At some point, if your goal is to have other people read (and potentially even pay for) your work, you have to… actually let someone read it. Even though this was planned from the beginning of the project, it can still be a terrifying moment.
And the question is… when?
As with everything, all writers are different. Some have groups or partners or friends and family who read snippets and chapters from the very beginning of writing. Some have beta readers who only get to see the project when it’s somewhat edited. And some don’t let anyone read it until they are sending it out to agents and editors, who become their first readers.
There’s no rule, no right or wrong, as with every artistic endeavor. And I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my project, now that I actually had something to share. For years, everyone I’ve talked to about writing has (supportively and wonderfully) wanted to read what I was writing, but I had nothing to give them—I’ve been more talk than walk for pretty much my entire life.
Now I have something to share, and part of me is thrilled… Of course, the rest of me is scared and uncertain.
But I knew it was ready to be read when I reached a point in revision where I simply cannot tell what’s working and what isn’t. For the most part, I’ve been doing surface level editing, cleaning up transitions and language, not really tearing plot or character apart. Part of me feels like I’m just being lazy or amateurish to leave my first draft pretty much intact, but another part of me feels like what I’ve done is working, so why change it just to change it?
The thing is, though, that I can’t tell if it needs to be changed or not. One moment I think everything about it is great, the next moment I think nothing about it works, and neither of those attitudes is conducive to healthy revision.
Maybe it is great… maybe it is crap. Either way, I can’t objectively say on my own, so I know it’s time to get an outside opinion. A baseline reading—is it readable? Is there anything there worth saving? Does it have some good bones? Is it maybe even… good?
The hard part is that you have to be prepared for negative opinions; after all, you’re sending it out for honest feedback, and so you have to be prepared for people to be honest. Of course I want everyone to write back and say that they loved it unconditionally, but it’s not going to happen. I don’t think any of my beta readers will be mean or cruel, and they all support me—but when they say something isn’t working or they didn’t like it, I have to take it in the spirit that it’s meant: help. Take the feedback that helps me, try and understand the feedback that doesn’t, and move forward.
I think part of the reason I’m nervous about finally letting people read my work is that I have been a big talker for a long time, and now they get to see me walk. What if they realize I’m full of crap? Well, then I’ve got two options: close up shop and accept my failures, or keep going for the love of the try.
I’ve spent a lot of time talking about writing and being a writer, but you can’t forget the biggest and most important part of this fickle and challenging art: