Friday, August 28, 2015

When Should I Share My Writing? How to Know When You're Ready to Get Feedback

Is your manuscript, chapter, scene reader ready?  How do you know when it's time to share it?  Are you just looking for feedback because you're stuck or bored--hoping it'll jump start you?  Or are you asking for reassurance about a new approach or idea you're testing? 

Feedback is a tricky game.  Timing and choice of reader is everything.  First, how do you know when to share? 

When to Share--And When It's Too Soon
One of my blog readers told me, "I give my writing to readers way too soon. That comes from my public policy advocacy work where we share drafts early in order to get creative juices flowing and creative ideas spinning.  I get it that this writing has a different process." 

Those of us who are naturally collaborative, who love the synergy of group creative process, often make this mistake.  We think our writing can be helped by many voices, perhaps?  We want to test drive an idea before we've gotten deeply into it ourselves.

Others have trouble with something I call "creative tension."  Most artists have to deal with this.  The ferment of a creative idea can be intensely disturbing.  It brings up doubt, bad memories of past failures, the critical voices in our minds.  I liken it to the surface tension on a very full glass.  One small jiggle and it's all over the place.  Impossible to scoop back into its container.

How is your ability to hold "creative tension" around your project and not share it?  Can you keep going?  I highly recommend Ron Carlson's little book, Ron Carlson Writes a Story.  Great demonstration of what it takes to have creative tension, from a brilliant writer.

When my writing makes me itchy, nervous, anxious, sad, or mad--which happens in many of my writing sessions--I know that the feeling is fleeting.  If I can sit with it, breathe into it, not drown it or distract myself, it usually leads to better writing.  Stay in the chair, don't call the friend or spouse and say, "Can I just read you this one thing?"  That's breaking the creative tension you've worked so hard to build.

The good time for feedback, I've learned, is when I feel almost detached from the writing.  As if someone else has written it.  Then I'm usually ready to hear reader reactions.  As a memoir writer with a very traumatic story told me, "If I'm excited about the story I write, it probably means that it's still in healing and developing phase.  It may not be time to share it yet."

Caveat:  Since I teach workshopping classes, where feedback is given weekly, I want to distinguish between peer review (unmoderated, as described above), and the wonderful results that can happen in a moderated (instructor monitored) feedback session.  Creative tension is usually built in those groups, rather than dispersed.  A weekly rhythm of feedback also gives safety and accountability.  Good writers groups can get there too.

Who to Share With?
A new student was excited after a semester of my workshopping class.  "Last time I got feedback, it was devastating," she told me.  The class had been a very positive experience, opening her eyes to several skills she already had in place, the solid strength of her story, and a few areas she needed to work on.  "Before your class, I showed parts of my manuscript to a good friend, someone who reads a lot and whose opinion I really respect.  She was noncommittal.  Maybe my book idea wasn't her style, but no response really hurt my feelings."  The writer decided to set her manuscript aside.  A year later, she came to my class.

"It really matters who you share with," she said.  "And if it's sensitive material, it helps to have a teacher or moderator, who can help with too-strong comments and questions."

I like to take online writing classes myself three times a year--winter/spring, summer, and fall.   I hunt feedback partners in those classes.  I watch how different classmates respond to others' work.  Is it kind, generous, insightful?  Do they take time to think about the piece?  Do they try to find something encouraging to say, as well as more critical comments?  If I find a few, I often get together with them after the class ends, and we continue to exchange chapters or stories.

Readers are powerful!  They are totally necessary.  But good timing and good choice is the way to get what you need from feedback.

Next week, this writer will be on retreat, enjoying some quiet in a lakeside cabin, so the blog will resume on Friday, September 11.

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