Oh, we writers are an insecure bunch aren’t we? Should we share?
When we start writing, we’re hesitant and flighty, nervous and fretful. We crave affirmation that we’re on the right track, but we stop so often to share our work, we make little progress. Then it doesn’t help that there are so many books/websites/blogs to read about how to be a great writer that it just makes us more insecure in who we are.
So are we good or not? How do we know? When do we find out? Why isn’t there a rule about this?
Um, well, this is the problem with the subjectivity in good writing. No one really knows. But that doesn’t help you, the new writer.
1. When you have something to share. In my humble opinion, it is far more difficult to analyze and criticize a chapter than it is an entire book. A beta reader or a critique partner can’t see the whole intention of your story with just a few pages. My humble advice? Wait until you have a complete draft and let them see the whole thing.
2. When you have someone who is experienced to mentor you. We all have people in our lives who will fawn over us for every little sentence we slap together. As loving as that is, it rarely challenges us to be better writers. Instead, find a mentor or a writing buddy who can give you honest feedback when you share.
3. When you’ve written and rewritten and rewritten until you’re absolutely sure you can’t improve on the piece. Too many authors are in a rush to publish. If they neglect good craftsmanship for the sake of a fast buck, then it’s harder to improve and become better. Respect the art, respect your reader and respect other writers out there by taking your time.
4. When you are ready to hear the worst. Nobody likes to be corrected. But in this business, if you want to have long-lasting readers, many books sold, and agents or publishers taking you seriously, you’ll need to face criticism bravely. Don’t get defensive, just go back and make your creation better.
5. When your creative process is a complete one. When you get to the place where you don’t feel like you have to defend your editorial choices, then you are ready for another set of eyes. Defending yourself when you are misunderstood is going backward creatively. If you are jittery and insecure in your decision making, then the last thing you need is someone over your shoulder telling you that your setting should be in Kansas, not Boston (happened to me) that your main character suffered too much (also happened to me) and that all editorial changes need approval from this “reader”. (Ditto.)
6. When you have such specific detail figured out that no one can steal your idea. I think that sometimes new authors throw big vague ideas around to other authors looking to them for applause. “Hey, guys! How about a romance, but you know, she’s engaged to someone else and he’s a veterinarian!” As soon as Little Insecure Writer says something like at, Mr. Smug I Have More Experience will say something like, “Hasn’t Nicholas Sparks done that to death?” And then Little Insecure Writer will second guess his vision — which included snakes, a roller derby, a pie-eating contest, Abraham Lincoln, and pretzels. Nope.
7. When you know what is sacred in your story. By sacred I mean the elements that you will not tamper with, no matter what. For example, my book Soulless Creatures takes place at the University of Oklahoma in 1986. This setting is sacred to me because I was a freshman at OU in 1986. No matter WHAT ANYONE SAYS I’M NOT CHANGING THIS SETTING! I wrote the story around the setting and I believe (because I’ve also followed the first six-point in this post) that the story is strong and wouldn’t work anywhere else.
8. When you don’t look to the right or the left. By this I mean you stop comparing yourself to other writers. You absolutely cannot be a successful novelist if you imitate someone else. You need to find your own voice, your own style, and your own passions. The only way to do this is to write. A lot.
9. When you stop drafting and you’re ready for editing. This seems obvious, doesn’t it? I’m referring to the bad habits that some writers have of writing a sentence/paragraph/chapter and then revising it to death, repeatedly. This becomes a problem when the revision obsession chokes out forward motion. A full, completed draft is valuable. You have to have something to revise.
10. When you’ve silenced your inner critics. I’ll be honest, they don’t ever completely go away. That little nagging voice can cripple you creatively. A writer who battles those demons and can’t overcome them won’t be able to handle criticism, no matter how gentle.
11. When you can understand why your advisors are suggesting a specific change. There is so much to know in this business. If your critique group quotes Robert McKee, listen to them! But if they sound like they’re pulling something out of their butt, don’t. The hardest part of this is that we have to write an awful lot of words before we can recognize the difference.
Crafting a story can create a big hot mess. There are characters you don’t know yet. Names, descriptions, and motivations to be decided. Plots must be ironed out. Twenty thousand and one decisions that have to be made. This journey of writing a novel, with all of its twists and turns — which is a private journey, just between you and your computer — does not need help from people who don’t know what they’re talking about!
It never hurts to wait to share.
A writer who is comfortable with their own words, their own mental processes, their own schedules, their own methods, will be a better writer in every single area than a writer who is so busy trying to garner affirmation.
What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Have you found early advice helpful? Have you regretted it?