The hit musical Hamilton has many memorable moments. One of my favorites is the moment when the title character first meets his colleague (and later, nemesis), Aaron Burr, who says, “Let me offer you some free advice.”
“Talk less,” Burr says. “Smile more.”
It’s a great character moment for the two characters. It reflects Burr’s slippery politician ways and foreshadows one of Hamilton’s fatal flaws (among many), especially as Burr adds, “Fools who run their mouths off wind up dead.”
Writers, beware. Not so much of death by dueling politicians, though that’s always something to look out for. But I think Burr’s advice can be revised slightly for working writers today:
Talk less. Write more.
I’ve mentioned it before on this blog, but it bears repeating. Sometimes a writer needs to learn to “talk less” and “write more.”
For example, people may occasionally ask, “You’re a writer? What are you writing?” Amazingly, many folks are intensely interested in the writing life because, well, it’s so glamorous and profitable. Right? And you may be tempted to launch into a summation of your work-in-progress, at least until your listener’s eyes glaze over.
Or you may be part of a writers group or critique circle where you’re encouraged to discuss your works-in-progress. Or you may attend a book club or writers conference where you feel freed and affirmed to talk about your writing with others who understand you.
Cool. But beware.
Early in my life as a professional writer, I enjoyed speaking honestly, straightforwardly, even expansively, about my current writing project. I wouldn’t just offer a quick “elevator speech,” so to speak, but would speak in detail about the trails I was following and techniques I was trying. It was fun and easy.
But upon arriving back at my writing desk, I would often spin my wheels. An idea that had previously seemed inspired had somehow soured. A scene or chapter I had been excited to write suddenly bored me. It took much time and effort to ramp up my enthusiasm and creativity. It was frustrating, nearly debilitating, to discover that I had lost enthusiasm and focus for my project. It was as if I had betrayed my muse. Or as if I had a limited supply of inspiration that didn’t want to be written once I had already talked it out.
That may have never happened to you. You may be much more of an “external processor” than I am, and talking through your work-in-progress may not spend or steal your brilliance; or you may just have far more resources as a writer than I do. But I learned the hard way that, speaking only for myself, as Aaron Burr (or Lin Manuel-Miranda) might put it, “Fools who run their mouths off wind up defeated.” I had to protect my enthusiasm and creativity like a Continental soldier keeping his powder dry. I had to learn to “talk less” and “write more.”