Write with doors closed, rewrite with open
Following is an anecdote from Stephen King’s excellent non-fiction work, On Writing, where he talks about the first advice he got from his first employer John Gould when the latter edited King’s article:
“I only took out the bad parts, you know,” Gould said.
“Most of it’s pretty good.”
“I know,” I said, meaning both things: yes, most of it was good—okay anyway, serviceable—and yes, he had only taken out the bad parts. “I won’t do it again.”
He laughed. “If that’s true, you’ll never have to work for a living. You can do this instead. Do I have to explain any of these marks?”
“No,” I said.
“When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story,” he said. “When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”
Gould said something else that was interesting on the day I turned in my first two pieces: write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out. Once you know what the story is and get it right—as right as you can, anyway—it belongs to anyone who wants to read it. Or criticize it. If you’re very lucky (this is my idea, not John Gould’s, but I believe he would have subscribed to the notion), more will want to do the former than the latter.
King was still in school when this happened…