When writing something you really care about, it’s easy to want to keep it to yourself, lest someone tries to steal it. Personally, I’m wary about posting creative work online, and with good reason. After all, I know people who have had their work plagiarized, and it doesn’t exactly sound like a barrel of laughs. My writing is a part of me, and for someone to claim it as their own would be as devastating as if someone seized control of my arm and said “this is mine now, to use as I like.” Slight exaggeration? Probably.
I’ve managed to avoid this risk so far by showing my work to someone I trust, who enjoys reading but has no interest in doing any writing himself. This person is my boyfriend. For the longest time he was adamant about not reading a single sentence of my novel until it was complete, in order to get the full experience and avoid “spoilers”. But after struggling through several semi-drafts and writing myself into a corner about seven thousand times, I decided that I needed his feedback, and he finally agreed. Let me tell you, it has been a game changer. Now, when I have an idea that I’m unsure how to execute, I have someone to discuss it with.
Anyone will tell you that writing is a solitary activity, but personally, I do my best brainstorming when I’m bouncing my ideas off of someone else. Just the act of “talking it out” makes things clearer in my own head. For example, one of my characters is about to undergo a major transformation which will lead to the climax of the whole novel. However, I have several different options in mind regarding how this transformation will pan out, and being able to discuss these possibilities has helped to clarify which ones are inherently flawed and which ones just might work.
Finding someone you trust and letting them look at your work in progress is a great idea, and the benefits are pretty much endless. Here are three reasons why:
–You get someone else’s perspective:
What’s logical to me may not be logical to you. If I don’t have the guts to show anyone my work, there’s a change that my whole novel could be built around some awkward plot device that only I “get”, and I’ll never find out because there’s no one to point it out to me. (Of course, this is all hypothetical, since I have in fact been showing people.) It doesn’t even have to be something as major as the primary plot, either. There may be certain sentences that flow just fine in my head, but to someone else they might look like a garbled tongue-twister. The more opinions you receive, the greater your perspective on how your readers will understand it once it’s complete.
–It will help thicken your skin:
Luckily, as of right now, no one has pointed out any grave errors in my plot. However, I did give it to one particular friend, and though we haven’t had a chance to go over the feedback yet, she mentioned that she was “frustrated” by certain aspects. Like all artists, I have a steadfast belief that my work is flawless beyond criticism. (I jest, for the most part, but there’s an element of truth to it, because why would I pursue writing if I didn’t think I had a fighting chance?) Anyhow, I’ve been obsessing over this tiny comment. Without even knowing which parts she found frustrating, I’ve already been wracking my brain for justifications. The point is that I need to stop! No one is above criticism, and there will always be a multitude of opinions regarding everything you ever create. Some will be helpful, some will not. But being able to just take the criticism without allowing it to knock you over like a cannon ball is a vital life skill for any artist. I’m still working on it, but I have faith that eventually I’ll be able to easily sort through what’s helpful and what isn’t, without letting my ego get involved.
-They will pressure you to keep at it:
As I mentioned before, my boyfriend was resistant to receiving my novel in truncated parts, at first. Lucky for me, he really loves what I’ve given him so far, and as a result he’s been nagging me to get to the end already, so he can read it. This is definitely an advantage! I do put a lot of pressure on myself, but with my complicated work schedule, and my improv rehearsals and shows and volunteer commitments, it’s easy for me to slack off and say, “I need a break, I’ll get back to the novel at some point next week…” Lately I’ve been saying this more often that I should, but having someone else who is invested in my work has been incredibly helpful in keeping me accountable. It’s sort of like being in high school, and having your mom constantly nagging you about starting your homework, except the homework is something you’re actually passionate about.
I’m glad I’ve finally taken the step to having someone look at my work, and to be honest, I wish I’d done it sooner. Things are finally picking up again, and the end is almost in sight.