11 July 2012

How to be a published writer: Step 2

Step 2: Share it.

There are many reasons to share your unpublished work with other people, even your work-in-progress. To name a few: to be witnessed, to share excitement, to get encouragement, to hear how other people are reading your work, and to get revision or editing suggestions.

During Spring term I took a creative non-fiction writing class, and at some point during every class period we had to share something we'd written in small groups. It was terrifying, but also really affirming. There's something very different about reading your words aloud, almost like it makes them more real. And of course I was also sharing what I'd written with the instructor, because I had to turn it in. That class helped me see that there's a lot to be gained by sharing my work in its earlier, ultra-imperfect stages, so now I share my rough drafts with my editor and sometimes with my mother and/or a couple close friends.

Lately I've been writing a lot of poetry, and after I finish a poem I'm kind of in love with it and can't wait to share, so I'll email it to my editor and/or call up one of my good friends and torture them by reading it to them over the phone. (They are kind enough to say that they really like it.)

One of my writer friends reads at open mics once or twice a week, and he almost always reads stuff he's just written that week. In terms of his process, reading his work aloud helps him see where it needs to be revised. He's much braver than I am. Just this past Monday, I read some of my unpublished work at an open mic for the first time, but it was work I'd already edited and pretty much consider done. I shared in this setting because I'm trying become more comfortable with exposing myself...emotionally and "literaraly," not literally. It was a good experience, and I'm already thinking about what I'm going to read next week.

Share with caution, though. This is especially important when it comes to work that you might want to publish. It's easy in this era of Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for people to get into the habit of passing along whatever they come across that they like. They may not stop to think that you may not want your unpublished work shared willy-nilly. Someone may be struck by something you wrote and read it aloud to a couple of their friends or post it on their blog--they're thinking of it as a compliment to you, but it can have some serious negative effects.

Someone recently shared some things I'd written with someone else without asking my permission first, and it was an important lesson for me. It's essential for me to have a sense of control over my audience so that I can write honestly from an authentic place. So from now on I'll be making sure that people with whom I choose to share my unpublished work understand my expectations around sharing. I'll be requesting that they not read aloud to anyone else, either in private or public settings, or give anyone else a copy in printed or electronic format any piece I send them, and that if they print something out they make a concerted effort not to let it fall into anyone else's hands (this means shredding it or giving it to me when they're done with it).

(Note: This is the second in a series of posts about how to get published. Please also see How to be a published writer: Step 1.)

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