Should You Share Your Work With Others?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Michelle Fayard
Many of us start crafting stories in secret, unwilling to whisper to another living soul that we’ve taken up writing. I never got strange looks for the simple reason that I kept my writing out of the public view until I sold my first few articles. Michelle Fayard has a wealth of experience in editing and writing and has agreed to share some insights with us. She asks the question,

Should you share your work with others?

I’m careful about whom I let critique my work—not because I want all the crits I receive to be glowing ones but because I want them all to be constructive ones. First, I want to read some manuscripts or books the critiquer has written. Sometimes you’ll run across a person who crits better than they write, but usually if their writing isn’t of the highest caliber, neither will their critique be especially helpful, especially if they don’t write in your genre.





I view poison-filled comments for what they are—someone who isn’t happy with themselves. No, I don’t enjoy receiving them, but it’s definitely in the category of more to be pitied than censured. As authors, we need to respect the critiquer in order to respect the comments.

I once attended a conference where, at the end of the day, names were drawn lottery style for first-page critiques. The session was open to all genres and all age levels, yet in the panel of three editors/agents, one consistently dissed every picture book manuscript that came before her. In my opinion, she wasn’t being respectful, especially in light of who she was and where she was and what she said she was going to do—give fair, constructive advice. Instead she not only came right out and said she disliked PBs but had the temerity to then tear each and every one of them up, even though she doesn’t rep or apparently understand them, e.g. she’d says things such as, “Your sentences are too short, and your words are so kindergartenish.”

I have the same philosophy as Stephen King. One comment is an opinion. Two similar comments is a trend, and my gut will tell me whether it’s a valid one—and it usually is.

I think contests are good in that they help us move from having words live only on our computers to going before others. But be selective in what you enter, and remember that everyone has an opinion and not all of them are valid. Sharing your work online can make it easier for those who enjoy tearing others down hoping to build themselves up.

In the beginning it will feel as if you’ll change something to suit X and then Y will ask how come you did that. With time I believe we as authors—and we are authors, just either published or pre-published—develop a confidence and instinct to know what advice to keep and what to toss. It all starts with believing in yourself. Then you’ll never need to don a cloak of invisibility again.

Pre-published author Michelle Fayard has more than 20 years’ experience as a writer and editor, and her nonfiction articles have been published internationally. Michelle lives in Northern California with her husband, Marcelo, and their 12 rescue cats.

To read the first five chapters of her historical young-adult novel,
The Underground Gift, visit http://michellefayard.blogspot.com/ and click on Work in Progress.

18 comments:

  1. Thanks, Joy and Michelle. I really enjoyed this article and have had the same experiences. Great idea to have a look at the reviewers writing.

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  2. "In the beginning it will feel as if you’ll change something to suit X and then Y will ask how come you did that."

    Exactly. I've done that before. I have a coworker who's not a writer and doesn't get all the stuff writer go off about. She's just a reader and she knows what she likes. I love to bounce suggestions I receive from critiques off her because she's like the stabilizer. Frequently she'll say, "That might work, but I don't know if it will make it a better story."

    Excellent post. I heard at least two very successful authors who say they don't belong to critique groups because of how horrible they can be. But they're already established and confident in their craft.

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  3. Finding good critique partners is hard but so worth it when you find that special 2 or 3 people. I also agree that it's important to find someone who enjoys the genre in which you write.

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  4. Jeanne: The reason this post came to be is an author I know went through such a negative experience, she wondered if she should stop sharing her work. This is just a reminder to keep a big box of salt on your writing desk. I've also found wearing Romex doesn't hurt. :)

    Donna: My husband, God bless him, is that stabilizing person for me. Shortly after we were married and I was doubting my skills as a news journalist, he tore a piece of paper from my notepad and wrote seven words that changed my life: "Believe in yourself, you have my love." I still carry that paper in my briefcase. He said these words to me after I wrote this post: "Don't be depressed, and don't be suppressed." That's a great point you make that "different" doesn't necessarily mean "better."

    Tracey: I agree 100 percent we all need someone else who can really read our work and give quality feedback. I've noticed that Mary Higgins Clark thanks her readers in progress in the acknowledgment section of all her books--and she's totally famous. It's nice to know we don't have to be perfect, just wise in who is part of our writing team and willing to edit like crazy. :)

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  5. So true and very well said. I especially agree that respect is a key element...and it needs to go both ways. Thanks for an excellent post!

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  6. This is a very sensible approach. I want the initial feedback that I get to be meaningful and the kind that will put me on the road to submitting top quality work.


