Feedback is crucial to writers. Writing groups, critique groups, and beta readers all provide valuable insight you may have missed while absorbed in your story. I have a couple groups I’m a part of. I enjoy giving feedback and I’m happy to say many find it valuable.
However, it’s rare you’ll find me standing at the head of the group reading anything Wendi and I are working on. The other members ask, “Hey Deb, when are you going to read?”
My answer is, “I’m not.”
This has nothing to do with being afraid. Believe me, I want to share our stories. I love sharing our stories. What I can’t wrap my head around is sharing a story prematurely. That’s like serving a cake still soft in the middle. Sure it looks tasty on the outside, but that inside? It’s a gooey, messy problem.
What I see happen with many people who start sharing their works in progress in the first draft stage chapter by chapter, is they get too many conflicting ideas. Neither the person reading or the people offering the feedback see the whole picture yet. After the session, the writer then has the urge to go into these half-baked chapters and start editing them.
Stephen King calls writing the first draft “writing with the door shut”. This means writing fearlessly, with abandon. In theory, it’s simple, you shut your mental door to the world, any and all feedback, including your internal voices, and tell the story that’s busting out of your head. During this process you’re not thinking about too many plot details except for going from point A to point B. When your mind is relaxed and open to ideas, the story takes on a life of its own.
Writing with the door closed is all about exploration. When you don’t stop to second guess or self-edit, you’re free to wander down as many paths as you like. You’re open to experimentation with the dynamics between characters. Don’t worry about getting lost. Let it happen. You never know what juicy little gems you’ll find. Those twists and hooks you’re so concerned with reveal themselves. You learn aspects of your characters you hadn’t thought of before.
Writing with the door closed is for you and you alone. This is where the magic happens. There is no right or wrong, no one telling you it can’t be done or it’s been done before. In this space behind the closed door your voice is your own and all you do is play. Lose yourself in your characters, lose yourself in the world you’ve created. Here, you make the rules.
Only when you have the whole story in front of you will you see where the real story is, and it may not be the one you first had in mind. Looking at all the pieces as a whole you’ll see patterns you hadn’t noticed before. Maybe there’s a phrase, action or symbol that keeps popping up, or the theme is a lot deeper than you first thought. Once you know where it’s all going, weaving in foreshadowing and interesting twists becomes easier as you find places where adding a word or sentence makes all the difference in the world.
The second, third, fourth and fifth drafts, after you’ve gotten the story close to where you want it, are where you open the door and let the world in. When you have the big picture laid out before you, you have the luxury of picking and choosing which bits of feedback work for you. You know where your story is going. Is that a plot hole you’ve unintentionally left open, or is it a page turner you’ve left for your reader? Have you tied up all the loose ends? Can you see the character arcs? Does the pacing work?
Now you’re able to make the most of your critique groups. Everyone has clear expectations and direction. At this point, you open the door, take off the writer hat and put on the editing one—and that’s a whole new phase. Editing is more than looking for typos and technical errors.
Next week we’ll talk about opening that door and the different types of editing needed at various points in your writing.