|“The Reading Lesson” – Knut Ekvall|
It’s always a tricky balancing act for writers and other artists: You want feedback on your work, you want other people to see what you’ve produced, but you also don’t want to get distracted by what other people think too early. You may even want everyone to just see it in its final form.
As reader Tricia writes:
While trying to have your novel published and wading through
seemingly endless rejection, do you let people (friends, family…) read
the product you are shopping around? Or, do you tell them they’ll have
to wait until it’s out there for the public as well? I’ve had
coutnless people ask for my work. I know they might enjoy it and it’s
tempting to let them have it knowing, in the back of my mind, it may
never be out there for purchase.
For me, I’m a tight-fisted writer and I tend to not let anyone read what I’ve written until it’s completely done. I have a few people I trust to show scenes to early if I need specific feedback, but otherwise I try to just plow straight through and keep the focus.
What about you? I’d be curious about what other non-writing artistic types think about this as well.
I'm on the fence with this topic, I have my ‘let's share moments’ and then other days I become very protective. Having said that, I am a firm believer of getting and giving good constructive criticism.
I am an artist as well as a writer, I have been quite relaxed with sharing my written work -in forms of flash fictions etc; however, I have found worries over my WIP so I keep that close to my chest and only a trusted few beta readers get to read it and share their insights. As an artist, I have found it very difficult to display my artwork publicly (exhibitions I have no issues with, but cyberspace is something different entirely). I really do not know why that is.
Now that you have made me think more about this, I believe all these worries about our works being subject to copyright may have a huge deciding factor on how I act and what I choose to share or not.
I’m glad I stumbled across your blog. 🙂
Stephanie Bolmer says
A privileged few get to read and make suggestions after the first draft has gone through it's first round of polishing. I think that is a good time to sit back and let others whom you trust ask questions and point out blindspots.
Tami Veldura says
I love putting my words out there, but I generally don't do so until something resembling a draft is complete. I care less about how long the piece is than if its got an ending that fits.
Wendy Chen says
Generally, when I've finished the second draft and the prose is mostly clean, the structure is done, I show it to a lot of people. I just want general feedback — an answer to 'does this suck?' so I'll be confident either continuing with or scrapping the project.
So far little has escaped my clutches. I am totally willing to have a like-minded beta reader (or a few) to look it over and critique my work, but otherwise one must be careful in choosing what goes on the Internet and what does not.
Kristin Laughtin says
After the second draft at the earliest, because by then I assume I've caught any major problems in the story, or that if there are any left, I'm not likely to catch them on my own after that point. But it depends on the story, of course, as sometimes I feel a story needs more work than that before it's ready to be seen, even for critiques.
What's hard is when you're pretty much done with the book and family/friends want to see it. Somehow I think I'd feel more disappointed if I let them read it, they of course liked it, and it was never published.
Cab Sav says
I share my WIP with my co-writer as I'm working on it (even if we're not writing this particular story together). She's great with keeping the story on track and making sure my characters are likeable.
I don't share with my family. Two reasons. First–early in my writing I forced work on them (I think we all go through this stage) but my work wasn't ready back then. All it did was make them think I was a bad writer. I have improved out of sight. Second–most of them don't read in the genres I write in, so they have to force themselves to read it for me. I don't think that's fair.
I think you need someone to see your work before it goes to an editor or a publisher, but that someone has to be able to give you honest feedback. If you're not going to listen, or your relationship with them will break up because of it, it's not worth it.
Jenise Frohlinger says
I did a focus group with my friend's book club on a recently completed novel (see link below for more info) and it was the BEST thing I ever did! Getting people together in a group discussion format really brought forward a lot of ideas, things I hadn't seen myself, even though I had gone through plenty of previous drafts. Now I'm almost finished with the final re-write and I can say the novel is 10 times better than it was and I'm really excited about it.
Judith Mercado says
I plow straight through and keep the focus through the first and second drafts. Only after the second draft do I share the book with others. The first two drafts are for me to figure out how the characters and plot work together. Once I've gone as far as I can on my own, then I share. After my readers comment and I adjust my manuscript, I start querying.
With my first novel, I started out talking it out endlessly until my husband finally said, "Stop talking about it and write it!" I heard a writer on a panel once say that talking about the story before it was written 'leaked the energy' from it. That resonated with me. Put it all into the words on the page.
And Stephen King says he writes the first draft 'with the door closed'. If you talk it out or show it around too much, you may get a novel written by committee which will read like one. I think you have to pour your guts out onto the page and a lot of it will be cut or re-worked later. Best to keep the nasty guts stuff to yourself.
Carrie M says
This is one lesson I've definitely learned the hard way. As a new-ish writer, I used to share my work quite early-on in the process. I learned really quickly that I'm too impressionable to share early; I ended up changing several stories based on feedback from various people (who I love dearly), only to figure out later that I'd changed exactly what made the story mine.
