Monday, July 2, 2012

Craft Talk: Closing the Door

In Stephen King's fantastic craft book/autobiography On Writing (quite possibly my favorite craft book of all time), the author talks a lot about his writing method. Of course, with anyone who can churn out quality bestsellers like he does, it's fascinating.

But there's one particular phenomenon he talks about that particularly resonated with me. He calls it "closing the door." The basic tenet of it is this: when you're banging out the first draft of a novel, you need to shut the door to other readers. Don't talk about it; don't ask for critiques. Let all your worries, hopes and ambitions for the story find it's way out on the paper.

His theory is that if you open the door and let others in at that very fragile early state, you'll dilute the excitement and drive that you need to finish that draft. And you also won't know your story well enough to be able to put other people's comments into perspective. You're too easily influenced and, ultimately, that probably wouldn't be best for the work.

Now, of course, every writer has their own methods and habits and this one of "closing the door" may not work for everyone. But the reason it really resonated with me is that in my much, much more humble, limited experience, I've also found it to be true.

Writing first drafts are already rather tough for me. There is much I don't enjoy about it. But what gets me through it -- and therefore able to produce a possibly viable manuscript at all -- is the excitement I personally feel over whatever story I'm trying to tell. And if I share that with too many other people, that can leak out. Believe me, my metaphorical balloon needs all the air it can get!

I'm also in some uncharted territories here in another respect. Before I had a book deal, I didn't share my writing with very many people, and I didn't talk much about what I was working on either. Getting published was a huge dream, but it was also just that: a dream. I didn't spend a lot of my time thinking about how scary it can be to have your work out there. (I had other things to do with my time: like writing!)

But I've worked on a few WIPs since the book deal, and, in the back of my head, there is now that slightly bigger possibility that these will also get published, and read, and thought about. Mostly, that's wonderful. But it also leaves me with the reality that there is only a very limited time that the story I'm working on gets to be all mine. At some point, agents and editors get involved; a marketing department gets involved; and, most importantly, readers get involved. Any writer will tell you that once you give your work to a reader, well, it gets to be theirs too. That's the beautiful thing about it, after all.

So I'm learning to cherish closing the door and spending precious alone time with my works-in-progress. Sometimes, that's more difficult than it sounds because I have moments when that initial excitement gets the better of me and I want to shout about my story from the rooftops, share pages with people, and just generally get uber-chatty about it. These are urges I must resist. For one thing, there's no way those first draft pages are anywhere near as good as I think they are in my brief moments of euphoria/insanity (and therefore they should only be shared with a limited number of very trusted people).

Most importantly, I truly believe in King's advice: I need to save that excitement/desire for the page. I need to not only figure out where my story wants to go, but how it's going to learn to walk (or run or fly or travel by fairy ship) at all in order to get there. And, from what I know, that comes from one-on-one time and nothing else.

With that said, I have something I'm working on right now that I'm currently very excited about...hopefully, one day you can come in and I can tell you all about it.

But for now...


  1. Great post! I'm with you on the "there is much I don't enjoy about drafting!"

  2. I'm with you, too. I always want to share stuff early, but need to resist and let the story unfold before I can really put it out there. Excellent post, Sarv - and a great reminder.

  3. I hate drafting too and it takes so long that it's a real struggle to close that door long enough for me to get it done. Great post!