Friday, April 29, 2011

When should you show your writing to others?

Real quick, before I launch into today's subject, I'd like to point out that there's now a monthly(ish) Go Teen Writers newsletter. It'll give you a sneak peek of what's coming up on here, acquaint you with a young writer in our community, highlight various resources, and so forth. Click here to get signed up.

On with when you should share the novel you're writing with other people. This is something I have a definite opinion on. You may disagree with me. That's okay.

First, I will share a story that will hopefully help you understand why I always, always, always write my first draft with my door closed.

My junior year of high school, I began work on what would become my first novel. I was taking a creative writing class at the time, so it became well known around my school that I was doing this. (I attended an all-girls school, and there were only 85 or so in our graduating class. It was a small community.)

Friends asked if they could read what I'd done so far on my novel. I was thrilled to show them - eager to hear how much they loved it - and so I handed out the first chapter. It received rave reviews, and was getting passed around to all sorts of people. I was flying high.

When my best friend read it, she didn't have much to say. But so many others were talking about it, that I didn't really notice. Plus, she and I had some other issues going on that were straining our friendship. I attributed her response (or lack there of) to those.

Within that same week I was assigned to write a 10-page screenplay. I did, and was instantly hungry for the encouragement from my friends. (It's addictive. Oh, so addictive...)

I remember this part so clearly that I can practically feel the itch of my school sweater.

It was right before English class - the first class of the day. I pulled my play from my backpack and handed it to my best friend. "Hey, my rough draft of this is due today," I said. "Would you mind looking it over for me and telling me what you think?"

"Okay," she said and took it from me.

About thirty seconds later, she groaned. She turned in her seat and slapped my pages onto my desk. "I can't do this. I'm so not in the mood for your romantic crap right now."

I could write pages of how this made me feel, but I won't bore you with them. You're a writer. You can probably guess. I did, however, bore her with a long detailed note about how deeply she'd hurt me.

Her response was pretty callous. She was sorry my feelings had been hurt, but not sorry she'd said it. If I wanted to be a writer, I was going to have to get used to it. And, really, she didn't think I should be a writer. I was better at writing English essays, she thought, and should consider being an English teacher instead.

As I've said, we had other issues going on - issues that I think played a role in her response to me - but those words forever changed me.

Those words are the reason I write with my door closed.

Those words are also, I think, one of the reasons I got published so young. More on that next week.

No one sees my first drafts. No one sees my second drafts. I don't open that door until my third draft, and even then I merely crack it. I send it to my writing partner, author Roseanna White. (She, on the other hand, sends me chapters as she writes. Everyone is different.)

That first draft belongs to me. The story is still just mine, and frankly, I don't really want anyone else involved. This makes me sound like a 3-year-old, but I'll figure it out for myself, thank you. No help wanted.

With the actual writing that is. There have been times that I've been rather stuck on a plot line, or where I've been frustrated over a character. In those situations, I have no reservations about shooting Roseanna an email and saying something like, "Hey, can you brainstorm with me about such-and-such." Or, "I'm thinking about doing this, but I know it's kinda risky. What do you think?" That's completely different then sending over big chunks of my first draft and asking for approval. It's different than requiring it.

Another reason I write this way - door closed - is because it was reinforced by Stephen King in On Writing, which I read within a year of the whole "romantic crap" fight. He has lots of wonderful stuff to say about why. The one that rings most true for me is this:

...if no one says to you, "Oh Sam (or Amy)! This is wonderful!," you are a lot less apt to slack off or to start concentrating on the wrong thing ... being wonderful for instance, instead of telling the (expletive) story."

I tend to need and crave approval. And the way I've found to keep it under control in the writing process is to simply turn off the opportunity for it when I'm in the creating frame of mind. What about you? Do you show your work to family and friends? Do you welcome their ideas during the creating process, or no?


  1. I welcome ideas. I wrote my first draft of the novel I'm writing -- okay, so 46,000 words -- and printed it out. Only because we were getting a new computer and we needed to use up the old ink. It was an opportunity.;) (That's stuff's expensive!) I read through it. And then I gave it to my family to read. Not for approval -- for critique.

    Although everyone longs for approval, I guess it's not something that is really important to me right now. I like to know what I could do better. My grandparents came over today, and my pop asked how my book was going. (I didn't even know they knew I was writing one:P) So I handed over the manuscript -- and he and my nan said it was really good. "Exciting," added my nan. And then she offered something that didn't quite make sense. I really appreciate that stuff.

    In year 7, I wrote a novel for NaNo. As I wrote, I sent it to a friend -- and I didn't get anything negative. She showed it to her mum, who said it was good.

