Letting other people read your work is a huge step for new writers but it’s an invaluable learning experience.
It can be incredibly daunting just thinking about someone reading your work. It’s why so many books never get submitted to agents and publishers. It’s why they languish in drawers and in laptop files, opened every couple of years for the writer to reread, before being hidden away again.
While it’s one (huge) thing to write a story or novel, it can feel an altogether different and scary thing having someone else cast their eye over it.
It’s because writers put so much of themselves into their work. I’m not talking about all the time spent alone, tapping or scribbling away, or the research that goes into a novel, or the endless plotting and planning and editing, but the actual 'I' that is present on every page, for all to see. Writers not only create characters and stories, they’re revealing or announcing so many other things: this is how I see the world; this is what I think is funny; this is how I kiss; this is who I find attractive; this is what I think is traumatic; this is what I think is hilarious. It’s a writer putting themselves out there for everyone to see – and everyone has an opinion.
No wonder so many writers baulk at the very idea of letting anyone (ever!) see their work. But being read is very much an essential part of the writing process. And an extremely useful one, too.
To improve at writing you need feedback. Even though it feels scary, even though you know you’re possibly opening yourself up to criticism, the pros far outweigh the cons, even more so if you choose your early readers carefully. Which means selecting people who love reading, who appreciate what goes into writing, who write themselves and know how frightening it can feel to share, people who might like to show you their own writing.
In my Zoom lessons, I ask students to read out a small paragraph – one of the exercises that we’ve been working on – and invariably they begin by saying: it’s terrible. It never is. Everything might not work exactly as planned, a character might not be as effective as she needs to be or a piece of comedy might fall flat when shared, but there is always something (and often much) that is really good.
Never underestimate how important it is to know what works as much as what doesn’t. It’s so helpful to know that something needs tweaking or even rewriting but consider the positives too. How are you ever going to know that your character is a marvellous creation unless someone else tells you. How are you ever going to know that your story has moved someone so much they can’t stop thinking about it, or know that you’re on exactly the right track and can stop editing?
So much of writing is about connecting. The exposure that makes a writer frightened of sharing is the very same thing that creates a connection. Know that the small discomfort of being exposed in some way, of failing to please everyone (impossible!) is nothing when compared with the thrill of someone saying they loved your book, they loved your story and how you see the world, they’re going to buy it for friends. They can’t stop laughing, or crying, at your wonderfully inventive characters and plot. That is priceless.
So… unlock your desk drawer, open your file, print off some copies and let people read your story. Let it out into the world.
-- Deana Luchia