Monday, August 5, 2013

To the Desk Drawer!

It is an old saw, I know, the writer who relegates the draft to some obscure drawer.

And yet... many writers I know have done just that.  Some chuck the manuscript into the drawer with a feeling of regret, others anger, some despair.  There are those who do so reluctantly.  (There are many who do so virtually, perhaps having a folder labelled "drawer" on their computers?)

I would like to argue the case that retiring a manuscript to a drawer is a good, healthy, and productive writing practice.  As I write this post, I am entering into the final throes of a (very) rough draft of a novel.  If all goes well, in a couple of days, I will be "done" with it.  And from there... into the drawer!  I say this with zeal.  It is time for that baby to sit by itself for a while.  My brain has been full of these characters and places and, to be honest (don't tell them!) while I love them, I'm a bit sick of them.

And though I intend to put them in that drawer and forget about them, it's only for a while.  Because, just as I am planning to wind this rough draft down, and just as I am reaching into the far recesses of that drawer to shove the rough manuscript in, I am simultaneously bringing back out to the light of day the rough draft I last worked on about six months ago.

Perhaps this makes me some sort of serial monogamist when it comes to writing.  I can only work on one thing at a time, that is for sure.  And while I like to reach an endpoint with a draft (I almost always, even if I feel that it isn't going the way I want it to, write the story/novel/essay to the end.) I also almost always shelve things with the intention to come back to them... often relatively soon.

So, for me, the drawer is where work goes to get better.  Or where work goes while I get better.  Too many writers I know (and I preach this to my students as well) will work a manuscript well past the point of productivity, flailing, as it were, at a dead horse.  I preach the gospel of putting drafts away early (and often), letting them sit there while you still have some energy and enthusiasm for the project, working on other things, getting new ideas out onto the page, and only when you have almost forgotten about the other draft, going back to it.

By the time I pull a manuscript out of the drawer to work on it again, I have forgotten what I loved and hated about it.  Given enough time, and it even feels like I'm reading someone else's work.  And that's good.  It gives me the distance I need to edit and revise and rewrite effectively.

I suppose that what I'm advocating as a writing practice is the same as what I find with people: it's great to spend time with someone... but I'm sure we've all spent too much time with someone.  Better to have a wonderful day together, say goodbye, promise you'll meet again soon, even pick a date a few weeks or months in the future... and look forward to it.  In the meantime, you'll read and write new things, you'll have different adventures, and you'll return for time together refreshed and engaged.

So go ahead, toss that manuscript in the drawer, turn the lock.  But don't throw away the key.

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