Oh, when to show your work and when not to, therein lies the question. For many writers we have been showing our writing to teachers and parents all of our lives. After all, most of us knew we wanted to write from the time we were in grade school. But once you’ve graduated from class papers and essays, once you’ve become serious about your work, when is a good time to show others your work and who should you show it to?
Don’t show it too soon
Too often we are excited and proud of our work and like new love, want to shout it from the rooftop. I suggest when you feel the urge to strip and strut during a first draft that you keep your shorts on and not show it to anyone. Step away and take a break. Although it is brilliant that you think you are the next Shakespeare, showing others your work when it is in those early stages of development could derail you and make the second, third and fourth drafts difficult to face. By nature a first draft is just that, a first draft. It’s cookie dough that has yet to be shaped and baked. Don’t get me wrong, cookie dough is delicious, as I’m sure your first draft is, but it isn’t a cookie and your work isn’t a story yet.
When you spend time yakking up your work and flashing it around to all and sundry, you are depleting your own creative energy. Save that energy and direct it toward your next draft.
Be careful who you show it to
So you have heeded my advice and decided to hold off showing your baby to anyone until you have given it a bit of spit and polish. Now the question is who do you show it to?
Not your mother. Lord, not your mother.
Moms are great. I have one and I am one. But when I think of moms, I think of them as belonging to one of two camps. You have the cheerleaders and you have the crushers. Although my mother thinks I am amazing as her kid, her biggest worry is I’ll get too big for my britches and feels it her duty to keep me grounded with comments like: You can’t make money as a writer. Don’t quit your day job – oops too late for that. Aren’t you finished that book yet?
Cheerleader moms are not much better. Although you never leave them feeling like you want to slit your wrists, their comments may not be valuable feedback. Remember your crappy tissue paper artwork she still has in a shoebox in the closet? I rest my case.
There’s a reason doctors are not permitted to operate on family members! Friends and family are most likely not writers and showing them your work is at best little more than a crap shoot and at worst bone-crushing, mind-numbing, ego-shattering suicide.
I am privileged to belong to a very good critiquing group and have found their feedback valuable. As long as there are one or more skilled writers in your group, or at least beginning writers who are taking the necessary steps to become skilled writers i.e. workshops, courses, reading about their craft, I would suggest you listen to what is being offered. Most groups are able to provide feedback on structure, character, pacing and syntax. However, it is still important to remember it is your work and it would be artistic suicide to allow your writing to be dictated by a group. Don’t write to please your writing group. Weigh carefully and thoughtfully what they suggest. If you ask six writers their opinion of your work, you will undoubtedly receive six different opinions. If however, all six, or the majority of the six, hold the same opinion, listen to them because there is very likely truth in what they are saying.
The other caveat I offer is you must trust your group members to critique the writing, not the writer. Be careful that the criticism never becomes personal. As writers we tend to be sensitive people and our egos are easily wounded. If you ever feel the feedback has shifted off your writing and onto you personally, run for the hills. Trust is non-negotiable in a writing group.
Like a good Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor, one trusted, honest, reliable person to read your writing will keep you on track. It is priceless to have a person who has the best interests for your writing in mind and who knows your work and your intention for the work. Although it may appear they are a rare bird, I know they exist. So, seek out and find one of those rare birds.
A reliable beta reader, a good writing group and determination to make your writing the strongest it can be will take you the distance.
I would love to hear how you decide when and who to show your work to.