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The power of silence: another literary dilemma solved

Ask Shelley

… And yet another literary problem lands on my overflowing desk. This time it’s from a writer with a bent for irony and an uncontainable desire to prematurely spill out her story. Poor Idina Closet (I assume Idina rhymes with Irina?) – if only there were a drug on the market with the verbal impact of Imodium, I’d send you straight to your local pharmacy for a knock-out dose.

Dear Shelley (she writes),

I have a secret. I am writing a novel and have told absolutely no-one. Not even my nearest and/or dearest. Even to myself I refer to it as the ‘N-word’. But now that I’m more than halfway through, I am itching to confess. How do I come out to my friends and family without changing the way they see me? – Idina Closet.

 Idina, dearest, I’d stay shtum. For now anyway. I believe you are drawing great strength and energy from your silence, a kind of pent-up power that may well have been the driving force for the first half of your novel (well done!), but can easily dissipate if you let it all hang out now. There’s a danger that, like a half-blown balloon that is released into the air … splat. Nothing left.

My advice is to continue keeping it close to your chest until it is done – even better, until it is sold. Best of all, till you’re short-listed for the Booker and, my goodness, they’ll be stunned and awestruck. That will change the way they see you in the most delightful way.

But ok, ok – dream on, you say. And I say, you dream on. Unarticulated aspirations such as these, unrealistic maybe but oh-so-pleasurable, fire the motor that gets the book written. Willingly putting yourself in the path of an oncoming rush of family derision or disbelief (or even inflated expectations and lavish over-praise) can be literary suicide. If your urge to confess becomes too hard to contain, a masterclass or facilitated writers’ group might be the answer. Other like-minded wannabes bound by the same silence may sustain your strength – and your dastardly secret.