Alice’s Restaurant

June 30, 2007

When Do You Show Your Work?

Filed under: writing, Writing Craft, Writing Life — aliceaudrey @ 12:05 am

Do you keep your writing to yourself until the entire book is done?  Or do you like to be cheered on as you go?  Do you write to your vision, to your audience, or both?

My first three attempts at writing a book went bust.  The second attempt in particular was spectacular because I spent twenty years on it, and never once got close to the end.  I showed it to anyone who would sit still long enough for me to put it under their nose, and got all kinds of conflicting feedback.  That book left a mental scar.

It took me seven months to write my first Romance.  I pushed myself mercilessly, forcing the words out and demanding all kinds of time from my family.  I was afraid if I didn’t get it done quickly, I’d never finish it at all.  When I had finished the rough draft I thought I was done.  I showed it to my mother.  She damned it with faint praise.

Frankly, knowing my mother I doubt she will ever wax rhapsodic over anything I write, so damning with faint praise isn’t as bad as it sounds.  Still, it wasn’t very encouraging.

I immediately threw myself into revisions, and made what I thought was good progress, then sent it off to Leisure.  I got a personal rejection letter – not just a form letter – out of that submission.  Again, faint praise, but some encouragement.

My next several books were all written with the same kind of fever, a kind of desperation to prove to myself that I would actually write the book.  I got a lot written in the years before I found a critique group. 

Since finding the critique group my rate of production has plummeted.  I’ve been focusing on revision instead.  I never showed anything to any of my CP’s that didn’t have at least a completed rough draft if not a fair amount of polish.  However, I’ve stripped books down and rebuilt them so much that sometimes my CP’s were seeing material fresh off the press.

I am now at the point where I have written 15 books, but have no completes.  Zackly Right seems to be close, but the first time someone points out a soft spot, you know I’ll be rebuilding it again.  A couple of years ago I was sure Serpent’s Teeth was done.  It’s currently getting a new villain.  I’m not sure where to stop.

For a long time my advice to anyone who hadn’t completed at least a rough draft was to NOT go around getting feedback or do anything until the rough draft was done.  I still think this is a good way to do it because the vision for the book is less likely to twist out from under you as you write.  In the back of my mind will always be that second book, which got revised from scratch four times though it never came close to having an ending.

However, I’m beginning to think it’s a bit like jumping the pool.  I’m firmly in the just-jump-in-and-get-it-over-with camp.  Others are in the ease-in-slowly group.  I’m quite willing to keep on writing when the writing isn’t going well because I know I’ll discover what I need to fix earlier parts later on.  However, I’ve seen for myself how much easier it can be to write when you go back and fix something that’s gone awry before moving on.

So which group are you in?  Which way do you do it?  If you could pass a message into the past, what would you tell yourself?



  1. hmm…well, I haven’t yet started with a book yet. I write shorter stuff. But I prefer not showing it until it is finished. And then again, I prefer writing for my visions, not necessarily my audience…

    nice post there…

    Comment by Narziss — June 30, 2007 @ 4:14 am

  2. Thanks Narziss.

    All the while I was working on the 20-year book I was writing short stories as well. I came up with a couple dozen of them.


    Comment by aliceaudrey — June 30, 2007 @ 8:33 am

  3. For years, I didn’t show anyone else my writing. I always encrypted all my files, and anyone who lived in the same house with me was under strict orders never to open my spiral bound notebooks.

    About five years ago, I took a local creative writing class with my husband, and for that, I HAD to show others my writing. The class itself was a bust — the teacher advertised it as fiction when it was, in actual practice, more like memoir — but I’m glad I took it, because I started getting over my fear of letting others read my stuff.

    Since then, I’ve worked with crit groups and partners here and there, entered writing contests, and sent off submissions and query letters. Even so, most of my stuff I keep to myself. My husband has read more of my writing than anyone, and even he has only seen maybe 5% of it. I have to know what my story is about and how I want to tell it before I can share it with anyone else. Otherwise, I completely lose my way.

    Great post, Alice!

    Comment by Lynne — June 30, 2007 @ 11:36 am

  4. I think I’m firmly in the “get it all written before anyone sees it” camp. It’s still scary, and probably always will be, for me to allow anyone to read my stuff. I’m probably still too easily discouraged or influenced in a different direction from where I had intended to go with a story. I also keep secretly waiting for that “this sucks” comment, or the one that says “Who do you think you’re kidding? You, a writer? Yeah, right.” *sigh* Welcome to my little corner of paranoia. 🙂

    My message to my past me would be “Just sit down and write. It ain’t gonna kill ya! They can’t eat you. And somebody out there somewhere is gonna like your stuff.”

    Still writing–still breathing

    Comment by sashacat — June 30, 2007 @ 12:48 pm

  5. I wrote over 100 and had almost 40 short stories published before I showed them to anyone. At first, I’d only let my husband read the published ones.

    Then, I joined a crit group and started trying to write a novel. I never have finished that novel although it has promise…I may revise it someday.

    Then, I joined an online CRIT group. I get the best success out of the group when I have a finished book FIRST and have it as polished as I can make it.

    I also have a very strict rule. . . unless there is some really BIG problem (like the car that disappeared halfway through the manuscript) I don’t rewrite a scene that will take the story in a different direction.

    It has to be written, critqued, and submitted before I’ll rewrite it….

    Comment by Ericka Scott — June 30, 2007 @ 10:52 pm

  6. I tend to think I’m pretty up-front with my writing. I share quite a bit with my CPs. Yet when I think of it there are several books in their entirety which have never seen the light of day. Not because they ended up “in the trunk” but because I simply haven’t gotten back around to them yet.


    Comment by aliceaudrey — July 2, 2007 @ 8:33 am

  7. I’m a hider, I think. I like to share at the beginning, and brainstorming with other writers is a great way to break the story down. But once I’ve got a path, I need to cocoon with it. Over the long haul, I’ve shown about half of my work to others, and all but one piece has been shredded by my CP. None of what I’ve done is saleable until (hopefully) now, though. There’s that fantasy novel collecting dust that will either have to be dusted off and reworked from the ground up, and there’s the 06 Nanonovel that needs a new ending and a lot of work throughout in revisions. And then there’s TRP. TRP will be first out of the gate, I suspect, although if I stall again this fall, I may pick up nanonovel again and see what I can do with it. But I’ll think positive and say that I *won’t* stall on TRP again (mostly it’s a time crunch problem right now), and when it is finished, I’ll decide what to share and how. I don’t want to show it to the whole world, but to handful of CPs, I think. Mint doesn’t do romance genre reading much, so I will need some genre expert CPs this time around.

    Comment by Chris — July 6, 2007 @ 7:00 am

  8. I know where you can find genre-specific CPs. *waves enthusiastically.*


    Comment by aliceaudrey — July 6, 2007 @ 8:37 am

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