Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Should I be this honest?: Reclaiming my first drafts

I have an affirmation.

I am reclaiming my first drafts.

From here on and for forever, I am writing my first drafts with the door CLOSED.

For those of you who haven't read On Writing by Stephen King (a book I cannot recommend enough), the concept of writing with the door open and the door closed is something King discusses in that book. He says to write your first draft with the door closed: don't share it with anyone but yourself. After you've done some polishing, you then open the door and work on your second draft by getting feedback from others.

The door closed is the time to let imagination run wild, to write without fear of judgment...even to use as many adverbs as you damn well please. It's not the version of the story that goes out into the world; it's the version of the story that transmits from brain to paper, and during that first draft the most important--the only important--thing to do is to concentrate on writing it.

For a long while now I have not been obeying The King, and my writing has suffered. But until I read On Writing a month ago, I didn't realize what was wrong.

I was writing my first drafts with the door open. Not cracked open, not enough to let a breeze through now and then. I had the hinges off. There was a doorway but no handy slab of wood filling it. Instead of concentrating on telling the story and learning about my characters, I couldn't stop wondering if agents would like my story, if it was saleable, if there was something wrong with my prose, was my idea too convoluted, am I nuts for attempting this story at all? And instead of telling my brain to shut up and worry about that during draft 2, I went out and tried to dislodge the answers before I'd typed "THE END." I got more and more frustrated, and asked more questions, and read even more (often contradicting) blog posts and articles about the industry and the craft and this agent's likes and that agent's pet peeves. It went on like a Mobius strip.

I made myself miserable.

And, worse, for a span of about two months, I made myself unable to write fiction.

When I queried my most recent novel (four drafts and almost an entire rewrite later) I'm not surprised that I got ZERO requests, something that hasn't happened to me since early 2009. But it was over before I'd made it two chapters into the first draft, because I'd been hacking away at my closed door for years. The draft was doomed. I sat down to type the first line with too many other people in my head and in my space.

Writing first drafts with the door open may work fine for some people, but I'm not one of them. I'm going with what His Majesty suggests. I'm shutting the damn door. And then I'm duct taping up the cracks.

If anyone asks, I'm writing. That information I'm happy to divulge. But as to the question of what I'm writing...well, maybe I'm writing more novels, or maybe I'm writing short fiction. I could be writing thousands of pages in my journal every day. Perhaps I'm making a cook book or a travel guide. Maybe I'm doing freelance technical work or creating one of those books filled with pictures of kittens and cute quotations to match.

But it's all staying inside until I'm done with my first drafts and ready to open the door again.


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