Should You Let Others Read Your Writing?

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.

flower in snowNewbie 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:  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.Be A Novelist

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

Photo: © Julia Savchenko |


If you enjoyed this motivational and educational blog, you can learn more at the Be A Novelist website.

10 thoughts on “Should You Let Others Read Your Writing?

  1. Jack

    I thoroughly agree with everything you said about whether or not we should let others read our work. I don’t discuss my ideas during the planning and writing stages, either. Instead, I keep them all pent up inside me till I can put the words on paper. One thing I might add to what you said, though, is this. I don’t generally let people read my work unless they’ve written in my genre, because each genre has its own rules. The few times I have let others who weren’t familiar with my genre (historical fiction) read my work, I have gotten some well-meaning but bad advice. In my humble opinion, their lack of interest in history contributed to their well-intentioned but poor editing. One other reason why I prefer those who write in my genre read my work is this– they might catch a fact I overlooked, or some historical mistake, etc., especially if they’re familiar with the eras I write in. Oh, well. So much for my “two cents” worth!

  2. Pingback: What Is It That You Want From Me?!? « ellenbooks Blog

      1. Ellen

        Norma Jean — You’re very welcome! I remember recommending to a woman who attended a non-credit creative writing class that she consider enrolling in an entry-level English composition course at the local community college to brush up on her grammar skills. In some states, tuition is free to adults over a certain age. She had a great time and learned a lot — and I think it improved her writing. Do you recommend this to avoid the kind of reluctance that tannerakane describes? In other words, do you ever advise beginning writers to include a good grammar course in their writing apprenticeship?

        1. Norma Jean Lutz

          I absolutely do. Taking basic composition classes is a wonderful way to — as you said — brush up on grammar skills, but also to get the creative juices flowing. One must meet a deadline in taking such a course. Additionally, there are many basic grammar courses online. Another good way to brush up on skills.

          However, this still doesn’t answer the question about trusting others to read and possibly critique our creative pieces. I can testify, the more creative the work, the more emotionally involved the writer. (Read that, the easier it is to crush that flower bud.) What it does answer is possibly the need to get the writer accustomed to seeing “red marks” on their submissions. :^)

          1. Ellen

            Thanks, Norma Jean! Have you blogged about where to find those grammar courses online? Or can you point your readers to them? I’d love to link to that post, too 🙂

  3. tannerakane

    I’ve stopped talking about my work before publication. I can’t provide accurate feedback on novels written in genre of which I have no interest. I expect other authors are the same (would a romance writer give accurat feedback on a sci-fi novel if she doesn’t like the genre? I think not). You bring up excellent points, but due to bad experiences, I don’t trust book consultants and critique services. Some editors haven’t proven reliable. Through intensive background checks and time, a writer can, however, find trustworthy folks to service the book (cover designer, copyeditor), but I feel that person must bear interest in a particular genre. I’m looking for an editor, but locating one experienced in, and interested in the science fiction genre has proven difficult. I’m currently doing my own editing, a slippery slope at best, but right now it’s the only choice.


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