Monday, 3 October 2016

The Balloon Analogy: When to share new work?

by Michelle Robinson


I was struggling with a new story recently. In a moment (or two... or maybe five) of pathetic insecurity, I said as much to my agent. I suppose I just needed him to say, “Keep writing. You can do this.” What he actually said was, “Send it my way, perhaps I can help.”

NOOOOOOO.

It was too early to share. The draft was too draughty. Showing it to my agent might have put the kibosh on it. Not that his advice wouldn't be good. It always is, even when it's not necessarily what I want to hear. But experience tells me it would have been counterproductive to share my work at such a fledgling stage. Here's why.


I was having enough trouble with the voices in my own head. My own internal critic was already throwing enough opinions around. My characters were also muscling in on the act. I didn't need to add another critical voice into the mix, no matter how astute. 

I needed to work through some issues with plot. The problems were all of my own making. The solutions also needed to come from me - otherwise what would that do to my confidence? Letting someone else solve my problems denies me the satisfaction of solving them through elbow grease and perseverance. 

I would have totally wasted his time. That early draft has since been binned, as have several subsequent ones. In fact the idea has entirely metamorphosed and what I'm now working on bears no resemblance to the draft my agent would have seen. 

The long, arduous, frustrating writing process is just that: process. My agent doesn't need to suffer with me. Besides, even when I present him with a highly polished text there will still be plenty of suffering ahead (sorry, James.) Several drafts later, I’m starting to think my new story is almost ready to share. I just need to tie a knot in it first, a la the tried and trusted...

...Robinson Balloon Analogy


Share a story or an idea too early, and it’s like making a hole in the balloon before you’ve even started blowing it up. Doubts are voiced. Different ideas are put forward. Your original thought peters out - poof - like so much hot air. 

Blow some air into the balloon first - and tie a knot. If you don’t, your story can go whizzing off out of your control. Sure, it’ll make a triumphant fart sound along the way, but ultimately it’ll fall flat. Firm it up as well as you can before sharing.

So: blow it up and tie the knot. If you want to be extra sure, cover it in papier mâché and wait for the glue to set. Now you’re ready to share. Your agent or your editor will help you decorate it just right - but it will be much less likely to go POP!

That's what I think, anyway. How about you? Does impatience make you want to shout your ideas from the rooftops, or do you prefer to keep your ideas a closely guarded secret? Perhaps sharing an early idea has led to collaborative triumph? Share, if you dare, in the comments below. Thanks for reading!


Michelle Robinson’s latest picture book, Goodnight Spaceman, is now available with a CD of Tim Peake reading it in space. Yeah baby. Michelle has a silly amount of books out in 2017 and is sure to blow up lots of balloons by way of celebration.

Find out more about Michelle and her books at http://michellerobinson.co.uk/

12 comments:

  1. I'm with you on this, Michelle. I don't like to share stories until I have a completed first draft, even if I recognise they need more work, so that I can feel that I've mapped out the territory myself. Although, as you say, subsequent drafts often end up going in a completely different direction.

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    1. I think sometimes insecurity and uncertainty makes the idea of begging for help very appealing. Experience tells me to keep on keeping on!

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  2. Great article, Michelle and I completely agree. I'm very much a 'keep-it-in-the-vault' kind of girl! I am working on a change of direction project at the moment and most people don't even know the new genre yet, let alone the specifics...

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  3. I go both ways. If I have an idea that I feel confident with, I keep pretty hush-hush until it's ready for my critique group. But other times, I will get just a glimpse of an idea, and then I love a good brainstorming session before I put down word one.

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    1. I do too, but I've learned when it's better to keep schtum. I actually told an editor about an exciting new idea recently. I went home and wrote it and they ended up buying it. That was nice. But rare! I can think of many more occasions where I've blabbed about something before testing it out and shoring it up.

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  4. Oh yes! Many's the time I have got too excited and basically blathered rubbish at publishers. I know this because I recently sorted out my office and found copies of letters that I've sent in the past outlining fabulous new projects - Well they sounded fabulous to me but quite insane to anyone else because they weren't thought through. Patience is a virtue I have to work at.

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    1. Ha! I have notebooks full of bizarre one sentence ideas that clearly made sense to me at the time. I love that 'keep a notebook by your bed in case an idea comes to you in your sleep' thing. The vast majority of the ideas that come to me in my sleep make absolutely no sense in the cold light of day.

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  5. I loved reading this blog post.Thanks Michelle. Unfortunately I think I get a bit too over excited about new ideas and tend to share straight away...often far too early... and then I end up re-reading the draft and spotting so many things that I should have changed it things I could do better and it's already gone! I'm really trying to work on letting my stories simmer for a while! It's so hard though!

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    1. It is tough! By nature I'm horribly impatient. One of the reasons I have so many books on the go is so that I've always got something to work on, look at, feel excited about. I find the slow nature of picture book creation excruciating!

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  6. Nowadays I keep quiet so I don't drain the mental energy AND it also means that in the future I don't have to answer the frustrating question: "So what happened to your story about...?" Plus it feels more like my baby if I keep it close to my heart!

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  7. I'm pretty much with Jonathan in terms of getting the first draft done first. Usually it's a lot of drafts before I share it and then a lot more after I've shared it. The one I've shared too early recently is still something I love but it hasn't helped telling people about it, and I suspect that it's taking longer to write because I have told people about it. I'm feeling happier about sharing an earlier draft (than I'd have historically shared) that I know isn't as good as I want it to be but I think the plot/feeling is pretty much there.

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