Writing is usually a solitary endeavor.
But if you hope to have readers one day, who will be the first? When is your work good enough to share?
I doubt that any piece is ever “good enough,” especially if you ask its writer. You could revise forever–many do, since there’s no progress bar, no flashing neon sign that tells you “THIS IS AS GOOD AS THIS STORY IS GOING TO GET.”
That said, there are few things more nerve-wracking than sharing a draft with someone you admire and respect. Share too soon and you risk a blow to your confidence, and you forfeit your chance to really get the story settled. On the other hand, if you refuse to let others read your work, it will undoubtedly suffer. There comes a point when you are way too close to your story to be able to consider it objectively.
Consult this little guide to make sure you’re good and ready to let others read your writing, and that you’re sharing it for the right reasons:
- When you have to, or else you’ll fail a class/miss a deadline.
- When it’s an exchange. If you agree to trade critiques with another writer, you’ve got a couple good things going for you. First, the other person is a writer, so he/she presumably knows shit about writing, and what makes a story fail or succeed. Second, since this other writer is getting something in exchange, he/she is much more likely to actually read your work, and to read it closely.
- When you’re really stuck. First try to pull yourself out of your writing slump by outlining, re-reading, or taking a break. When that doesn’t work, ask a fellow writer or well-read person for help diagnosing your story’s trouble.
- When you’re about to give up. This usually comes months (or years) into a work, when you’ve spent so long with the thing that its characters and plot twists feel predictable and unoriginal. Get a second and third opinion before giving up on something that may still have a lot of potential.
Keep it to yourself…
- When you’re in the early stages. If you’re still brainstorming and batting around ideas, give yourself time to explore. Alone. It only takes one indifferent reader to drain your own enthusiasm.
- When the potential reader is a close friend who is not an avid reader or writer. Your friends love and support you, so they pester you to share your writing. This is so tempting–of course you want them to see the results of your hard work! But I’m telling your right now, no. Don’t do it. If the story is long, or slow-going in the beginning, your friends probably will not read the whole thing. If they do, they will probably just say “I liked it,” or “It was good.”
- Exception: If the piece is almost done, don’t ask them for their opinions. Just ask them to proofread it. Letting (competent) friends copyedit your work will gets them involved without potentially harming your friendship.
- When the potential reader is your parent. Maybe no one else has this problem, but whenever my parents see a parental figure in my stories, they immediately think the character is based on them. There is nothing I can say that convinces them otherwise.
- When your potential reader didn’t even ask to read it. If they’re not interested in the first place, don’t try to force them. There are plenty of people who want to read your work (see: your close friends above).
- When you’re trying to prove your literary prowess. If you’re not attempting to get constructive feedback, your time is better spent sitting your ass down and writing.