Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Drawer Time - Change Yourself, Not The Story

It sometimes surprises me how many people don't know how to use drawer time effectively. I was going to say "how many writers" but I think this is a concept everyone could use, but few really understand how it works.

So first a definition:

"Drawer Time" or "Shelf Time" is when you set some work aside for a while, to "get away from it" before coming back with fresh eyes. Most people seem familiar with the concept, but they treat it more like a procrastination tool. Which it is not.

Furthermore, I've heard some people say, "Drawer time doesn't do me any good. It looks just the same when I pull it out as when I put it in."

Well, yeah. That's because nothing has changed since you put it in. My little fable about Alphabet Soup notwithstanding, let's be honest, the words are not going to get up and rearrange themselves while it's in the drawer.

What has to change is you.

On the simplest level, you may not have to change much. Get the story out of your short term memory, and you can look at it with a new perspective. Or if you are just worn out, you may just need a rest, and then you'll have the energy to look at the story with a more critical eye.

Many writers, though, have schooled themselves to hold onto words, and may not be able to come at the story fresh, even with a little drawer time. The story just stays in their heads. Maybe those authors are just unlucky, but I also wonder, sometimes, whether they made an effort to shake those words loose from their heads.

Sometimes you have to make a conscious effort to change yourself while the story is in the drawer.

You may have to DO something while that story is in the drawer. The question is, do what?

For a beginner, it's easy: write more stories, and keep writing more stories. Let them pile up for a while and don't look at any of them. It's a pretty basic principle: learn to write complete stories before you try to learn to rewrite. So write lots of them, good ones, bad ones, crazy ones. Get good at writing the way you get good at walking, jumping or running. Leave the finer dancing until you have control of your legs.

Every single story will change you, when you're a beginner. Put your first couple of stories in a drawer, write ten more, and your whole understanding of the universe will have changed.

The advanced writer will have a harder time making that kind of shift. It's still a part of your natural day-to-day activities to learn and change, but your understanding of the universe does not shift so quickly. Odds are, when you leave a story in a drawer for a week or so, you haven't changed much when you come back to it.

So, if you find simply leaving it doesn't do it for you, how do you get that really fresh perspective?

One solution is to make an effort flush your memory of it. Learn something new. Do something very challenging. Don't just write something else, write something very different. And if you find yourself still thinking about the drawer story, break the thought chain more forceably: write poetry, or a play, or advertising copy. Play music. Learn to tap dance.

If you're desperate, force yourself believe that it's not a drawer story. Make it a trunk story -- a story you've given up on. Put it in deep storage, assume it's lost to time, and get on with your life. If you get truly wrapped up in the next story, to the point where that drawer story doesn't seem so important, you just might trick your mind into letting go and giving you more perspective.

At that point. When you really have almost forgotten it, pull it out and look at it.

Does every story have to go through that kind of extreme drawer time? No, of course not. And in these modern times, you may not be able to afford to leave stories in a drawer for as long as you'd like anyway. Let's face it, publishing fast and sure is going to be a ticket to success.

But if you find a story needs perspective, and regular drawer time isn't doing it for you, you may need to push the issue once in a while. It helps you grow.

In that sense, drawer time doesn't just help the story, it helps the writer.

Besides, while it's in the drawer, you'll write more stuff, so it's all good. You'll just have that many more stories under your belt.

1 comment:

azarimba said...

Great ideas here, Camille! Thanks.