Writing With the Door Closed

On Writing by Stephen KingA couple weeks ago as I was working on revisions for Storming Amargosa, Candy thought she’d sneak up on me to see what her husband-to-be was up to. I locked the computer on her. “No one sees the rough drafts,” I said when she looked hurt.

And I do this on purpose. Sometimes I’ll run a passage by someone or sketch out a scene to get their opinion on whether it will work. One of my regular betas refuses to read or listen when I get late into a project. “No spoilers!” Understood.

But the real question is how long do you let that draft sit before you start editing it? A day? A week? A month?

Storming sat about a month before I took it up again. Mind you, I did the very first draft as a screenplay, so basically, I was converting what was already there. This, by the way, is why movie and TV adaptations are harder than they look. It’s almost never a scene-for-scene rewrite. Couple that with parts that are edited out or added in after the writer gets the script, and suddenly, there are events that weren’t in the original or are missing from it. (Or, like Vonda McIntyre did with one Star Trek movie, someone adds nearly fifty pages at the beginning that never happened. Was not a fan of that particular book, and I liked McIntyre’s work.)

Stephen King suggests a season – three months. Long enough for a story to look unfamiliar to you, but soon enough that the bones of the story are still in your head. That usually bears out. I probably won’t look at Storming again until at least October.

What brought this on was one writer’s frustration with a story she could not get to work. She wanted to know how to salvage it. I said it sounded like she didn’t like the first draft and needed to leave it sit in a drawer until she had almost forgotten about it. She mentioned she’d finished it two months ago, but she sounded like she kept pulling it out and fiddling with it in that time.

Don’t do that. If you do that, you’ll get Star Wars Special Editions and before there’s a fanbase to justify it.

From the first “It was a dark and stormy night…” to about three months or more after you finish, only you should know what’s on the page. And after it’s finished, forget it exists. It’s the only way to stay sane.