Trusting Your Writing by Trusting Others
Guest Post by Irene Watson
For many writers, sharing their writing is a difficult and frightening prospect because they fear too much criticism. However, no writing should be published that hasn’t received feedback from others. Finding a few trusted fellow writers can build a writer’s confidence and improve the quality of his or her writing.
Many a would-be writer will pen a poem or book with the thought that he will become famous instantly and everyone will be amazed by his genius—most of these writers, however, have more ego than skill; self-doubt and self-criticism tend to be a mark of good writers, and history tells us that many of the greatest writers were reluctant to share their written work or admit that they were writers. Jane Austen purposely allowed a door to squeak so when she heard it open, she would have time to hide her manuscript. Emily Dickinson hardly published anything during her life. And I have writer friends who admit that until they decided to take the leap to publish, they only had a very few close friends or family members who knew that they wrote books.
Writing is personal. Writers often refer to their books as being like their children. As authors, we place our deepest thoughts, feelings, emotions, our very personalities into our books, so naturally, we fear rejection. We want our children to be liked; we want to be liked; we want to know that all the lonely hours of writing, all the thought and perspiration and agonizing over the right word was not time wasted, but rather that we have succeeded in our goal to entertain, to educate, to enchant our readers, to call upon them to act, to live better lives, to rethink the world. I know at least one author who has told me that a kind word from a reader makes all the hard work worthwhile.
The debate continues over whether good writing can be taught. There are countless writing programs from graduate programs at universities to weekend workshops and week-long writers’ conferences. Being taught how to write well can be inspiring but also a real jolt to the ego. Writing classes and the workshopping of papers can be the same. When someone writes in red ink all over your paper, it can be deflating to your confidence.
However, finding someone you trust to share your writing with can have incalculable benefits. In the past, authors who were traditionally published always had an editor to perfect and refine their work, and most publishing houses would have several proofreaders as well go over an author’s work before publication. Today, many self-published authors are trying to cut expenses by not getting their works edited or proofread. They may still have readers or people they call proofreaders—close friends or family members—but these people are usually not qualified to edit or proofread a book.
Writers are best served by finding other writers, who have skills and are passionate about writing, and then committing themselves to sharing their work with those writers. Sometimes it is easy to find another writer, while at other times you may be unable to find anyone to share your work with. I suggest you find a small group of other writers whose work you will respect, or you start up your own group simply by setting a date, time, and place, and then listing it in local papers, online, and spreading the news of it by word-of-mouth. You might end up attracting a diverse group of people of various skill levels and willingness to commit to being part of the group, but over time, the group will balance out and you will be left with a group of trusted fellow writers who will commit to coming regularly to the group and providing honest feedback.
In most classroom settings today, “workshopping” has become a key part of teaching writing. Workshopping means all the students/writers in the class usually make multiple copies of their piece of writing and distribute them to everyone in the group; then everyone reads the pieces and returns for the next meeting to provide oral feedback on the work as well as written comments. As I said previously, this kind of feedback can be helpful but also agonizing for the writer whose work is heavily criticized or who simply is not prepared to take criticism.
Classroom workshop groups often treat a piece like it is finished and the drama of getting papers graded and the competition in academia can lead to stress and hurt feelings. Personally, I think creating a non-classroom group is far more fruitful. People will come because they want to rather than for a grade. It should also be understood that the group is a place to share what you are working on, what you are playing with, and not necessarily a finished and polished project. The group should be a place to work out ideas and experiment with your writing, not solely try to present a finished piece of work to impress your fellow authors.
One successful group I know of began simply as a group to talk about writing and publishing but has evolved into a group where members share their writing. The initial members felt uncomfortable sharing their writing with one another so they would pick a topic like “procrastination” or “book contests” to talk about each time until they got to know one another and felt comfortable being part of the group. Then they decided they would share their writing with one another.
Sharing written work often imposes a burden on the group members who all go home with a stack of work to read that takes away from their own time to write. But this particular group’s members simply share their work at the meeting. The group is small enough that they can each bring something to read for about ten minutes and then they discuss the piece for another ten minutes.
The discussion usually centers on what the listeners liked about the piece and then questions about the piece and how it might fit into the larger project the author is working on. Feedback is generally positive with a few helpful suggestions for changes and improvement. If the group members choose, they may contact one another outside the group for further feedback or sharing.
The writers in the group benefit in several ways. First, because the work is read aloud, the focus is upon listening to the work, so no one is distracted by punctuation errors or typos, and the listener hears the work the way the author views and reads it. Secondly, each author is contributing something to the group by sharing his or her piece, and thereby, giving new ideas to the other members as well as sharing ideas, techniques, and goals. Third, the commitment to bring something to the group each time it meets motivates people to write so they have something to share.
Outside the group, members can do further work, perhaps helping each other to edit their work and refine it further without there being an obligation to work on everyone’s piece. The group also allows for compatible people to find one another to build writing friendships outside the group that are equally supportive and helpful.
Ultimately, sharing your writing with a group, whether in person, over the phone, through email, or however you choose can be a beneficial way to hone your writing skills and to build your confidence in your writing. No one should ever publish anything he has not first shared with another trusted writer so he can receive feedback on it. Not only does sharing your writing improve it, but it builds confidence, teaches you how to take criticism, and prepares you for allowing your literary child to go out into the world; you’ll still worry for that child, but you’ll have prepared it to meet even the toughest critics.
Join a writing group today and commit to it, no matter how little time you have. A true writer doesn’t let life get in the way of writing, and a group can significantly help you to overcome procrastination and become the writer you were meant to be.
Irene Watson is the Managing Editor of Reader Views, where avid readers can find reviews of recently published books as well as read interviews with authors. Her team also provides author publicity and a variety of other services specific to writing and publishing books.