Stephen King’s “Shut Door” Policy

I began responding to On Writing by Stephen King in a post a few weeks ago. This week I’ll discuss his “shut door” policy, wherein the writer writes the whole first draft and lets no one see it until it’s done.

I think the entire matter of writing is so personal that there’s no one right way to do it. There are things every writer should try, and the “shut door” policy is one of them–when you’re green, and you’ve not yet hit the magical 1,000,000 words of writing mark, write an entire book in a vacuum and get it done. This is a huge milestone in a writer’s development: having finished a book. It’s necessary to do, and it’s necessary to not get bogged down in edits before you get there.

I myself had to go through this stage. I wrote two of my first three books this way, not letting anyone see what I had written until it was over, lest they derail me. But for me, this was just a stage of writing I had to go through, to understand how to write so much, and to get a bunch of practice in, including practice finishing a book. On my current book, I am letting people read it whenever I get to a milestone (about every 25,000 words). I listen to what they say, edit what I have so far, and then continue writing.

Let me defend this method by listing its benefits. First, it is easier to fix a plot hole when there’s 50,000 words to comb through and alter than when there’s 100,000. You’ve halved your work.

Second, so long as you have the right people reading your unfinished manuscript, they give you ideas. “Hey, wouldn’t this be cool?” And as with fixing a problem, laying a new thread in the story is a lot easier if you haven’t got the braid all the way done, yet.

King says not to let people read your book while you’re writing it so that you don’t get bogged down in questions such as “Why was that character wearing green? What does that signify?” But so long as those you allow to read your work aren’t the sort of person to ask such nonsense questions,  this is not a concern.

Thanks for reading! See you next time.

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