5 tips for sharing your writing for the first time
Some of the most difficult aspects of writing make themselves known after the first draft is on the page or screen: revising, cutting beloved passages that don’t advance a narrative or metaphor, choosing a title, editing to make tone and voice consistent, and so on. When they get stuck anywhere in this process, many writers turn to other writers for help and a different perspective.
If you’re new to sharing your writing with someone else, it can be intimidating! Here are five things to remember when you find someone to read your work, whether you’ve joined a writing group or class or have enlisted one friend whose judgment you trust:
Manage your expectations.
We turn to other writers for their objectivity, expertise, and guidance, NOT to be showered by effervescent praise, hammered by tough criticism, or gifted with the missing elements of our drafts without having to do the work ourselves. A reader isn’t going to fix your writing for you, nor should they be expected to. And if you’re just looking for applause, that isn’t fair to someone who is taking the time to read, thoughtfully consider, and comment on your writing in a way that will actually help you improve. What are your reasons for seeking a reader or group, and what are your expectations for feedback? Articulating those expectations to yourself and your would-be reader-editors will ensure everyone is on the same page.
Ask for what you want.
One part of managing your expectations might be to pose specific questions you would like your reader(s) to address: Does the beginning of this chapter bore you? What do you think of the shift in tone on page 6? Is this character believable? Does this poem’s rhyme scheme feel forced? These are the types of specific questions you might ask someone who has agreed to provide feedback on your writing—and specific questions make it much easier for the reader to target their response to answer the questions that are most pressing for you.
Follow the rules.
If you’re joining a writing group and all members submit original work for exchanging feedback on a Friday, send your work by Friday. If your best writing pal says she can fit reading and responding to four pages of your writing this week, don’t send 12 pages. Showing courtesy to other writers means those people are more likely to read future drafts because they know you value their time and energy.
Do unto others.
Along the same lines as following the rules, you should offer something—your own time and energy—to the person or people willing to give feedback on your work. Even if that writer doesn’t have anything ready for you to evaluate, make sure they know your door is open because you appreciate what they’ve done for you. If your writing group or class is full of strength-centered commentary, don’t submit harsh “constructive criticism” as if you’re the only one of the bunch who has nothing to learn or improve. Focus, or at least begin, your own feedback with something you really admire about your friend’s work.
Ultimately, you’re the boss.
This reminder is for you and you alone. Yes, be kind to those who give of their time to help you with your writing. But sometimes, their feedback just might not be helpful. Perhaps that’s because you have more work to do, or perhaps it’s because someone else might have a vision for your story, poem, or essay that doesn’t feel right to you. At the end of the day, it’s your writing. You might very often find yourself picking and choosing what advice to take from people reading your work and what suggestions to throw away. That’s not being ungrateful; that’s being in control of your art, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If someone doesn’t get what you’re trying to say, you either need to say it better or accept that they don’t get it—but you decide which it is.
What was it like to share your writing with other people for the first time? Are you part of a writer’s group, or do you do an exchange with other writers? Tell us about it!
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