Should You Share Your Writing?
So, you're thinking of sharing your writing, huh? Maybe you're new at it, or maybe you've been around the block a few times but don't know if your writing is quite up to snuff. Whatever your level of experience, here are a few questions to consider.
Are you ready to face criticism?
Unless you specifically tell your reader that you don't want any feedback, they're going to have one thing or another to say about your work. It could be anything from plot progression to pacing to character development or a hundred other things. It may be as minute as your choice of words, the way you describe your setting, or the things your characters say. Even if you are a capable writer, not everyone will be a fan of your work. Every five-star book has one-star reviews, after all.
Now, perhaps you're ready for criticism. You're ready to make your writing stronger in every way. That's great! The important thing to remember is this: not every piece of feedback will be helpful, and not every piece of feedback will be stated with courtesy. In other words, you might encounter people who absolutely want to trash your work.
Should you encounter this condescending type of reader, I hope you'll have the confidence to ignore it--to disagree, roll your eyes, and find someone who doesn't have quite as big a stick up their butt.
How do you know you possess enough confidence in your writing to dismiss people like this? Well, you might not until it happens. As long as you expect something like this might happen, you're ready to share your work. If it makes you feel better, I personally have not had someone like this read my book.
Does your writing include real people?
As fiction writers, it's super tempting (and easy!) to base a few characters after people we know, especially people we're not too fond of. Maybe it's your middle school bully or your obnoxious co-worker. Whoever it is, just make sure you disguise them by giving them different features, a different name, and a few different mannerisms, and you'll be fine.
Do you want to publish someday, or is it just a hobby?
If you don't plan on publishing, your writing is more for you than anyone else. This doesn't mean that you don't want to get better, necessarily, but it means that you don't have to share if you don't want to.
If you do want to publish one day, then sharing your writing is an absolute non-negotiable. Yes, before publishing and after. If you're going the traditional publishing route (as opposed to self-publishing), you'll face what feels like an endless amount of edits. First, there are all the drafts you'll write, then there are beta readers (readers within your age category who like reading in the genre you write). You might send your book to a few beta readers, edit according to their feedback, and send it out to a few more. Same goes for critique partners if you have them. Assuming you get an agent at some point, you'll spend a few months revising from the notes they've sent you. The same thing will happen when your agent sells a book to an editor, at which point you'll need to deal with developmental, copy, and line edits.
Don't let this intimidate you if you really want to get published, though! Your writing can only get better after the first draft with all the help you'll receive, and this should be encouraging. Criticism from astute readers and writers can take your writing to the next level.
Does your writing embarrass you?
Here's probably a question you weren't expecting, but think about it. Would you feel comfortable if someone published your journal? Probably not, unless you're writing a memoir (but even memoirs are carefully curated in order to suit the audience). It's embarrassing and personal.
Sometimes our fiction is embarrassing and personal because it veils bits and pieces of who we truly are--or who we used to be. This is the biggest reason I'll sometimes hold back from letting people read my work. Stangers? No problem. They don't know me, so what they find won't make a difference.
But thinking about my close friends or family reading my work? That's always been hard. They're the people who know me best. They know almost everything about me--but my writing is the last piece of me they do not see. I'm worried they'll see the attributes of my characters--the real nasty, broken parts--and wonder if I am the person from whom these attributes are derived. Is that what's true of you deep down? they may ask. Is this what you didn't want me to see?
In that respect, I'm not ready to share my writing with some who are close to me. There's nothing to stop them from reading my work if (when) I get published, though.
It's okay to be selective
It is, really. Just because someone asks to read your work, it doesn't mean you have to say yes. You don't need to explain your reasoning. Maybe your draft isn't in the greatest shape right now. Maybe you're discerning how vulnerable you want to be with this project--how much of yourself is tied up in it. Maybe you don't like that person (haha, sarcasm not intended).
On the other hand, you probably have people you don't mind sharing your messy second draft with. You may not want to share your work with everyone who asks, though, even if you're ready for the criticism. There comes a point where you share with too many people too early on. Before you know it, there are dozens of others' fingerprints all over something that should first and foremost be yours.
In other words, you don't have to share your work with everyone.
It's okay if you're not ready
Don't ever let anyone pressure you into letting them read your work. If you're not ready, you're not ready. Sharing your writing is a vulnerable thing. I get it.
Conversely, you may never feel like you're ready, but don't let "I'm not ready" be an excuse for never sharing anything. Honestly, when I hand off my book to someone for the first time, that uneasy feeling in my stomach never really goes away, but it does dull after some time. The more you share your writing, the easier it will get. You'll just get used to putting yourself out there.
No matter what you do, the choice is ultimately yours. Don't feel bad about it.