As a writer, your work isn’t complete until you share it with an audience. Of course, there are some forms of writing that are not meant to be shared—you’re not going to publish your personal journal as a Kindle book.
You are probably reading this because you are creating a story, poem, essay, or book that you hope to someday publish and that it will make an impact with readers.
However, even if that is your goal, getting there is often really hard. Once you have gone through the process of creating your first draft and doing some revision, you’ve got a big decision to make… When are you going to show your work to someone…and who is that someone going to be? Even if you know the person really well, showing someone your writing can be the most terrifying part of the process. After all, what if all the work you’ve done has been for nothing? What if your reader hates it? Maybe you even start to second guess yourself before you’ve even shown it to anyone. I should just quit. Nobody is going to actually read this, or care. Obviously, there are situations where the decisions of when to share your work and with whom are made on your behalf. If you’re on a deadline, time doesn’t stop for you. If you are in a writing workshop or have next week’s slot for your critique group, you’ve got a set audience. In these situations, you have no choice but to manage your time well and put forth your best effort.
There are advantages to this, especially if you’re so freaked out about sharing your writing that you probably wouldn’t take the plunge otherwise.
But let’s say you are working on something and the ball is in your court. How do you know you’re really ready to take your project for a test run, and who do you choose to be your first readers? As the chief strategist of Inkling Creative, I have a lot of people who ask me this question and who often recruit me as a reader regardless of their trepidation. So, I want to share what works for me when it comes to my own writing and offer some indicators about when it might be time to share your writing.
Just a caveat before we get going: not all of these may apply to you. What works for me is just that. You need to keep writing and learning to discover your own process, but this might give you a place to start. Don’t show anyone your first draft
If I’m tempted to just roll the thing out after I type THE END, I pump the breaks. Despite your bests efforts, your first draft is going to be loaded with plot holes, character inconsistencies, scenes that aren’t believable, and confusing language. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer. It’s just the way it is. Not even the most well-thought out character descriptions or plot outline can prevent this. There is a lot to determine when you’re building the world of a story, especially a longer work like a novel or memoir, and you need to be prepared for things to go wrong. I did a lot of theatre as a teenager and stage managed for a local company as a summer job in college. The one thing that all theatre productions universally have in common is that your first tech rehearsal (that’s where the lighting, sound, music, staging, and acting all come together for the first time) is an unqualified disaster. I’ve worked on shows with tech rehearsals that literally took an entire day.
That didn’t mean that the actors sucked or that the stage manager, lighting technician, and sound engineer were bad at their jobs. It just means that when all the elements of a story come together for the first time, it’s going to be a mess. I always go through at least two revisions of something before I even think about giving it to another person to read. During those revisions, I look for anything that’s inconsistent or unrealistic, or that could be confusing to readers. I make sure the structure is an appropriate framework for telling the story and that I’ve made a smart decision in terms of point of view. Once I’m relatively confident that I’ve revised these things according to the vision I have for my project, I’m ready to think about sharing it.
(Note: Not sure what to look for when you’re revising? Check out my Revision Scorecard, which outlines the most common problems in first drafts and lets you score your project according to those areas).
Rely on your intuition Another way to decide when I’m ready to share your work is that I just know. I’ve either done enough revision to be reasonably confident that the project is as good as it’s going to get at this point or I get a clear sense that someone needs to see it in its current state regardless of how far I’ve gotten in my revisions.
I wish I could tell you this intuition is a magical gift all writers have, but truthfully, the only way to develop it is to write enough that you can “feel” when it’s time to bring a reader on board. The other way you develop intuition is to—surprise, surprise—show your work to other people.
Being able to know that you’ve reached that point in the writing process is as much about getting experience writing as it is about getting experience with having your work critiqued. Pick a reader you trust.
After your critique session in MFA workshops, you get a stack of written comments from all your colleagues, which you then have to sort out later. One thing I quickly discovered is that despite their best intentions, many people in my classes didn’t really “get” my work.
That doesn’t mean they were closed minded or meanie-mo’s. It’s just that what I was doing was outside of their particular aesthetic. However, I also found a select group of three or four people who either really got my writing or were adept enough at suspending their own preferences to make an effort to understand what I was trying to do. It takes a long time to read through dozens of pages of critiques, so eventually, I reached a point where I prioritized them. I read the comments from my core group of readers first, then read the others. As a writer, you need to know who your people are. Pick readers who are invested in your creative wellbeing and are willing to be objective.
Remember that good criticism is given in love. This applies as much to reading other people’s work as it does to sharing your own. Good readers have your best interests at heart as well as what is best for your work. They will tell you exactly what they thing because honesty is what will make your writing better, not empty praise. The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 14:9, “Let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” That is our job—to build each other up with honest words and advice about how to make our writing better. If that’s the case, there’s no need to be deathly afraid of getting feedback from someone. A critique from a writing friend is not a referendum on your talents or your worth as a person; it’s about how you can create a more effective story that will have the powerful impact on readers that you desire. These are the principles I operate by when I give critiques to clients. My job isn’t to make you feel good about yourself; it’s to help you grow in your gifts. I will always tell you the truth, but I’ll also equip you with a plan to solve the problems in your writing so you can emerge with a piece that resembles your vision for it as closely as possible. I didn’t start Inkling Creative Strategies to profit off of my gifts. I started it to help more writers practice their craft as effectively as they can and reach their fullest potential.
If you want to learn more about how my process works or think Inkling might be for you, I invite you to schedule a complimentary Virtual Meetup on Zoom, where we’ll talk about your writing questions and enjoy lively discussion of the craft.
Click here to learn more and grab some time on my calendar so you can take a step toward being both a stronger writer and a better critic.