“It has never been easy for me to understand why people work so hard to create something beautiful, but then refuse to share it with anyone, for fear of criticism.” — Elizabeth Gilbert
Why sharing your writing is good for you
Sharing your writing is no doubt one of the scariest things about becoming a writer. But it’s also one of the most rewarding things you can do for yourself.
Why? Because when you start sharing your writing you grow. The moment you allow others to read what you have written, you claim your right to call yourself a writer. Until then, you will always feel like an imposter.
Even if publication is not your aim, sharing your writing is what will allow your creativity to blossom. It will free you from your fear.
Like so many people I meet, I used to be a closet writer. To write in a creative voice was my secret dream. For two decades I wrote in an academic voice for a small audience. It was not a bad thing to do for a living, but it left be creatively bereft.
Then one day I went to a creative writing workshop and wrote the opening paragraph of a short story that involved a woman in high heels, a sunset, an unopened letter and a man in a black business suit. I don’t remember what I wrote, but I have a very clear memory of how surprised I was. Sharing what I’d written then and there in front of a bunch of strangers was the most liberating thing I’d ever done. For days later I was on a high and my pen stayed close to my body.
Sharing my writing had made me aware of my creative potential. Where that woman in high heels came from, there were a lot of other characters that I could create.
I knew then that the key to coming out of the closet and claiming my creative voice, was to start sharing my writing.
One of the first things I did when I moved permanently to Hoi An last year, was to start a weekly writers group.
We meet on Friday mornings and for two hours we are on fire. We do timed free writing sprints to a wide variety of prompts – from introspective journaling, to story starters, poems, sentence stems etc – and we burn through pages of original writing that we had no idea we were capable of doing.
Sharing our writing is hands-down the best part of those two hours.
There are three simple rules: 1. write without stopping to think or edit; 2. share your work without apologising for how crap you think it is; 3. give only supportive & constructive feedback.
Come to think of it, there is a fourth rule: don’t wear mascara. Most weeks there will be tears – tears of sorrow and of joy – because good writing comes from the heart, not the head.
Over the course of a year, I’ve watched how sharing can transform even the most self-critical and insecure writers.
It’s a little over a year today since I founded the Hoi An Writers Group and I’ve done some stock-taking.
Here are my six best tips on why and how to share your writing:
1. Share your writing with your peers
What makes sharing in a writers group such a positive experience is that you are doing so with other writers who are intimately familiar with your fear. They know that to your own eyes, what you’ve shared will always look imperfect and bad. They feel the same about their own work.
Reading your words, on the other hand, gives them courage about their own work. It’s of reciprocal benefit. Your peers are the people who will give you the feedback you need to progress with your craft. Your friends and family will not.
2. Don’t share your writing with your family and friends
Sharing your writing with a good friend, or your partner, isn’t a good idea. Trust me on this. For starters, they won’t give you honest feedback. Of course your partner will say something positive, even when it’s crap.
They also won’t be in a position to give you informed feedback. Your friend or partner may be an avid reader, but that does not mean they’ll be able to pin point what’s not working in a scene you’re struggling with or why your voice resonates so strongly when it does.
Worse still, your friends have no idea of how much bravery it took for you to share your writing. Like you, they are busy people and they might disappoint you with a one-liner. ‘Great read’ or ‘I really liked that’ will not give you much by way of feedback. Be prepared to get no response at all. I’ve been there. It’s worse than copping a critical comment.
The best place to share your writing is in a supportive writers group. There are many online writers groups, including this one. In the 21-Day Write Your Journey Challenge Facebook group we have been sharing our writing since January. Feel free to join, it’s free!
3. Sharing creates momentum
If you are serious about getting published, you’ve got to get used to putting yourself out there. Don’t make the mistake I did of endlessly re-writing something you have written to make it perfect. If you do that, you will never move forward and you’ll never get a sense of your true creative potential.
Allow your writing to take on a life of its own. Share it with your writing peers and watch it fly – or die. Criticism is an energy that might feel like a kick in the gut, but it will propel you into action. Trust me!
4. Your eyes don’t see what your reader will see
You’ll learn more about your writing from getting feedback than looking at it yourself over and over again. You can’t look at your own writing with an objective eye. Even the professionals need a second opinion.
A lot of our work comes from the subconscious, which makes you blind to some of the stuff you write. An outsider will be able to spot the nuggets of gold that need polishing and the parts that can be sent to the trash.
5. Learn from the feedback others receive and give
You will also learn a great deal from the comments other writers receive. I see it in my online writers group. Some of the most lively and interesting conversations always happen in the comments thread on someone’s shared piece of writing.
6. Sharing will liberate your writing voice
When you share your writing, you’ve effectively won the battle with your inner critic. You’ve forced into silent submission the nagging voice that tells you that your writing sucks, that you’re not ready, that you weren’t really inspired today…and all that crap.
When I will press the publish button on this post in a few minutes, I will feel a little pinch of fear in my heart. I’ll be tempted to go back over and over this blog post to find flaws, correct and polish. But I don’t have time for that. I am turning 55 this year and I’ve got a book to write.
Sharing my writing has liberated me from my crippling drive to perfectionism.
I write, I press publish, and I let it go because I am itching to move on to the next project.
By sharing regularly, I’ve turned my fear into a creative force that propels me forward. And so can you!
I haven’t shared here for a while and it feels great to be back!
Your turn to share!
Be brave. Tell us how sharing your writing makes you feel.
PS: Writers Groups and online writing communities are the best place to share your writing. In the Facebook Group for the 21-Day Challenge we’ve been sharing our writing since January. We just kept going. Each week we are joined by new writers and the group has grown into a warm and supportive community that’s ideal for newbies. WILL YOU JOIN US?