When people ask about my writing I tend to mumble a bit, drop my eyes, and say something banal. Writing grows best in silence, as the artist does.
"A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other."
The art of making great conversation is rarely mastered—I, frankly, am lousy at it unless it's by way of email, where I can write—but most people I know manage it reasonably well. People with at least a decent grasp of it will ask about things they know to be part of my life, which means that I do get questioned regularly about my writing.
Responding, as Masha points out, can be difficult. Most of the time I make some generalized comments about what I'm currently working on, follow it with some restatement of the fact that it can take as long to write a book and get published as it does to grow from infancy to adulthood, and change the subject. It doesn't bother me that people ask; I appreciate it, and the consideration for me that it signifies, but my replies have to be controlled. The specifics are uninteresting at best.
"[T]alking about art often kills it, which is why I am rarely open about particular projects until they're nearing the close, because I hate talking specifics when in comes to writing, and unless I'm directly involved in the editing process, I don't really like hearing specifics - it's like hearing the details of a birth over the phone, or reading them on Facebook. I like speaking of generalities, not specifics."Learning to write fiction well requires learning to think artistically about conversation, which certainly means some difficulties in ordinary life. Masha refers to the awkward experience of receiving details on the pre-birthing state of some Facebook friend's cervix, when you probably haven't seen her face in six years. Worse yet is listening to someone talk, with gleeful vulgarity, about his (or her, but usually his) physical attraction to whomever it is that he sleeps with. That's excruciating. Then there's politics, about which nearly everyone thinks they're better informed than they actually are, and a few words usually make the bias—and the ignorance of the opposite bias—horribly obvious.
An Austenian comedy of manners could be really appropriate right about now.
"Oh!" cried Elizabeth, "I don't wish to get on Facebook to-day."Not that all of our problems are due to Facebook, of course; it's just easy to mock. Though I shouldn't, as many times as I check it in a day. Anyhow, lament it as we may, the vulgar—etymologically bound to the common—is inescapably part of life.
"Why not?" said Bingley. "Do you not keep up with your friends?"
"My friends, yes. The people with whom I am intimate, and am comfortable being so. But Mrs. Phillips had a visit from the apothecary, owing to a recent ailment, and like as not will be offering a tour beneath her gown. Wickham will certainly have put forward either an insufferable meme or a picture of some young lady in an unladylike attitude, and Mr. Collins will post twenty links in the space of four minutes, all of them proving him to be as priggish nowadays as ever he was. I had much rather respect my acquaintances from the distance at which circumstance has placed us than despise them familiarly."
"But all of those acquaintances are your relations."
"Worse and worse! Mere acquaintances may be fairly laught at. One cannot laugh at the follies of one's own, and should therefore know as little of them as possible."
"Did you not unsubscribe from Wickham, at least?" said Bingley. "I thought you had."
"Yes, several times; but Facebook has re-fashioned itself again, and now I am forced to see everything he writes."
"Odd! Jane has not complained of it."
"Of course not. She is the sweetest creature in the world. I make no such pretensions."
But the artist has a responsibility above the common to avoid blathering about his own work (says the blogging novelist...) The mere fact that his word will nearly always be taken as relevant, if not gospel, by those receiving the art should be enough to make him watch his tongue. Details can be dangerous, as any Harry Potter fan who lived through the week in which J.K. Rowling revealed both her intentional use of Christian imagery and Dumbledore's same-sex attraction knows. Details can also be inordinately boring. Mostly, what they do is detract from the innate wonder and mystery of the work of art itself.
But now I've made myself something of a hypocrite. I have a blog in which I talk quite a lot about the artistic process. Talking about art, especially with other artists (as Masha pointed out two weeks ago) is part of learning and practicing the craft. At least, it's part of the fun. I admit that I've had to learn caution, though. There's always danger, and Masha is right to warn us to be careful of specifics. I couldn't agree more.