Stephen King, in his classic and indispensable (and the only "writing" book I've ever taken seriously) On Writing talks about doors. Closed doors and open doors. As far as metaphors for the writing process go, I take this one to heart.
Dreaming, planning, outlining, first drafting and so on should be written with the door closed. The metaphorical door, of course, though I often actually close the door. This is the time for not sharing your writing with anyone, for secret writing schemes, for allowing your mind to run wild, experiment, push and test limits and conduct an absolute free for all if you're so inclined. You can write whatever, however, because no one will read it. The door is shut. No readers allowed.
Revisions and edits should be written with the door open. Either just a crack (as I often do- I am notoriously cagey about my work until published) or wide ass open, letting all the sunlight in. This is when a shift occurs- from writing for yourself to writing for readers. The responsibility of being true to yourself, while always necessary, is augmented by the responsibility to the readers who will go forth and buy and support your book. So this is the time when you, sometimes wincing, sometimes trembling, allow your drafts to be read, commented on and picked apart by someone other than yourself.
Turning the knob to open the door can be daunting. A novel takes a long time to write and as a result, you can spend quite a bit of time with the door shut, locked and barricaded. You are ALONE for a very long time with your characters and your thoughts and your plot and your ideas and the world you've created that might, at times, seem even more real than the one you supposedly live in. You've sacrificed a lot to spend all that time writing with the door closed. Your grip on reality maybe, but also your reader compass. You have no idea if what you're doing is even good, or marginally okay, or at least not the worst thing ever written. On top of that, you've cancelled plans, stopped returning phone calls, alienated your friends and missed out on parties, events, having fun and doing 'normal' activities in general. But you've gotten used to this. It's a nice, comfortable darkness.
And then the day comes when it's time to open the door and the light comes streaming in and blinds you.
This day is different for every writer, every novel, and occurs in myriad ways, I'm sure. Some writers may wait until the final, final draft before letting anyone have a glimpse. Some may have a writing group or a circle of readers. Some may open and shut the door after every chapter, though I personally would find all that door slamming distracting.
For me, the door opens in a slow, gradual process. This go round, I pulled out the nails and lifted the boards and turned the knob after draft 1.5. (yes, I have multiples of drafts... I'm weird) As always, I opened the door wide enough only to let one reader in. The Reader.
I think most writers have a Reader. King talks about this as well and cites his wife Tabitha as his Reader. This is the person you write for, whose voice is often lurking around your ear as you write, ready to call you out. This might be your agent, your professor, your mom, your friend on the other side of the world. For me, as with King, and as with a lot of writers I suspect, my Reader is also the person closest to me in the 'real world.'
Consequently, this past weekend, I handed over the draft of this novel to my husband Ryan and charged him with reading it. I feel beyond lucky to have a Reader who is NOT a writer and therefor can take the story as what it is: a story. I'm also lucky (though it might not always feel like it when I'm in whiny author-breakdown mode) that my Reader runs into burning buildings and saves lives for a living. He's tough. He will tell it to me straight. He will tell me to suck it up and write the damn book because he knows I can. There is no sugar coating on his feedback, let me tell you, and therefore it's honest and worth more than gold.
He's still in the process of reading, but so far the verdict is looking good. Very good. And spurred on by what I'm hearing, I'm more fired up than ever about this novel. Yes, the road ahead is paved with work. Lots of work. Layers and layers of revisions and edits still to go. I'll let a few more readers in with each draft, opening the door wider at each stage, until I finally feel ready to send this baby out into the world.
And right afterwards, I'll be slamming the door closed behind me and hunkering down for the next one, because this is what writers do....