. She says the first rule of magic is containment. In my experience, there is a direct relationship between how many people you tell about your dream and how quickly that dream becomes a reality. And if you force your ideas to hatch before they’re ready, they’ll arrive to the world stillborn and lifeless. My suggestion: Don’t blow the lid off your idea by telling too many of the wrong people about them. Not everyone deserves a backstage pass to your dream. Just tell the few people who matter most and then get back to work. Protect your dream. Otherwise the vultures will destroy your seed before you have a chance to harvest it.

  29. June 30, 2013 at 2:11 pm

    Stretch,

    Another good one. In College football we called these talkers “Scrimmage All Americans”–those that were great on the practice field, but couldn’t produce on Saturdays.

    Go Bears,
    Jeffrey

  30. July 1, 2013 at 11:28 am

    Thanks Steven for the article. Mouth is shut. A thought you inspired, I find it very interesting in the Hebraic story of the Jesus and John the Baptist that both women had a time of seclusion, away from the doubts and resistance of that prevailed in their culture.

  31. July 12, 2013 at 10:07 am

    This is just what I needed to hear! I almost blabbed, but so glad I didn’t.

  32. October 9, 2013 at 1:03 pm

    This design is steller! You definitely know how to keep a
    reader entertained. Between your wit and your
    videos, I was almost moved to start my own blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Fantastic job.
    I really enjoyed what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it.
    Too cool!

  33. rimka boss
    November 6, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    Hey, thank you for that, I always had that intuition and bad experiences… the balloon metaphor is exactly it…. thanks !