Why You Might Want a Closed Door Policy When You Write

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I’ve been reading Stephen King’s book On Writing for my MFA this semester and the most useful section for me has been the memoir section.

I just love the way King chronicles his journey as a writer. He’s so transparent about the many struggles and failures he had along the way. It’s very inspiring. I also loved how he detailed the birth of Carrie. Having just begun a new journey with my own novel, I felt a strong sense of kinship with King.

I even got very emotional reading one section in particular about how one night King and his wife, Tammy, were talking about what the paper-back rights sale might bring in for them. In his book, King reflects by saying that it was a “night for dreaming” (84).

It was strange because just the night before, my husband and I had been having an eerily similar discussion about what my advance (if any) could be for Prince of Dreams. Don’t get me wrong, neither of us expects to be rolling in the dough anytime soon or ever for that matter. But, let me be real here and confess something. That night, we were dreaming of it.

There’s wisdom in not counting the chickens before they hatch. But there’s also nothing wrong with being hopeful, or being wishful. So, for that night in the Elzie household, there were a lot of dreams being voiced for the first time, because in some strange way, we’d given ourselves permission to finally voice them.

The other thing that I’ve been loving about King’s On Writing is how much he talks about his wife and how important it is to have a strong support system.

My husband, Kevin, has been supportive of me and my writing in ways that I can’t even begin to comprehend. I just hope that I’m a fraction as supportive of him as he is of me. At those times when I’ve given up entirely, tossed in the towel and said, I’ll never make this dream happen, I’ll never be published; no one will ever read my story; Kevin has found a way to bring me back to myself. To the part of me that writes because it’s who I am, not because I want fame or fortune (though who doesn’t?) or readers cosplaying my characters (again, who doesn’t want that?), or my inbox piling up with fan art. He finds a way to remind me that when I don’t write, I don’t feel like a whole person anymore.

So long as I’m writing something, I’m happy. It doesn’t have to be something “real” in the sense of a novel or a short story either. It could be something as small as a poem or a really snide and snarky note to myself about how much I hate driving in Georgia. It could be a just single line, even unwritten. A line reminding me of my big dreams and an encouragement to keep going. Written or unwritten, so long as I’m smithing words together, I’m a peace with myself.

This brings me briefly to King’s tips on writing. Specifically, his tips for getting the first draft of a book done. No matter the length, he says, “you have three months”. What I adore so much about this advice is that I think, in a way, it permits the writer just to write everything and anything relevant, or not, to the story down without judgment. Those three months are about telling the story to ourselves first. It’s basically a pass to write badly. To write hideously even. So long as we write.

The very first iteration of Prince of Dreams, back when it didn’t even have a title and when it sat closer to 50,000 words than 100,000, took me one month to write. It wasn’t Nanowrimo time either (I never seem to be in the “right place” when Nano comes around). I was just so caught up in the story and the new world I was creating that before I knew it, I had gotten the bare bones of the story down within a month. There was something special about that time, and I think King is right to advise a “closed door” policy on the first draft.

When I was writing that first draft, there was no judgment. I didn’t worry that my sentences were choppy, or overly long, or just plain nonsensical. I didn’t get tripped up on lush and vivid imagery. In some cases, all I wrote down was the dialogue because that’s all that was coming to me at the time.

I know everyone’s process is different too, and I love and admire and respect that about both the craft of writing and other writers. No two writers will ever be the same. We’ll never have the exact same experiences when we come to the page. One method of outlining may work for one person and not for another.

For me, I think I need a “closed door” policy. Not only because I fear what others will say, but, mostly, because I fear myself.

If the writing of Prince of Dreams taught me anything about myself as a writer it was these two things. (1) I’m a surprisingly speedy writer and (2) I’m an ever faster trash-er.

I think I need to make peace with the fact that my process is a rather brutal and cutthroat one. I have to find it in myself to accept and just roll with the fact that draft one will be terrible. Draft one will never see the light of day. Draft one will be trashed and draft two will start from a blank page. There’s a certain kind of liberation in just saying those things. In admitting that I will write horrendously for the next little bit as I trudge through the bones of book two.

I also think finding peace with one’s own process is just part of the journey of being creative.

Works Cited

King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. New York: Scribner, 2000. Print.

Let's Talk-01

What’re your thoughts on a “closed door” policy? What’s your writing process look like? I’d love to hear and share and get ideas for how to improve my own system.

Keep Reading and Keep Writing,

Nicolette

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9 thoughts on “Why You Might Want a Closed Door Policy When You Write

  1. It took a while to formulate what I wanted to say but I really dig the idea of having a closed-door policy, for me, mainly because i have this thought that if I tell people what I “could” be writing about, it sort of becomes canon in my mind if they get excited. So I don’t really tell anyone much of anything regarding the contents of my WIPs. That’s just a choice I make, I guess haha.

    1. Hey Joey,
      I totally get it. When I first started POD and shared its early incarnation with people, as I went back to develop it and put meat on the bones, I felt like I was betraying those I had initially handed the story. Ultimately, any and all changes that I eventaully made have only served the story for the better. “Closing the door” also, for me, just is very freeing because I can write absolute garbage and that’s perfectly ok in those beginning stages (or in my case, those first several drafts that end up in the trash).

      As I’m diving into the first draft for book 2 in my series, I’ve found that while I want to participate in all the fun WIP insta challenges and the Nano prompts, sharing like that just doesn’t jive with me. It doesn’t serve my process. Doing so feels like too much pressure is being placed on me (albeit by ME) to stick to what I’ve said as opposed to letting the story develop organically.

  2. Am I the complete opposite? I think so?? Maybe I should try the whole closed door policy someday, but right now I share everything. I LOVE getting feedback on wattpad and Twitter and whatnot, just because it keeps me really motivated … then again … I have been writing on that first draft for 1.5 years haha
    This was a great post though and I know I keep saying it, but I think you and your hubby are so cute and legit goals!

    1. Lol, thank you!! We appreciate the love!
      And everyone’s process is different! I may need the closed door policy right now, but book 3 might be totally different. Or I start a whole new project and need to share everything. I think that’s what I love about writing posts about writing, is that there is no magic formula so what works for some may not work for others and that’s perfectly normal!

  3. Loved it! I’m also reading Kong’s On Writing memoir, and I am enjoyed the background story on his life. It’s really inspiring seeing how own great writer was made (or self-made). I particularly enjoyed your style of writing. It comes straight from your heart. If felt like we were having a conversation and you were sharing your thoughts on an interesting book.

    1. Hey John! I’m so glad that you enjoyed my post and that you connected to it! Also, that you felt like we were just sitting across from the other chatting about this great book! I’d love to hear your thoughts when you finish, so come back when your done and we can talk all about them!

  4. I’m still finding my feet when it comes to writing. I know whenever I see people chatting or on Twitter talking about their WIPs or air writing I wish I was a part of that. I wish I had writer friends to chat with but at the same time…. I never feel right talking about a wip that’s in its early stages when I’m not sure what it is yet. I know when I do my first draft I do focus on getting it down and not worrying about the actual writing. Long story short : I wish I was a sharer but I’m finding out in really not!

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