Monday, January 30, 2017

Is the door open or closed?

A popular post from August 2009

by Julie Wright

I've likely blogged on this topic before, but I'm a little redundant as a human anyway so bear with me. I read in Stephen King's book, On Writing (brilliant book, if you haven't read it, why haven't you?), that the first draft of a novel should be written with the door closed. This means that no one is watching. You can put in whatever cheesy line you want. You can make it be a bit absurd. You can riddle your manuscript with adverbs and metaphors that make no sense. You can go on at great length about the minutest of details. You can have lengthy bouts of exposition while you explore your own world and come up with back history.

There is great joy to be found in writing with the door closed. It is so painless.

Then the second draft happens. Mr. King says the second draft needs to be written with the door open. This is the draft we know our family, friends, and enemies will be reading. This is the draft for public review. Leaving the door open is painful.

I despise the process of opening the door. I've lost many great lines to the open door policy. Knowing my target audience, those lines couldn't stay and it broke my heart to hit the delete button. I also despise opening the door because I'm afraid I didn't edit all the absurdities out. Did I get rid of all those lengthy bouts of exposition? Did I really delete all the cheesy things my characters did and said?

If I didn't, someone will be sure to let me know about it. Reviews are so much fun that way. Or not. Open doors means that you, the author, are open to criticism.

I endorse writing the first draft with a closed door. You need to be allowed to write bad pages so you can move forward with the blocks and funks that come with writing a manuscript.

But that doesn't mean you should hide behind the door. You can fiddle forever with a manuscript and never really be done, but a point has to come where you just let go.

Janette Rallison wrote into one of our online writer's groups in response to the question, "when is enough, enough?" Janette responded, "If you've been working on it for four years, it's probably past time. Send it out and start working on your next manuscript."

Great advice.

The longest it has taken me to finish a manuscript was with my first one. I kept the door closed a whole lot of years. I started it when I was fifteen and finished when I was 24 years old. Nine years of hiding behind the door. Then I hid a few years longer by not submitting the manuscript. I finally submitted and had the book published when I was 29 years old.

Oddly enough, I finished my second manuscript in just under six months after getting the first one published. What was the difference?

I realized I could. By getting one out there, I *knew* I could do it again. Confidence is an amazing cure for writer's block. There is no such thing as second manuscript infertility. So if you're writing with the door closed and it's been a while, you might want to try opening that door up to all the possibilities out there.

Just curious, what was the longest amount of time you guys took on a manuscript?


Don said...

Let's see - it's 2009 right now, which would make it seven years.

However, during the first five of those, the door was shut, bolted, and barricaded, with the curtains drawn and the lights shut off. I dared not even admit I was writing, let alone share what I had written.

After I got serious, it was 18 months before my first submission.

Josi said...

What's hard for me, is closing the door when I start a new project. I get so caught up with who's going to read it that I have a difficult time writing what I love. I need to work on that.

Pendragon said...

do you really want to know?

the very first edition of the book i'm currently re-working on was 17 pages of painful "old english" style written back in 95? (really scary) Let's just keep that one behind the door, shall we?

course, i'd prefer not to "count" most of the years inbetween, as i had no clue what writing really meant :) but that's when the original concept began. No laughing!

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

I totally endorse this.

I could never get a first draft done if I didn't just plow through. Cleaning up is way easier than building the house in the first place.

Becky said...

My first book definitely took the longest (as I'm only on my second). I got the first draft done in 7 weeks--I was too excited about the story to leave it alone. But then I started to "fix" things. It's much better now than it ever was before, but that's something like 8-10 drafts later. Over-all it took a year, but there were several breaks in there, including a 3-month break before going through it that last time.

Now I wish I could just find an agent who was willing to read more than ten pages of it!

L.T. Elliot said...

I started writing for fun when I was 14. I didn't start writing with an aim until a year ago--thank you to a great friend. Working on the second manuscript now. (Holy fragmented sentences, Batman!)

Asenath said...

I still have a few manuscripts that I started years ago and never finished. Who knows, maybe some day I'll finish them and open the door. Until then,it's shut, baby.

Noble M Standing said...

HA pendragon, I've got you beat by a long shot! I probably have all of you beat.

I wrote the first draft of the book I am now editing in high school. That was back in 1985-1986. It's been more then 20 years before this story was ready to let people see it.

Granted there were years that it sat on the shelf and I didn't touch it, for reasons like being a mom. But from begining to end its been 20+ years.

My old edition is so bad. It even has a chapter I wrote when I had taken NyQuil. Boy I will never do that again. LOL

At least I have learned something by now right?


Heather B. Moore said...

I love this post. I have 3 manuscripts that have been through the rejection process many times. They are ones that I wrote 6-8 years ago. I have another one that I wrote 3 years ago that is finally with an agent, but still nothing--so it's 36 months and counting. My "first" book published took 27 months from the start of writing to finding a publisher to when it came out in bookstores.

Lu Ann Brobst Staheli said...

The first novel I wrote was Leona & Me, Helen Marie. It took me six months to write the first half, and three days to write the rest of it. It's been critiqued and revised and queries with three chapters to editors, but no buyers in the 14 years since I wrote it. I wrote Just Like Elizabeth Taylor in two months, and although it won both Juvenile Novel of the Year from the Utah Arts council Writing Competition and 1st Place from the League of Utah Writers and had an agent representing it for a year, no sales on that one either after 13 years. Tides Across the Sea took me a long time to write because the concept started out as an adult thriller, then found its home as a YA romantic adventure. I think I spent nearly two years on that draft. Sample chapters have been requested a couple of times with New York editors, but no sales yet after maybe ten years. A Note Worth Taking only took me around 6 months to write, and still no sales after something like 3 years. So, I should give up, right? Nope! I was handed the opportunity to write non-fiction. From writing the first word to having the final book product in my hand for When Hearts Conjoin was 9 months. I'm in the final stages of Super Mind, another biography that took me maybe three months, and I have an agent from Miller-Dupree who will represent the book I'm starting once this one is turned in in the next few weeks.

Celise said...

4 yrs. Book One in the YA series I'm currently writing

Heather Justesen said...

I would never say I have second book infertility--I have lots and lots of books that are well started, and not finished. I started writing early in 2000, and that book has undergone at least 15 edits, and several major rewrites in between and still needs a major one to make it marketable. I think that might be next on the docket. We'll see.

Meanwhile I've worked on scads of other projects, including the two under contract. I sometimes think I have writing ADHD. I struggle to stick with a single story through to the end without getting distracted by other projects that interest me.

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