How to Open a Window When a Door Closes

Sometimes, things don’t work out the way you want them to.

This may seem like the obvious statement of the century, but people don’t always think to apply this maxim to their creative writing. Sometimes a story just won’t happen the way you want it to. Sometimes you try to write about a subject that is a departure for you and you realize you’re just not familiar enough with it. Sometimes you just can’t make a story end the way you want it to, or the character ends up falling flat no matter how much you try to pump him up.

What do you do now?

It’s time to look at another old maxim: “When a door closes, a window opens.” The important thing about getting your writing to work is 1) accept a closed door; and 2) find an open window. So I’d like to talk today about how to do these two important things for revising (or re-imagining) your work.

Let a door close in your writing.

The first thing to do is look at your story with cold, clear eyes and acknowledge what it can and can’t be. Can this short story really be an epic science fiction novel? Can it really be a scathing political diatribe? Does your character have enough dimension to be the main character? Can the story really juggle three different families’ lives? It’s time to ask yourself the tough questions and be honest with yourself about the answers. This isn’t a failure; it’s a way of seeing your writing in a new way. Basically, you’ve begun with something rough, something that has the germ of an idea in it. At some point, you have to look at that idea and see if you are serving it best the way you’re currently presenting it.

Look for new opportunities in your writing.

The wonderfully liberating thing about letting that door close is that you’ll begin to notice all the open windows it leaves. Now that you know what your story can’t be, you’ll be able to notice just what it can. So that political rant just isn’t working? Cut it out, and discover what your characters do in their ordinary lives. Your character just isn’t three-dimensional enough to be the star? Maybe it’s because you’ve been trying too hard with him, when it’s his wife who really interests you. Try promoting a peripheral character to the lead role. The ending doesn’t work? Stop trying to rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic. Throw out the ending and write one that makes more sense.

It’s remarkable how we allow our failures to limit us and blind us to the potential for success. The next time you find yourself coming up against a closing door, stop trying to slam against it. Try looking at the problem in another way. Look for an open window, and make a leap.


  1. Drue A. Windhorst says:

    Often enough for me these doors that open and then sometimes close, without my permission or will, leave their chaos on my mind. I am glad you posted this! I frequently forget that windows of possibility can be found. It took me several years to learn the value of my writings. This also includes my “failures.” An endeavor that looses its drive to the poems that are extinguished for any reason continue to have wealth to me. It may be a single line, a word used in a different perception, or the salvation of merely expressing that unknown emotion. These explorations always have been historically and personally revealing to me. It is when I come across something that is obscure, perhaps undated, and at times humorously rediscovered by complete accident that I am reminded why I walk the path I am on.

  2. Barbara says:

    I have been writing more in the past year than I have in many years. It has always been my hearts desire. I have recently found, tucked away in different places, stuff I wrote as a pre-teen, teen and young woman. As I read your inspiring, encouraging columns and comments today I am to finally do what I have been telling myself I’ve wanted to do all my life, write.
    I’m not sure where to start but know I have a book in me just from what has happened in my life in the past several years. Guess that what lead us all here.
    I was moved by your ending paragraph of “How to Open a Window When a Door Closes”. I printed it out to post on my desk, mirror and next to my bed. I hope this is permitted.
    I found your website on MSN and put it under favorites. I had so much going on I didn’t have time to really appreciate the wisdom and avail myself of the knowledge given freely.
    I have taken some time this morning to actually read and learn and wanted to let you know how grateful I am that you and your readers take your time to share and open up so honestly about something I’ve been afraid to tell people I want to do with my life.
    I know I’m not alone in giving too much weight to others opinions when I’m crushed by their criticisms for even saying out loud I want to be a writer.
    I have started standing up for myself and I tell people I want to be a writer and that’s my goal in this life.
    Thank you for reaching out and helping those of us who need encouragement and to your readers with their honesty in admitting they too have the same feelings. Thank you all for giving me courage.
    I know I will learn from all of you and I’m so excited I think this smile on my face will stay here for at least the rest of this day.
    I am learning to accept criticism which I did not admit to myself made me feel I wasn’t as good as the person giving it. Character flaw? As I have grown older I realize many times they were just trying to help me through what was a difficult time in my life.
    I’ve grown and will be much better having all of you to help me with my journey.
    Thank you.

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