Thursday, October 18, 2012

Guest post - Should You Let Others Read Your Writing?

Today, my guest blogger is Norma Jean Lutz and she's talking about a topic that all writers encounter in their career, especially early on - should you let others read your writing? Is it helpful or hurtful?

Should You Let Others Read Your Writing?

It All Depends

Letting other people read your creative writing – good idea or bad idea?

That question constantly plagues beginning novelists. It is, in truth, a sticky wicket. There are no easy, pat answers. My reply – when asked this question – is to say, “It all depends...”

In my many years as an instructor for a writing correspondence school, as a speaker and instructor at various writers’ conferences, and when I had my own critique service as part of my writing business, this question often came up.

Newbie novelists are much like fragile little flowers that have popped their heads up with the warmth of spring. All it takes is one sharp dip in the temperature and that bud is a goner. And one cold remark from the wrong source can do the same thing to you and your writing aspirations.

What State is Your Story In?

So do you lay your musings out for all to see and read?

Here’s why I answer “It all depends…”

It all depends on what state your story is in. In the idea stage? Barely started? Half finished? Rough draft? Polished?

One rule that I’ve set for myself and have stuck with this since the outset of my career – I never discuss a novel while it’s in the idea stage. I have two reasons for this.

1.   It’s still too weak and fragile to put into the head or hands of someone else. Their input could derail the project. (Now I know you’re thinking that perhaps their input could be valuable. True. But I’m not willing to take that chance!)

2.   I don’t want to expend the creative energy by talking out my ideas. I would much rather expend that energy into writing out the idea.

Who is Doing the Reading?

It all depends on who is reading your work. Does this reader have any knowledge of fiction structure and novel-writing techniques? Or is it a close friend or relative who would never want to hurt your feelings? Ask yourself – what are you looking for, upward strokes or constructive criticism? Be honest!

Your Inner Resolve

It all depends on your own inner resolve. If you are still weak and shaky in your own writing confidence, I would be very cautious about letting just anyone read your work. It could derail you forever. If you have a measure of confidence under your belt and know you can’t be swayed, then it’s not quite such a colossal risk.

It all depends on whether you can trust this reader to be honest with you.

The Best Advice

The best advice is:

·         Enter a legitimate writing contest and let the judge give feedback
·         Find a trustworthy critique service and allow that professional to give feedback
·         Join a writers’ group or club and let these trusted folk give feedback
·         Send the work out and get the thoughts and reactions from a real live editor

True story: During the fourteen years that I served as coordinator for the annual Professionalism in Writing School, there would inevitably be one or two attendees who chased after guest editors with a large stationary box in their hands. (We all knew there was a manuscript in that box! Hello.) They wanted someone to “look over their work” and give feedback. Of course no one had that kind of time at a busy writers’ conference.

The saddest part of the story is that we would see those same people return the next year with the same box and the same manuscript. It was pretty clear, they were never going to send the work out - they were just looking for upward strokes!

Don’t let that be said of you! If your deepest desire is to be a novelist, your path will ascend above that kind of nonsense.

Stop Spinning Your Wheels

The key is to study your craft and then write, and write, and keep on writing. Don’t spin your wheels running around trying to find someone outside yourself to slap some kind of instant blessing on your work.

Examine your motives and then use great caution and wisdom when letting others read your novel-in-progress.

Thank you, Norma, for giving us your thoughts on this important topic. 

Do you have your work read by others? If so, who and at what stages of writing?

Norma Jean Lutz

Oklahoman Norma Jean Lutz, is an author, speaker, writing instructor, and novel critique consultant. Author of more than 50 published books, she’s been in the writing/publishing industry for more than 30 years.

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  1. Putting yourself out there and letting another person read your work, can be really hard, especially for a new writer. Feedback is important and beta readers are golden, but it should never be done before you're ready. Some writers enjoy the feedback from critique partners and share their work-in-progress. I am not one of them. Unless it's a co-written MS (and that's a different subject: co-writing), I do not let my MS see the light of day until the second draft at minimum. I want to make it look as shiny as possible before I send it out in the world to the slashing of red pens.

  2. Norma, great post. Thanks, Yelena for having her today. Beta's are priceless... but you've got to put the work in on your end first for it to have the greatest impact... otherwise it's just a waste of time!

  3. This is always a hard thing to do. I agree it's not good to talk during the idea stages. Mostly because it get too complicated to express ideas that have't fully formulated.

  4. Especially if you're an inexperienced writer, be prepared for feedback on your grammar, usage, and punctuation. In some cases, I've had to correct rampant language mistakes just to be able to read the writer's work and give substantive feedback. Grammar's boring, but take the time to make sure yours is the best it can be before sharing your work.


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