Having said that, I definitely think writers need to build a community, as Brett mentioned. You need to have a safe place to run ideas by other people, and, when the time is right for you, an opportunity to share and request feedback. For me, the time is only right when I feel the story is well-done. For other (less impressionable) people, the time may be earlier in the process. Great question!
Melissa Petreshock says
The only person I share my work with is my sister, and she works with me from the beginning of the concept development all the way through. I find her input absolutely invaluable. She is completely honest and falls into the audience most of my work would appeal to. Whether I'm working on a new novel, writing hobby fan fiction, or banging out a screenplay, she's always the person I count on for a viewpoint that I don't have as the writer. I'm just too close to my own work to look at it objectively like she can.
Marilyn Peake says
I pretty much keep writing and don’t show my new novels or short stories to anyone until I’m done writing them. When I’m rewriting or editing my own work, my eyes tend to glaze over after the umpteenth time reading the same passage, and I definitely don’t want my beta readers to have that same reaction. I want them to come to my work completely refreshed without any preconceived notions about it, and I don’t want them to miss changes in passages because they feel they’ve already read that part. The only exception is, when I’m completely stuck as to whether or not something I’ve written is good or horrible, I ask my husband to read the work as far as I’ve written it…because, at that point, I need feedback to continue with the project.
If you're in a structured writing program like the UCLA Extension Writer's Program:Fiction like I was, part of the program was to develop and write your scene plans first, and, of course, get input from at least two others in the online class and, finally, your best selling novelist instructor. Absolutely invaluable.
Once you started writing the narrative, 10,15 or 20 pages a scene, then it helped to get input as you went along as well.
But, when you get to the final revisions of your ms., most of us were working one on one with a professional writer instructor and we didn't need input from our peers because our goals were to get it done and revised and sent out with query letters.
Process is important, but only if you allow other writers or authors of like minds to read and comment. My sister-in-law is definitely not on my list nor is my avid book-reading male partner, unless they take the training I've had in writing fiction.
The story I am working on now I waited until I had typed "The End" before I even told anyone I was writing. It's kind of like telling people you want to be an actress. But once I finished it, then I was dying for feedback.
I needed input on the story. I showed my running partner (who happened to also be secretly writing a book). Then, I started a critique group because I craved feedback!
I have limited it to my critique partner and my critique group until it is ready for query. Then only my closest friends!
Katherine Hyde says
I usually finish a draft and a first revision before I begin sharing with critique partners and a few other trusted readers. If random people ask to read the manuscript, I usually demur unless I feel they can give me valuable feedback.
The exception to this is that I go to a certain writing retreat once a year where we read aloud in the evenings what we're working on. Then I may be reading first-draft chapters as I write them.
I can't believe you posted this question– it's so timely for me!
I've been wrestling with this quite a bit lately…
As a matter of fact, just yesterday I shared a segment of my work with a critique group for the very first time.
I'm so nervous about it, I could puke…(sorry for the graphic description, but it's true, so there it is!)
So, in answer to your question, waiting until it's complete probably suits me better.
"I'm wondering if this depends on how long you've been writing?"
It does. People who've been writing for a long time and getting pubilshed started out a lot nicer and had more patience.
Becca French says
I'm still wrestling with this. As a student who's writing a book for the first time, it really depends on what I'm writing. When I write a paper or an essay, I edit as a write, so for the most part I turn in first drafts without a problem. When it comes to my book, my motto is: "Read it and die. For now." I'm on my second edit, and I still haven't decided if it'll be time to let others see it yet. I guess I have to figure this one out soon 🙂
Terin Tashi Miller says
I have an old friend, a former editor who regularly checked my articles when I was a reporter with him on the same newspaper, read my novels once I think they're finished.
He's done this so far with two novels: "Down The Low Road," which I wound up self-publishing even though an earlier version attracted my last literary agent, and my soon-to-be-shopped novel, "The Other Country," which in all honesty I had been hoping, when I was first working on it, I'd get you to represent before you went and turned "author" on me and all your other writer fans.
He's had "The Other Country" about two weeks maybe. He had "Down The Low Road" for something like a year or more, but as it (like about half of "The Other Country, and my self-published debut novel, "From Where the Rivers Come") is set in India, and he had just returned at the time from being a correspondent in India, he was still the perfect reader/editor.
And I believe he still is, and hopefully always will be.
I had another novel attempt that I sent to some reader friends for a variety of reasons, but not to him. I've pretty much given up on that attempt, though, as much of it is essentially rewritten as "The Other Country."
Besides him, I've sent "The Other Country" to two other friends–one, a poet/writer and relatively new friend who enjoyed my first two novels so much I'm curious her opinion of this, which, with the same character/narrator as the other two, is for that matter the third novel in what's turned out to be a trilogy of novels dealing with India.
