I was talking with a friend the other day about how I’m working on two novels: one that is almost complete and one in the early stages of a first draft. I told my friend how, when I shift from one project to the other, the dormant one goes in the drawer to wait its turn.
An Actual Drawer
After we had been talking for a while, she smiled and explained that, when I said I “put the draft in a drawer,” she pictures an actual wooden drawer, with a little metal handle on it, and a stack of actual pages sliding away into safe keeping. To which I said: “yes, exactly.”
I literally print out a draft of my manuscript and put it in an actual drawer. It’s a special drawer, with nothing else in it, and as I close the drawer I ask the draft to be patient. I tell it I have to give some time to my other novel right now, but I’ll be back as soon as I can. It’s probably silly, but I feel like I have to treat my stories well. I want each one to know it’s special to me so that it doesn’t go running off to some other writer.
Respecting the Draft
And I’m not alone in this. Elizabeth Gilbert talks about how she speaks to her pages, saying things like “stay with me.” In her (fantastic) book Big Magic, she describes how she once failed to treat an idea with care. She put it off and let other projects distract her, and the next thing she knew that very same story was being written by Ann Patchett.
I’ll tell you, that was all the confirmation I needed to start treating my stories like precious little darlings. The first time I spoke out loud to my work I felt pretty silly. I still do. But in my heart I feel a subtle settling when I do it. Maybe there’s some cosmic muse who hears me or maybe it’s just about setting intentions, but having this little bit of ritual around my work feels good.
It’s also just very satisfying, when it’s time to go back to the project that has been sitting dormant, to pull a stack of pages from the drawer and read it with fresh eyes. It can be hard to get distance from our own work. This helps.
Do you have any little rituals you’ve developed around your writing? Do you talk to your pages? Do you want to, but feel like your kids would put you in the nut house? I always love to hear how other people work.