When do You Show Your Writing?
This came up in the comments of a recent blog post on writing speed. Unfortunately it’s not the case with me, but there are no doubt people out there holding on to work, and not giving it the airing it deserves. So, what are you waiting for, and when exactly should you show your work to someone?
So, for the sake of argument, let’s say you show people early; as early as you can in fact. We’re going first draft reveal people, hold on to your ego!
- Maybe there is something fundamentally wrong with your story. Perhaps the idea’s been done, or just plain doesn’t make sense. If the advice you get is “dump it and do something else,” and you end up agreeing, you’d rather not have wasted any more time on it.
- Similarly, your structure or approach, or chosen perspective might be so far off that you need to rewrite the whole shebang. Again, knowing sooner saves you time.
And that’s all I’ve got. It basically boils down to “you get to fail quickly,” which in this hectic, time-strangled time we live in, is no bad thing. But here’s a list of things that make me pull a face when thinking about sending people first drafts.
- My first drafts are abysmal, and apparently I’m not alone. Quite apart from the embarrassment, I don’t hate anyone enough to make them read through that. These people are doing me a favour after all, and it would feel disrespectful to make them waste their valuable time on it.
- I often know there are problems with my first draft. Therefore I have a fair idea what’s going to be in the feedback I get, and finding out what I already know is a distraction. True, there is a chance that someone will spot several things that I didn’t, but it’s slim, and when I know there’s going to be another round, I’d rather get fixing and ask them later.
- There’s a chance of being put off for the wrong reasons. If you get truly awful feedback, along the lines that have already been described, you could get put off the project altogether. That may be a good thing. But the dark side to the advantages above is that you may be tempted to throw away something of worth. Of course, this depends largely on who you choose for feedback and how you deal with it.
So from this we can infer the advantages and disadvantages of showing your work later – at the 2nd or 3rd draft, say. You get arguably more useful comments, and you don’t waste people’s time. But, if a project is truly not salvageable, you’ve wasted your own (technically not true I suppose. It’s highly unlikely that during that “wasted” time you’ve learnt nothing, for example).
But there’s another problem. When does late become too late?
This might differ from person to person, and I guess there may never be a “too late”. Imagine an example whereby, having hit an impasse, you abandon a project. It is never too late to revisit that project, work on it, an then show it to someone.
“Too late”, then, is never. But as it’s impossible to reach that stage, we need a better line in the sand. For a project that is worth saving (one that is important to you, and you wouldn’t want to shove in a drawer and forget about), when does it no longer become useful to keep it to yourself? Let’s do another list.
You’ve waited too long to show someone a project when:
- You are no longer learning anything from working on it yourself.
- You are no longer improving the work. Maybe you’re just shuffling bits about, or tweaking.
- You’ve been at an impasse for longer than you’re comfortable with. Sometimes we all need a little help. Often, in getting someone else to look at a problem, you arrive at a solution yourself.
- You’re sick to death of the project. This might be the time to shove it in a drawer. But showing it to someone else might rekindle your affection for the story.
- You think it’s finished. It probably isn’t.
Over to you
So, when do you show people your work? Have you been stung by showing something too early? Is a project languishing because you won’t let it out? And where do you think the sweet spot is? Answers on a postcard, please! Or you could just use the comments section.