And another old friend, a polyglot currently working for the U.N. as a document translator, is the third reader in my limited group of trusted readers/editors/advisers. He is also a writer, and he and I formed the facetiously named "Al-Madrid Bull Leaping Society," at an animated and I thought particularly apt discussion we engaged in about writers and writing, and bullfighting, at Cafe Gijon in Madrid, home of many there-famous "tertullias," or discussion groups particularly about literature and other arts.
But that is pretty much it. I don't like to read other peoples' work when I'm working on something of my own, for fear of idea or word or even subject "contamination."
After I finish, I take a break–I send my manuscript to the three people I've told you about, and no one else, and read other peoples' work or recommended work. For instance, I'm having a blast and almost done with Marie Belloc Lowndes' "A Chink In the Armor." It has nothing to do with anything I've written–though it is actually helping me with something I'm planning on writing next…:)
I tend not to believe in "workshopping" my works, as having been a journalist more than 30 years, I've had enough people critiquing my work daily, and who's advice I had to weigh with experience, that I no longer feel it helps me.
My problem, as a writer, is that I want to write how I write and what I write about, not shape something for a nebulous and fickle market.
Others may find a large group of critiques, and a workshop, is actually a better path to publication.
Terin Tashi Miller says
To quote a great poem:
"I Paint What I See," said Rivera…
Emily Anderson says
I'm somewhere between first and final draft. I want it to feel polished enough that it's not a waste of my critique partners time doing edits that I should be able to do on my own, but I don't wait until I'm through with the project because then I'm anxious to be done. I tend to edit as I go, so I usually have way more written than I share and I know what I'm sharing I've gone over a few times. You have to remember, there is a finite number of reads a person can have on a project before they're as burned out as you are. The more polished your piece before you sent it off to fresh eyes, the better off you'll be.
To quote Stephen King, my first draft is written "with the door closed." Once my story is written from beginning to end, only then do I turn it over to my alpha readers. That's when they do my fact checking, story editing. They work with me through the second and third drafts, more if needed. It's not until I have reached the polish stage that I'll put it up on WeBook and let others read portions and excerpts.
I will, on occasion, post a rough excerpt on my blogs or on Facebook. To give anyone who wants to read it a taste of what's to come. It does help bring readers to the finished product. But not as often as one might think. I have my process and I follow it faithfully.
Sharon K Owen says
Because I belong to the fabulous read/critique group, Trinity Writers' Workshop, I share my writing as soon as I've done the first round of editing (I tend to do some editing when I finish the first draft of each chapter). What I won't do is talk about the book before i write it. That always seems to derail it as I get the fun of a response without the drudgery of writing it first.
While I was studying fashion design, I definitely believed in showing my work as I went. Doing so allowed others to catch my mistakes before they were irreversible, to see things in my own work that I didn't know were there, and offer different perspectives aside from my own inexperienced one. Asking for trusted and respected opinions along the way made me a stronger artist. But this was during the learning stage.
I think the same could apply to writing. While you're learning it's beneficial to have experienced guidance. This will help develop your instincts and self confidence so one day you can plow through your novel on your own.
finish at least one first draft, then open for comments (on writing)
finish at least 6 drafts, then open for comment (on graphic design)
why the diff? just the time each takes. one can do 6 drafts of a logo in half a day; writing takes ever so much longer.
but sharing writing with fellow writers is utterly invaluable. i would never, ever keep my writing to myself beyond the first draft. others can point out big holes and major issues with speed; it might take me weeks to notice what they do in a single read.
While writing my first novel, I not only let some close family and friends read draft chapters, I solicited writer friends to read individual chapters. The deluge of suggestions, grammar corrections and demand for explanations was great to a degree; but, the downside – questioning myself and the storyline and re-writing long before re-writing was due or necessary, actually caused a bad case of writer's block!
I promised myself not to do that again and the second novel has gone much faster and smoothly. In fact, by keeping it all to myself, not worrying about what anyone else thinks, I've had the time, energy and train of thought to take breaks from the novel and work on two, separate short story analogies…;o)
Ann Elise says
I don't let very many people read my work. I let my boyfriend read snippets once I'm satisfied most of the kinks are worked out, although I haven't read him much since he never bothered to read my novel after giving him several months.
For most people I know in person, though, I don't like showing my writing to people I know, because they rarely have anything constructive to say.
The internet's a little different. I'm more inclined to share finished writing (short stories and such that I'm not going to publish) on the internet because the likelihood of getting constructive comments from people also working on their craft is higher.
Except for my critique partners, not till it's spit and polished. Anything else is too Halloween.
Deborah Walker says
When it's published. Well, maybe I'll let the editor have a quick look before.