    At this point in my life, I guess I haven't really received any discouragement according to my writing. God has blessed me with the most wonderful people -- and I take that for granted every day of my life.

    That's a sad story, Steph. And it makes me want to me an encouraging, supportive, loving, unjealous friends to my friends. I'm so glad you didn't listen, let it get you down. You didn't let her words interfere with God's plan for you. So thankyou. :)

  2. I'll definitely be showing it to my Mom.She knows more then I do and I think she'll be a good critic.Maybe one of my close friends.I'm still figuring out a lot of things.Sierra

  3. How neat that you are writing this right as I am wondering about it! That often happens here (thank you, Stephanie!!).

    Though I didn't plan it this way, it just sort of happened, I am finished with the third draft of my 75K darling and I'm planning on sending the first three chapters to some friends. I think that this will probably be the way I do things from now on ~ because it has worked this time, since my story has changed dramatically since draft one and now I've read your horror story. :(

    I agree with Emii, this makes me want to strive even harder to be supportive of the writers in my life...and I'm ultra thankful for the critique circle that I have, ready to help me brainstorm and choose the stronger sentence.

    Thanks for the great post!

  4. Emii, I'm so impressed. How wonderful that you're able to accept critiques so well!

    Sierra, I'm sure your mom is touched by your respect for her!

    Rachelle, congrats on wrapping up your 3rd draft! I think that's my favorite draft to work on.

  5. I like how honest you are Stephanie, a lot of writers say it takes hard work but don't always give specifics! Sometimes I feel like I'm flailing around trying to find what works for me and write something good. It's  a real struggle. Then you talk about your story and I think you've experienced some of the same :)

    I definitely struggle with showing my writing to people. I'm afraid of them saying something hurtful because that has happened. I'm also afraid of them saying it's good because they feel like they have to!

    How did your friendship end up? It took courage for you to say she hurt you. A few years ago when I just started thinking about writing I opened up to a "friend" about an idea I had she called it " a lame, warped, Christian version of sex and the city" it hurt and all I could say was "well, I'm just learning" whenever writing comes up between us it's like she talks down to me about it like she thinks I'd I've been dreaming of being a writer for a few years now I should have books published already. And because they aren't then types of books she reads.  I try to avoid the subject, I try to avoid her, lol, there's issues in that relationship too

  6. I used to have a real problem accepting critique. When I first got critique partners who were in the business just like me, I realized very, very quickly that their advice is invaluable. The first few books we worked on together I definitely finished FIRST, then sent. But for me, I discovered that their input is a lot more easily managed in discreet doses. If I send three chapters at a time and someone discovers an issue with my heroine's mother, I can change it then and there. Whereas if I sent the full MS and at the end I get a few comments about said mother, it's more difficult for me to make the adjustments without effecting later portions of the book. Though who knows if this method will continue working as my writing life changes. =)

  7. Tonya, thanks for asking. We are now on good terms, but it was a long journey. Both of us made lots of mistakes, and there were a few years where we didn't talk at all. We've never regained our original closeness, but we've both apologized for mistakes we made, and have agreed to move on. If we lived closer to each other, we might have a chance at being good friends again.

    Major yikes about what your friend said to you. I think you have to learn your comfort level with whatever your idea is. I've learned with whom I can share new ideas and with whom I can't. Sadly, it's trial and error.

  8. Roseanna, that's a VERY valid point. Another writer friend has said something similar when I asked if she's a closed or opened door writer. She said, "Why pass up the opportunity to fix a plot ahead of time?"

    I get that, but... Well, it's kinda like people who are vegetarians because meat grosses them out. I get it, and raw meat isn't my favorite to deal with either, but life without bacon or Philly Cheese steaks or friend chicken just doesn't make sense to me. I get the reasoning behind writing with the door open, but it doesn't work for me.

  9. Lol - FRIED chicken. Not friend chicken. Sheesh.

  10. Great post, Steph. Once I heard a teacher at a conference suggest not to show until 20,000 words.

  11. I'm glad you and your friend were able to work things out!

    You're right about learning who we can share things with! I was naive in the support of my friend there. 
    I also understand that not everyone is going to like evey idea and everything you write BUT they should be considerate in their criticism. 

  12. Well, I have one best friend who is my critique partner.She and write basically the same way and have collaborated on a few projects, so maybe we aren't the best judges of each other.
    But through it all we encourage each other, and we plot together. She keeps me encouraged to keep writing. I would probably quit without her.
    I show my writing to her when I am stuck or when I have revised it at least once.

    I know it isn't the same way for everyone, and I am extremely blessed to have a friend who is so supportive of me.