    Lee
    Tossing It Out

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  7. Hi,

    Great piece of advice. To be circumspect in choice of who exactly will be allowed to critique your work.

    I have an academic editor who reads mine, because fiction is her escape from the crusty world of academia. She has no desire to be a writer, and she believes writers are the worst critics: they nit-pick and resort to publisher jargon, much of which she claims is power based mumbo jumbo to render authors in awe of their superiors. ;)

    best
    F

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  8. Agreed. After a while, you can distinguish between constructive and useless critiques pretty quickly.

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  9. Good post, Michelle. I think a critique group can be motivating if it's a good one. You don't want either extreme --praise only can be useless (although it doesn't shake your confidence). But readers indulging Ill will in criticizing and tearing down aren't really critiquing at all. A writing teacher I had said one should leave a critique group eager and excited to get back to the WIP, and I agree.

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  10. This is great. I've often met people who are better at critting than writing. This is good though because they are learning the craft (their writing will improve because of this).

    Interesting about the panel though...hmm.

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  11. I totally agree with this post. Thanks for sharing it.

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  12. Thank you Joy for hosting Michelle.

    When I need a critique, I usually turn to my writer friends and send them my work. While it's nice to get a 'very good' comment on what I write, I think a full-bodied critique - this part is good, but this part needs a little more finessing - is best. It lets me know what I'm doing right and what I need to work on.

    And yes, you're right that in the beginning, it's very easy to fall into the trap of wanting to change things to suit interests. Unfortunately, when you do that, you end up pleasing nobody, even less so yourself.

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  13. Rula: I give thanks that most people in the writing world are very respectful and helpful to one another--more so than I've seen with some day jobs. :) I'd just hate to see someone with promise give up after some feedback best filed in the circular bin.

    Arlee: You said it perfectly when you wrote we as writers need the kind of feedback that will put us on the road to submitting top quality work.

    Francine: I agree that writers can be our harshest critics. For my readers in progress I'm fortunate to have found the perfect balance between top-kick authors such as Elizabeth Varadan and Stephen Barnett and insightful readers with an area of expertise that lends itself perfectly to helping me improve my manuscripts. It sounds as the editor you work with has a great personality and attitude.

    Liz: It sure does help to finally reach the point in your writing career to distinguish between helpful and hurtful words. It is my hope that no great authors are lost by hurtful words before they get to this point.

    Elizabeth: You're so right that it doesn't do an author any good to receive only glowing praise--not when it comes time for rewrites, anyway. At the end of a long writing day, though, I don't mind if my husband tells me he thinks I'm the bomb. :) That's an excellent point that a tear down isn't a critique. And I agree 100 percent that you know you've gotten a good critique when you're fired up to get back to your WIP. Your crits always do that for me!

    Alleged Author: I agree that those with great critiquing skills can have among the best chances for being a top author, because they can do something that is so very difficult to do--spot what needs to be changed.

    Julia: I'm so glad this post connected with you.

    Marlena: I like the kind of crit you refer to: This section is good (so I know what NOT to muck around with), but you could rewrite this section so it's equally as strong. That is another wise statement that not only do you not end up not pleasing the crowd but you're no longer happy with yourself.

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  14. It wasn't easy for me to find an excellent critique group, but I'm glad that I'm with one now.

    I don't mind constructive criticism, but I feel that harsh feedback comes from miserable people. And after I get doses of feedback, I turn to my gut instinct to pick and choose what I'm going to use.

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  15. Thanks for the guest post, JL. Michelle, wise words. I wish I'd heard your perspective before I joined too many contests.

    By the way, visit my blog to see if you've won a prize.

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  16. Great post! I don't make my work public, because then I can't control who reads my work and what they do with it.

    Much better to pick crit partners and maintain a semblance of control.

    :-)

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  17. Medeia: I'm so glad you found a supportive critique group, as that must have made the journey from concept to street date for Bestest. Ramadan. Ever. that much more enjoyable. You are so correct that harsh feedback comes from miserable people and that we should always listen to our gut reaction. I recently read that 75 to 80 percent of the time our instincts are correct. Wow!

    Theresa: I hated to read that you've been burned, but I'm so glad you didn't let that stop you. A well-deserved congratulations, J.L., if you've won a prize on Theresa's site!

    Misha: You're wise to know what works for you and then do it. Good critique partners are one of a writers' best gifts. BTW, I love your blog post where you talk about lessons learned from Stephen King's book about writing.

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  18. Thanks also for posting this interesting topic about critiques.

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