Tips for producing more pages
Welcome back to “Page Count,” a regular feature of Page Fright. Here’s where you’ll find a practical how-to for getting more writing done.
Today’s topic is:
To share or not to share your drafts with others.
Showing or even verbally discussing a draft of your writing with family, friends, or workshop participants can be an incredible boost to your productivity. You’ll get to feel like you’re not writing into the void, witness how others react, and hopefully experience greater resolve to keep writing. But if you share your work at the wrong stage or with the wrong people, you could easily get derailed. Instead of producing more pages, you might go into avoidance mode or even abandon the project at hand! That’s why I’m a proponent of “selective sharing.”
Here are three common scenarios where selective sharing could help you protect your work…and your relationships:
Tip #1: Don’t share your work with others when the shape of it is still forming in your mind. Or, go ahead and share, but be very clear about the sort of feedback you’re seeking—and not seeking.
When I was doing a lot of column and opinion writing, it was fun for me to discuss the pop culture and political issues I’d be addressing with a particular friend of mine because she’d really get into it. The problem was, I was trying to work out my own ideas aloud, but she’d have a ton of ideas of her own. Sometimes I’d start to question my position or arguments if they weren’t solidified yet in my mind. Or, her thoughts would fit well in my piece, but I wouldn’t want to include them because opinion pieces should represent the writer’s own original take on subjects, along with their particular brand of humor, wordplay, etc. Looking back, I wish I’d been explicit about the sort of input I wanted. Eventually, although I missed the lively conversations, I decided to only share my articles after they were published.
Tip #2: Before submitting a piece for publication, you might want to give the people you’ve written about a chance to read it. But not early on in the writing process!
If you’re writing creative non-fiction (or even “thinly disguised” fiction) about your relationships with significant people in your life, you might be tempted to show them what you’ve written. Maybe you’d feel funny keeping it a secret or you see sharing it as a means of bringing you closer. My college students often show their personal essay drafts to their romantic partner, and it drives me crazy! People don’t tend to fully see themselves as others see them (even good traits), and I think the likelihood that a writer will change descriptions and characterizations to please the person they’re writing about is fairly high. It’s a form of self-censorship, which never benefits your writing.
Tip #3: Sign up for writing workshops—but be picky about which ones and how many.
Many of you have probably been enrolled in writing workshops—possibly numerous ones. I’m a big believer in them, both for the deadlines they impose and the (hopefully) constructive criticism you get to give and receive. However, it’s so easy to get crushed by one, even well-meaning, comment, isn’t it? I can’t stress enough how important it is to choose a workshop class with an organization and a teacher who will set a tone for what sorts of comments are acceptable, ensure there’s a balance of encouragement and suggestions, and hold everyone responsible for their critiques. (I once had to set a student straight who was writing “lame” in the margins of people’s work she didn’t admire. Er, no.) Also, I’d caution against becoming a workshop “junkie,” where you’re constantly revising and revising the same piece in different workshop settings but never completing it and sending it off for publication, which I hope is your ultimate goal.
These are just a few of many instances where it’s worth deciding for yourself whether sharing your work in draft stage will help you produce more pages or lead you to close the book, even temporarily, on your writing.
I’d love if you described your experiences—good and bad—with sharing your work with others in the comments below. Also, feel free to reply to other readers’ comments. Thanks as always for being part of this writers’ community!