No. I’m not talking about the crying kind of baby, although sometimes I do feel my work crying from the page like it wants to slap me because I JUST DON’T GET IT! No, I am of course talking about another kind of baby: our novel, article, short story…whatever we’re working on. And it really is our baby; we have conceived it, nurtured it, birthed it from our loins and anyone daring to enter the lion’s den for a look in had better WATCH OUT.
Until a couple of years ago I had never shown my fiction to anyone. Business writing, sure —somehow that has different DNA. But my fiction—the stuff that almost springs from my subconscious—that’s like stepping out into the world of dating, putting your heart on the line and hoping someone doesn’t come along and squish it like a little bug. So when the time came for me to hand my words over and let someone else ‘judge’ them, my heart just about leapt from my body. Thankfully the eyes that read my baby were kind and supportive, unlike those of the authors quoted in this Flavorwire blog entitled The 30 Harshest Author-on-Author Insults In History.
So when and to whom do you show your work?
There appear to be many different thoughts on this question. Some authors refuse to let anyone look at a piece they’re working on until it is as close to the finishing line as they can get it. Others prefer to have it ‘workshopped’ as they go along, that way they can make any changes to plot/character etc. before it’s too late. If you are a member of a critiquing group (as am I – check out Rainwriters) the process is often to have people review your work as you’re going along. But it’s your choice: you can write your whole novel without showing it (or even talking about it) to a soul and then when you think it’s done, that’s the time for the big reveal. Into the lion’s den we fearfully tread.
I think there are pros and cons to both processes—aren’t there always? I’m finding that having my work critiqued as I go along can at times be confusing and has the potential to throw me off my path. I may be trying to figure out where my story wants to go and then several people advise me to take it in a different direction. Not a great way to work. On the other hand, if many people are struggling to identify with a character I’m working on, then I know that character needs work – and that can be really helpful as you’re ticking along in your little writing bubble.
But I do think most writers will agree, especially emerging writers, that when you have someone’s work in your hands you have to treat it like a real baby – precious and not to be dropped. Criticism can and should be delivered in a constructive and tactful way. The reader should be striving to think of advice that will improve the writer’s work, rather than burning it at the stake. It is possible to rip a piece apart as though carefully unwrapping a gift that you would like to put back together. It’s all in the wording. And as writers in the boat together, that shouldn’t be a problem.
What are your experiences of having your work critiques and vice-versa? Are you afraid to introduce your ‘baby’ to the world?