  13. I've shared the first few chapters of my first draft with a few close friends, but only one gets the hourly updates (because she begs and begs and begs :)) I see the logic in keeping it to myself, but I also know that I crave criticism, and I hate writing feeling like I don't have a clue. Approval I enjoy momentarily, but after a while I'm sick of "I LOVE IT!!" And I want to hear "Eh, I've read better. And here's why:" Trouble is, I hardly get the latter, so I gave up on trying. *shrugs* That's why I only have one friend who reads my work. My family wants to but... well, let's just say it's not their top priority.

  14. Sometimes I think I don't get enough critiquing... and I mean the kind that are telling me whats good about what I wrote and whats bad about it.
    I crave something negative sometime so I can see what I can improve on, I know I'm doing SOMETHING wrong lol. I just don't know what it is because I love my stories so much, I need somebody who didn't write my drafts to tell me.
    Even though I do get kinda... sad when I get bad stuff about my stories. =/ It makes me consider stopping writing because I might not be "good enough" too get published.
    Makes me worry a lot, sometimes heh.
    Its a good thing I have perseverance to keep sending books into publishing companies until I get 100+ rejections haha.
    It always makes me happier to know that someone like the amazing author of the "Harry Potter" series; J.K. Rowling. Got 62 REJECTIONS ALONE before she got accepted into the publishing company she's with now.

    I'm glad you kept writing Stephanie though even after your best friend told you that. :) That takes real stamina to withstand such criticism.
    The love of writing and getting your feelings out keeps you coming back to the word documents/notebook paper haha... :D

  15. And I can't stand not showing my work to other people... I can't stand not sharing it lol. I'm planning on sending a bunch of emails to my family and friends for them to read my first real edited completed manuscript...
    However, that depends on how long I take to finish editing it... haha.

  16. Julie, the 20k idea is nice. At least then it would be more solidified in your mind, you know?

    Those of you who crave criticism ... I envy you! I welcome it from critique partners, but it's a challenge with anyone else.

  17. My first drafts are terrible, not at all my best work. I probably write my first drafts differently than most people - I hurry through it, put the scenes in order, skip the details just to give the big picture of what happens from the first chapter to the last chapter. Then on the next draft I go through and develop each scene more, add in more detail. The next draft I do the same. I'm not sure why, but I work better this way, when I can add layer and layer instead of trying to write my best on the first draft. Because of this, I keep my first drafts to myself. I also think it's best this way, especially for a teenager, who hasn't carefully studied the industry and just scribbles down something, hands it to their friends/family and is applauded because her work seems so impressive for her age. However, I did have one of my friends let me read the first couple of chapters of the novel she was starting to write. Because of that, I was able to help her to identify her strengths (to bring those out... such as the way she described things) and weaknesses (such as too-long descriptions with flowery adjectives and adverbs), only so she would know what she needs to avoid while she continues to write her first draft. So I guess there are a few disadvantages and advantages to doing this, but for me I'd also rather keep the door closed until my novel is fully developed before showing it to someone.

  18. Tessa, thank you for sharing that! Sounds like we have similar styles :)

  19. How many drafts should a person write?

    Also, how could I find a critique partner or group? My family reads my work as readers, but I'd like someone to critique it from a writer's prespective. That's one of the reasons I like the writing prompts--'cause of feedback from author(s).

    Thanks. Great post! I usually try to only share my work with immediate family, like my mom. I used to share chapter or two or three at a time of like the first draft, but now I'm trying to wait to wait 'till I have more written and am on a later draft.

  20. I liked this. It is good to make people realize that they need to be careful who they show early drafts to. In my opinion, you need to choose someone who you are close to and who will support you but also tell the truth. I am part of a teen writing critique group, where we send our writing by email to a pair of adults who critique it. I think this works well, doing it by email, because that way you can look over it slowly, comparing it to what you personally think, without trying to think of responses to their critique at that moment.
    I also share my writing on a blog and with my two best friends. They are both writers, too. For a while me and one of the friends would just email each other stories to read, and we wouldn't critique them. Reading her writing and paying attention to her writing style actually helped me take a leap forward in my writing, to write with less action and more emotion. It also made me start writing lots of short stories where I don't think about what I'm writing, I only write without worrying about if it is good or not.
    I think that getting peoples response is good, because it helps me realize that I have to fix some things that aren't always apparent when reading it silently to myself. I also think that getting feedback on how the story made people feel when they were reading it is helpful. It is good to know if you are making your point clear, if you are able to make your readers feel what you want them to feel.
    Basically, I think that sharing your early writing is good, but only with people you trust.
    You can see one of my stories here.