Wednesday, October 25, 2017

When To Share Your Writing With Others

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). She had a podcast/vlog at You can also find Jill on InstagramFacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

This past August, I had the privilege of meeting (and learning from) screenwriting coach Michael Hauge. I so enjoyed his Six-Stage Plot Structure that I Googled him and started watching more videos on his teachings. It was in one such video that I picked up this quote.

“You can’t trust your own judgement when your script is done, but you can’t trust other people’s judgement before you begin.” ~ Michael Hauge

I love, love this quote.

I must have rewritten The New Recruit a dozen times, and I still wasn't sure it was right. And all these years later, even long after a book is published, I feel like it's still never really complete. In fact, I have a notebook with pages devoted to each of my books--pages that are filled with lists of things that I need to fix, should I ever get the rights back. These are things I discovered as I read to my kids over the years, referenced the book for some reason, or from emails I received from readers. Not always typos. These could be continuity errors or simply phrases that make me wince now that I have so much more writing experience.

My point is, what Michael said is true. It's really hard for authors to trust their own judgement and believe that their story is done. Most the time we just have to let it go--let it be done. Move on.

The second half of Michael's quote is: ". . . you can’t trust other people’s judgement before you begin." So true. If you have a story idea, you can share it with hundreds of people, but until you put the story on paper, no one will likely grasp your exact vision for the project. It's one thing to brainstorm with others, but be careful of taking too much criticism at this stage. If you have a story that you're itching to write, trust yourself and write it. Don't rely on feedback from others to tell you what to do. 

I would like to suggest that it's equally difficult for authors to trust others for feedback on a story that's not finished. When you are writing a new story, it's normal to get excited about it and fall so in love with your characters and plot that you are eager to show it to people--curious to see if the story has the same affect on them as it's having on you.

This is not always a good plan.

Several things can happen. The people who read it will either like it or dislike it. And regardless, some will give you criticism. This might cause you to stop writing as you take time to contemplate this feedback and decide whether or not to try and take the advice and change your story. Now you've been derailed from writing your story and are second guessing yourself. What to do?

I don't speak for every author out there, but I've learned the hard way not to show my writing to people until I've at least completed a first draft. And even then, I don't tend to show it to people until I've done a rewrite and feel good about the story. This is mostly due to the fact that when the story isn't done, I'm still discovering it myself. To get feedback at that stage will, as I said before, derail me. And I need to trust myself as a storyteller--as the one who is discovering the story I'm telling--before I start bringing other opinions into the process.

Besides, if I've only written a chapter or two, it's not really fair to ask people for story feedback at that stage. How can anyone give honest feedback on a fraction of a story?

Writing is hard sometimes. It can be lonely when the story lives in our heads alone. And while I like to get together and vent with writing friends about my story and places I'm stuck, I never let anyone read it until the story is done.

How about you?

What do you think of this quote?

Do you have trouble knowing when your book is done?

At what stage do you let people see your writing?


  1. That's something I've never thought about yet...being published and still wanting to make changes. Not sure if that scares me or not...

    When I have my writing group check out my story after edits (I usually write the first draft and do one round of edits at least before sending it out), sometimes they'll find things that I missed, and I'm so very grateful! Other times they might mention something that I don't think needs to be changed. And they understand. They are just making suggestions in their own opinion. It's not their story. But I have to decide what suggestions am I going to take, and which ones I will leave on the side. Because, in the end, it's my story, not theirs. They're just helping me through it, but I'm the one who makes the final call.

    1. That's so true, Julian. Your process sounds similar to mine. It's a good way to both protect your story from outside influence until you're ready for it and to practice trusting yourself as a writer--which can sometimes be really hard!

  2. "I need to trust myself as a storyteller--as the one who is discovering the story I'm telling--before I start bringing other opinions into the process."

    Well said, my friend.

    My process is so similar. I might do some brainstorming with other writers, but I don't send the manuscript to anyone unless I've finished the first draft and taken it through at least one round of edits on my own.

    Part of that is because my close writing friends are all moms. I feel acutely aware that they're giving up time to help me with my story, so I don't want to bog them down with errors that I could have fixed on my own. It's my way of respecting those who critique for me.

    An exception is if I'm putting together a proposal. Then I have critiquers read the first few chapters and the synopsis well before the book is complete.

    1. Maybe the "Mom" thing is a factor for me too that I didn't really realize. I too prefer to give betas my full book, but that same exception is true for me with book proposals. Good point, Steph.

  3. A great post! I love that quote! I never thought of it that way before.

    I did wonder if authors ever critiqued their work after they were published. I now have my answer.

  4. I usually share when I have the story completed. I rarely do more than one or two rewrites. Some things I share with just the first draft done - I like to write neatly, so I don't usually have too much to mess with that I'll notice with out feedback. Of course, then I have lots of things to change ;p

  5. This is very helpful. I'm really bad about letting anyone ever read my work. EVER. XD Thanks for the great advice!