Dani Shapiro
July 6, 2010

On Talking

I know this, I’ve known this forever, but still I fall prey to it: sometimes I talk too much about a piece of writing– an idea for a novel, a story, an essay–before  I sit down and actually try to write it.  Lately I’ve been all hopped up, back from book tour, over-stimulated, and I’ve grown accustomed to having lots and lots of conversation.  I have some time now to settle in quietly and think and write — but what have I been doing instead?  Talking, talking, talking.  I’ve talked to a few friends, I’ve talked to my husband, I’ve even answered the dreaded question at cocktail parties and barbecues: what are you working on? And each time I talk about it, I feel the very essence of the idea–the moment, the shimmer, the image, the piece of language–slip away a little more.  I start to lose my footing before I’ve even found it.  The idea begins to go flat.  What was I thinking, anyway?  Why did I think it was worth exploring?  Where before there was the beginning of a landscape in my mind, suddenly there is only dust.  All because I opened my mouth and let it loose, instead of harnessing it on the page.

For years I have kept a quote from Nietzsche on the bulletin board above my desk: “That for which we find words is already dead in our hearts,” he wrote.  “There is always a kind of contempt in the act of speaking.” When I talk about what I’m thinking, instead of simply thinking it–when I talk about it instead of grabbing a notebook and starting to lay down words, what I’m really doing is succumbing to my own anxiety.

Is it going to be any good? Does the story have legs?  Can I create momentum?  Is it something anyone other than me will care about?  Here’s the thing: I cannot possibly know this. Until I write it, I will not know.  I can talk about it until I’m blue in the face, but all that will happen is that it will wither and die before I’ve had a chance to find out.