There comes a time in every writing project (or other creative effort) when most people feel the need to share their work. As I mentioned in this post, you can share too early. It’s also possible, but less likely, that you can share too late. So when is the right time?
For some work, like a blog post, it’s okay to write it, read it once and hit publish. Expectations for a blog post are low; readers expect them to be informal and spontaneous. But when it comes to creative writing, the best place for a “new” writer to share their work for the first time is in a writing class. The writing instructor will set expectations about the assignments and about the critique. In other words, there are rules (I love rules). Your classmates will be told they must be polite, ask questions for understanding and give helpful feedback. The exercise of doing this for other people also helps you read your own writing with a more critical eye. And I mean critical in a good way. Instead of reading your work and thinking, “this is crap,” you’ll be able to see what parts are overwrought, underwritten or perfect.
Once I finished a class, I knew how it felt to share. I liked how it felt when I got praise and the feedback was more helpful than painful. But I also knew it would be a little while before I shared again.
Once I’d re-written enough that I couldn’t see any huge problems, I was ready to try again. I found a writing group, complete strangers who didn’t know me or even particularly like my genre. Again, their feedback and occasional praise were edifying, and reading their work helped me ask new questions about mine. But I also learned you can share too late. If a writer gets overly invested in their words, and thinks every sentence is perfect, it can be very hard to take feedback. It’s good to share your work with someone before you fall completely in love with it.
That isn’t to say you have to take every word of feedback as gospel truth. A lot of it is subjective; some of it is wrong. Hearing the feedback and using it as a filter for how you read your own work will improve even the best writing.
Now that it’s been through a few drafts, its ready for a “beta” reader. This should not be a family member, especially if you’re writing memoir. It should be another writer or at least someone who reads a lot, and can talk about things like narrative structure and character development. Better yet, give your beta reader a list of questions, like:
- What’s your favorite part or character? Why?
- When did you feel bored or stop reading?
- What did not work for you?
- What did you want more of?
Don’t make your beta reader write their own magnum opus for you. Take her out for coffee or a beer and take notes as she talks.
After your next draft, the one that fixed all the things your beta reader noticed, share it with an expert. If it’s a memoir, that might be a family member who won’t feel particularly injured by the story but who knows the “plot” and “characters” already. They can help flag inaccuracies and parts that might be unintentionally painful. They might have new facts that are helpful to consider or details that may deepen the story. The same goes for experts on other topics. I’ve written a mystery involving a correctional officer, and I’m not sure how I’ll find one to read it, but it’s on my to do list.