For me, at least, it’s natural to be apprehensive about sharing my writing. Not any writing at all– for papers and essays, I have no problems at all. Because while those have my voice, they don’t reflect me nearly as well as my stories and poems. I don’t put as much of my heart into it. That’s just the truth. And it’s because I put effort into my stories that I hate when they’re criticized.
You may say hate’s a rather strong word. But when you watch a reader completely ignore your work’s strengths and pick apart the weaknesses until your entire identity as a writer is questioned, it suddenly doesn’t seem that way. In a way, my history of sharing my work has been a history of me balancing hate with necessity. It’s also been a little of men dismantling my ego and realizing how much a different perspective can bring.
I began sharing my work when I was dabbling in short stories and a complete amateur. Fortunately, it was online, the Writer’s Digest forums, and there were more than enough experts to tell me what I was doing wrong. I loved that forum. It’s been four years, and I still do. The lessons I learned were enormous. There were so many hidden talents who weren’t published, and they thought I was one of them. It was very encouraging, but also frightening. When I looked at the other people’s stories, I knew I had a long way to go.
Because of these fears, and my transition from writing short stories to novels, I mostly critiqued other people’s drafts. I wanted to learn how to give other people ideas better. I wanted to be the person that people came to for advice, and I suppose I still do. There was a bit of ego in that. It was a way to reaffirm my superiority. A lot of the mistakes they made I would never do. I still tried to put their growth first. Often, I sank whole weeks into dissecting another person’s draft. Still, the temptation was there.
When I was working on my first novel, I quickly realized it needed a lot of work, and that there were more problems that I wasn’t seeing. My desire for the draft to be as good as possible overcame my fears. I didn’t care what people said, as long as I could fix it. I joined a separate critique group and found a partner with the same genre. We shared the beginning chapters of our novels, focusing more on scene details than the overarching plot changes I’d been used to. I started to zoom in more on small changes, which kept me from getting overwhelmed in the revision process.
When I finished said novel, barely a few months ago, I was ready to devote all of my attention to my next project. I shipped the draft off to a few family members. While I could’ve sent it to a couple of my old beta readers, I didn’t. Perhaps that’s because its been over a year since I’ve talked with some of them. Perhaps it’s simply my old fears resurfacing. So, there’s definitely room to improve. I still need to find a good group or partner to find the flaws in my current draft. That’s mainly a matter of time. The key is, I’m willing to pursue it– and not solely because I have to.
We all must go through this critiquing process. In the end, it’s worth the anxiety. From a strictly logical standpoint, you don’t want your audience reading a half-baked book. No matter how carefully you look over your draft, you will miss things. It’s better for someone you know to tell you your mistakes than a reader who will, honestly, be less forgiving. And, you get a much better solution, one you can actually change rather than stare wistfully at the cover, wishing you could go back and change that one paragraph in Chapter Three.
Because that’s a whole other hell.