So you've joined a local writing group or enrolled in one of our creative writing courses. Bravo! You've made the first and most crucial step on your way to becoming a writer.
There's just one thing that's giving you pause: actually sharing your writing with other people. Eek.
Fear not! You are not alone! We've taught thousands of budding writers over the past 15 years and this is a frequent concern. People tell us how nervous they were about the feedback component of their course, but it always ends up being their favourite and most valued part.
So how do you feel the fear and do it anyway? Here are six tips for sharing your writing for the first time.
TIP #1: Find the right people to share your writing with
First off, you want to make sure that you share your writing with the right people. Generally, try not to share with friends and family unless you know that they have a solid understanding of writing. There's nothing more crushing than hearing your best friend say, “I don't get it.” And as encouraging as your mum might be, “It's lovely” is not great feedback.
Ideally, you'll find a writing buddy or a writing group with roughly the same experience as you. It can also help if you're all writing the same format; so for example, picture books or an adult novel.
The best way to find your writing tribe is to join one of our courses at the Australian Writers' Centre. Creative Writing Stage 1 is a great place to start as it offers five weeks of structured exercises and feedback on small writing assignments. Many writers go on to form their own groups and continue meeting long after the course has ended – either online or in person.
TIP #2: Remember that everyone else is nervous too
It can be helpful to remember that everyone in your group feels the same way. Everybody is nervous! That feeling you have that you're going to be judged harshly or that you actually are a terrible writer – they feel that too.
Think of an author that you admire or whose books you adore. Have you thought of someone? Okay, now listen to this: they felt awful about sharing their writing as well. In fact, several bestsellers later, they still think they're a bit crap.
So if you are feeling nervous, you are in good company. Every writer worth their salt has had the same feelings. And every writer in your group does too.
TIP #3: Follow the guidelines
Most writing groups or classes will have guidelines that you should follow. It's important that you stick to these.
One, the guidelines are usually there for a reason. If someone consistently goes over the word count limit, it's not fair on the other writers. You want to actively keep your group supportive rather than stirring up resentment.
Two, you can find comfort in structure. If you focus on making sure your document is in Times New Roman 12 point with 6 centimetre margins double spaced and visible from the moon then you're less likely to get anxious about the actual content.
TIP #4: Don't take anything personally
It can be hard to separate your writing from yourself. So when criticism does come in, it's easy to see it as a criticism of you personally. But try to understand that when a person makes a comment about your writing, they are on your side. They want your story to be as good as it can be.
Think about what happens if you take up a new sport or a new hobby. When you join a running group or a knitting circle, everybody helps each other. Someone might suggest you try a different shoe, or hold your yarn a different way. These are suggestions to help you improve. And that's exactly what's happening in your writing group or class.
“What I’ve noticed about writers over the years – myself included – is that we will ignore the ten good bits of feedback and focus obsessively on the single piece of bad/negative/vaguely gently critical bit of feedback,” says AWC presenter Angela Slatter. “It's a huge mistake. The stuff you need to fix? Just fix it. Don’t waste time self-flagellating with ‘Oh, I didn’t do that one thing right! I only did SEVEN THINGS RIGHT! I’m a terrible writer.' No, you’re not. You’re learning.”
If you hear something that you think is particularly harsh, make sure you've properly understood the person's intent. A great technique is to rewrite their comments in a way that you think is supportive or positive. Could that be what they actually meant? If you're still not sure, rephrase what you think they said and ask them. A lot of the time they'll be mortified that what they said caused you offence.
TIP #5: Submit the best work you can
Let's make this clear: your story does not need to be at publishable level! The reason you're submitting it for feedback is because you want to help to improve it.
But it also shouldn't be something you dashed out five minutes before it was due. Have you reread it since you wrote it? Like, properly, really reread it? With a red pen in one hand and a frown on your face?
It's perfectly fine to submit a first draft. But you want people to focus on your story, and not be distracted by your grammar or shifting tenses. Taking the time to tidy up your story before you submit it will give you the best chance of great feedback.
This is a quick checklist of questions to ask yourself before submitting your story:
- Is your point of view consistent?
- Are your characters active participants in the story?
- Have you broken up exposition with dialogue?
- Is your story following an arc or other dramatic structure?
- And finally, how's your grammar and punctuation?
TIP #6: Enjoy the process – or fake it until you can
Remember how everyone feels nervous before submitting their writing? Well, the flipside of that is almost everyone finds receiving feedback the most enjoyable aspect of being in a writing group or class. Skeptical? Check out our Reviews section and search for the word ‘feedback'. It's okay, we'll wait.
See? Everybody loves it.
There's an old saying: fake it 'til you make it. When it comes time to share your writing for the first time, do it with a sense of positivity. Believe that it will be a good experience. If you have to, write out positive statements and stick them on your wall. Repeat uplifting mantras. Convince yourself that this is going to be an amazing experience with positive outcomes.
Because trust us – it will be. Sharing your writing is the difference between writing and being a writer.