Writing (and Creating) With the Door Closed

Key in LockIn his fascinating book “On Writing” Stephen King recommends that we write twice. First, write with the door closed. This is for-your-eyes-only writing.  You are the only arbiter of what stays and what goes. Then only after you are satisfied with what you’ve created should you open the door and invite the world in.

His advice holds a world of truth for all artists and writers.

For a number of years I went on retreat with writing friends. Our goal was to carve out space in busy lives and create new material. We would write in the mornings and then share our work in the afternoon, inviting comment and feedback.

On the surface it sounds like a good idea. After all, we were all writers and friends. We were all taking the same risk by sharing fresh new work. Our babies.  We understood the rawness of that work and commented accordingly.

A lot of respect and care went into the feedback. For the most part, we avoided re-writing each other’s work. But along the way I discovered that, during creative incubation, we need to trust our truth.

This was really driven home when my writer friends suggested one of my pieces needed  serious changes, almost a complete re-write. It just didn’t work for them.

However, for me, it felt complete. With some trepidation (spiced with a smidge of defiance) I made the radical decision to ignore my friends. I simply polished it and sent it out to a literary magazine. Not only was it published but the editor wrote and told me it needed no changes whatsoever. She was thrilled with it. So was I!

Feedback comes from personal opinion and we each have our vision. Bringing your work out too early introduces an element of doubt in what you’ve created when it’s still barely formed. Instead finding your way, it short-circuits the creative process.

Once I had feedback I stopped exploring the possibilities and assumed “they” had the answer. It was “creation by committee”.

I keep my writing to myself now until it’s polished, primped and primed, ready to go out in public. At that point, I’m clear on my story and what I want it to say. I’ve answered my own questions about the work.

Feedback from a trusted source at this point feels qualitatively different. Its about logic flaws or where I appear to be in love with fancy metaphor. What the feedback doesn’t do is change my voice or the basic story.

I’ve also come to realize that much of that new work I created on retreat never came to anything. Some of it never should, of course. But there are other pieces that deserve more.

However the “juice” was gone. By bringing them out too early I no longer felt the need to write them. I often tell my writing clients not to talk about a story because it takes away that pressure to write it. I know from experience how true that is.

So now I write with the door firmly closed. I highly recommend it to you as well.

Thanks, Stephen.

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