For years, I’ve made the huge mistake of talking and discussing my forthcoming, in-progress, pending, soon-to-be-finished, not quite done yet, almost there, novel. I talked about the darned thing to anyone within two feet of me who showed a modicum of interest. Travelers sitting next to me on the plane, co-workers, friends, family—everyone was susceptible to my book chat. I don’t know how the conversation always seemed to arrive at my “writing a book” but, sigh, it did. Each of my listening folk would sit poised, appear to be interested, and lean forward to receive my well-practiced and worn sound bite: “I’m working on a book.” Cool, right?
Now, I didn’t force any of my friends or the strangers to talk about my writing dreams. In my own defense, these folks all encouraged me to talk about the book! They egged me on! Practically begged me. Really pulled it out of me, you know? I was powerless not engage my tongue and larynx and respond to the magical question: “What’s your book about?” I’d nearly froth at the mouth, all too eager to give a synopsis of my plot and dish about everything I intended to do with this illusive unfinished story.
I have to admit, all this writing talk made for sparking conversation. To say you’re writing a book transforms you from the ordinary to the dynamic. It makes a person special to be perceived as someone talented enough to weave a complicated series of people, places and events into more than 50,000 words or more—all typed neatly and bound between crisp pages.
As of late 2009, however, I pledged to stop talking and just write. I don’t want to talk about this book any more. That is, not until I’m ready to pitch it to an agent or to promote it myself. So, here I am. I’m ready to BE about it, rather than TALK about it. In 2010, I finally know that the only way I will feel especially special is to hold my completed manuscript in my hands.
But, before I’m completely finished, inevitably, someone will ask me, “Can I read your story?” From this point forward, I will say, no. Politely, of course, but, the answer will still have to be a firm, unequivocal, no. Take it from me, aspiring writers, it is not in your best interest to let just anyone read your unfinished manuscript. Let me tell you why:
In my experience, these “readers” will fall into three categories. I’m going to use a sports analogy (although I’m normally partial to using food to illustrate things–).
- The Fans. This category of people will read your work and love it no matter what! They’re just proud of you and probably love you on some level. If you want an ego boast, it’s okay to let the Fans (best friends, loved ones) read your work in progress. But, they won’t be able to give you an unbiased opinion. They’ll just tell you, “I loved it! Wow! You sure can write! I can’t wait to read the rest!”
- The Technical Referees. This group of people will deter your progress. Friends may be among this group, but they are NOT writers. They are, by nature, curious-types who want to read this so-called book just to see what all the hoopla is all about. They will pick apart every word, ever sentence, and likely upset you along the way. They will say things like, “Why did you use that word?” or “I had some problems with the second sentence in your first paragraph. I don’t know where this book is trying to go.” or “I made lots of notes and had lots of questions so I wrote them in the margins of all your pages. Oh, and by the way, you misspelled words on pages 3, 12, and 39.” Letting this type of person read your book before it’s complete is like handing over a bowl of cake batter for them to taste when what you really want is an opinion on your three layer cake. [see, a food analogy…] This group won’t have the creativity or vision to appreciate what’s to come in your book. Just say no. Run!
- The Professional Coaching Staff. This is the ONLY group of folks that I recommend you let read excerpts of your unfinished work. This group consists of other writers, members of your writing group, writing instructors, etc. It’s easy and way more constructive to take criticism from people in this group. The “Coaches” will inspire you and reveal real details or plot inconsistencies that really matter. This group will advance your progress, not set you back, leaving you quivering in uncertainty and with a momentary lack of confidence.
I’ve learned my lesson, the hard way. Just write, finish, and get professional advice.