I'm not sure. I used to have beta readers, but now that I'm more distracted and head-over-heels busy, I try to keep things under wraps until I finish it. That way, actually having someone READ it is my reward! 😀
Saturday Sequins says
I'm currently working on a nonfiction book — the first one I've written. When my sample chapter is ready to send out, I'm going to let a friend, who is a professional artist, read it over and give me some feedback. I'm actually looking forward to it! When it comes to fiction, I'm not nearly as open. It seems more personal, like letting someone see my insides (gross!).
As a jewelry artist, I let people see my work all the time, even if it's unfinished or just a prototype. My jewelry is a form of personal expression, but it doesn't make me feel as exposed and vulnerable as fiction. Which I think is very interesting. 🙂
I have a writing group that meets regularly. So, I am not a "closed door" kind of gal at least not with them. The best thing our group did was hire a former senior editor to be part of our group. So we get professional critiques and in-depth discussions on craft each time. I live in NYC and there are (unfortunately) a lot of unemployed editors. I am so happy we approached one for this kind of workshopping. Worth every penney.
Michelle Levy says
I won't even talk about my WIP until I have the first draft completed. Maybe it's superstition, maybe it's fear. And then I won't show it to anyone until I've made a few passes at it.
T o r a says
I prefer to show my work to one trusted reader (who is also a writer), who can give me constructive feedback. She serves as my editor, and I feel that all writers need an editor. Without one, I'd get too lost in my own words and thoughts and would no longer be able to see what's actually on the page. Did I mention such and such, did I hint at such and such, was such and such clear? I wouldn't be able to tell without fresh eyes, eyes that are not blurred by all that is inside my head.
Other than that, I have shown a small group of people the begginings of other works, and they've been able to help me identify the problem areas. Just reading a piece out loud in front of others has helped me identify (instantly as I read) exactly what rings false or seems awkward. So even if my listeners aren't always adept at critiquing, just hearing the words out loud has given me another perspective–new ears–to identify what needs to change.
Daniel McNeet says
The best policy is to trust no one no matter what the situation. Having said this we all know we could not function without trusting someone some time regarding something. I trust my wife who an intelligent person and a devoted reader. She is my first editor. Then, to my editor and proofreader. A "trusted" friend who reads the genre is good. Unfortunately, John Wayne is dead and putting a good possee together to find someone to trust. Also, do not make the mistake of sending your unpublished manuscript by email.
Marilee Morgan says
Why not send it by email? That was exactly what I had planned to do with a memoir written with my daughter and me! We just finished and getting ready to write the fun and delightful book proposal! What are the pros and cons of sharing with just a few close friends and family members that don’t want to wait, lol? Thanks so much!
Tasha Seegmiller says
I have three friends in a critique group, and we read each others works in progress. But we have the ability to share ideas, points of confusion/clarity and honor the integrity of the writer's vision. I would like to think this could be achieved with others, and I like it this way to see what gaps are apparent to others early instead of having to rework an entire work after completion.
I always want to show my writing to someone the moment I finish putting my first draft on paper. It's along the emotional lines of when I was in kindergarten: I want to run home, wave it in everyone's face, and have it tacked up on the refrigerator.
Sadly, not being in kindergarten anymore, I found that showing my first draft did elicit that response from most people, and I realized it wasn't a good idea for me – my vision is easily influenced, and I'm super-sensitive to anything negative about early drafts.
So, I wait until I think it's finished. That way I'm not feeling so vulnerable, and I actually welcome and love critique at that point. Nothing more fun for me than editing and tightening up my writing and getting feedback and outside persepective is CRUCIAL.
I share with a purpose. If somebody gets to read a work in progress, it's because I want their *specific* perspective.
Or because I think it's ready for prime-time, and this is a good way to soft-launch it.
Nicole Marie Schreiber says
I know I'm late in answering this (got behind in my blog reading) but I definitely have a trusted critique group, Viva Scriva, that I give my work to. They will take it polished, extremely messy, or just a twinkle of an idea. But we have been together many years, and there is a lot of trust that has been built between us. I don't know what I'd do without a group like that. It's the way I've always worked.
We share a group blog about critique and the writing process at http://www.vivascriva.com if anyone would like to read up on how to find and create a great critique group, too. 🙂
Ty Hawkins says
I'm still rather confused on how I should go through this process. I'm actually only 14, so its pretty simple that i'm most likely not going to be publishing my book anytime soon, but I have shared it with some close friends, and even a few family members. I'm tempted to just blog my work for others to see so I can get more feedback than what I get on my Google Document, but i'm still not too sure.
I'm leery of strangers reading my work in progress, but I also know that friends are cautious when it comes to critiques. I'm burning to have a set of well read eyes read my middle grade story…but yet, I hold back. Not because I don't think it's publishable, but because I do not fully trust my manuscript in the hands of others. Do you feel the same way?