It All Depends
Letting other people read your novel-in-progress – 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.
- 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!)
- 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: When 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, 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. You’ll never be a novelist that way.
Examine your motives and then use great caution and wisdom when letting others read your novel-in-progress.