Do You Share Your Work in Progress?

by Jami Gold on August 23, 2016

in Writing Stuff

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The stereotype of a writer pounding away in isolation still applies in many ways. Unless we have a writing partner, we alone can type the words for our story.

However, the online writing community gives us more options—and thus more decisions to make—about how isolated we want to be throughout our writing process. We can work in secrecy, not revealing our work until it’s ready for the public eye. Or we could involve others in our writing process by sharing our work in progress (WIP).

There’s no right or wrong answer, but we should take the time to figure out which approach works better for us. That choice can affect how we go about getting feedback and engaging with others, so it’s best to figure out where we stand before being swept along by something that might make us uncomfortable. *smile*

We Have the Potential to Share Everywhere

It seems like every social media platform provides ways we can share from our WIP if we wish:

  • On Twitter, some authors tweet short excerpts or a cool line they just wrote, using hashtags like #WIPlines or #1lineWed.
  • On Facebook, we play along with games like “Post the first seven lines on page 77 of your WIP and tag seven friends.”
  • On Instagram and Pinterest, we share pictures of our first page on our computer monitor or character inspiration images with one of their lines.
  • As part of National Novel Writing Month, we might post the line that pushed us over a word count goal.
  • On critique forums, we might share whole chapters in hopes of receiving feedback.

There’s nothing wrong with any of that behavior, but we should think through our choices before taking each step of sharing. I’ve written before about how we can share our progress on our work to increase our accountability (like with word count widgets), but I want to get into more details for other pros and cons we might run into when sharing our in-progress work.

What Are Our Goals for Sharing?

As with many aspects of our writing path, the first step to figuring out the best choices for us is to identify our goals. A non-fiction author might have many reasons for blogging about their topic—such as gathering content for a blog-to-book process or to establish themselves as an authority—but let’s stick to fiction WIPs for these lists.

Why Might We Want to Share from Our WIP?

We might want to…

  • gather feedback
  • participate in a social game
  • get kudos or cheerleading for our growing word count
  • express our excitement for a new story and see if others are interested too
  • participate in a one-chapter-at-a-time critique group
  • boast about a cool line we came up with
  • start building anticipation for our next book
  • create curiosity about our characters or premise
  • ask for help on a sticky plot or character development point
  • check on a research detail
  • feel like “we’re all in this together” by sharing progress with a group, etc.

Why Might We Not Want to Share from Our WIP?

We might want to…

  • avoid posting unedited work that might give a poor impression or change significantly later
  • avoid feedback from those we don’t know and trust
  • avoid giving away a cool concept idea to others before we’ve published our version first
  • avoid opening ourselves to criticism that could ruin our excitement for our story during drafting
  • avoid creating a competition of comparing word counts with others
  • avoid giving away plot points in a previous book of a series that others might not have read yet
  • avoid receiving pressure from readers about when the story will be finished and released
  • avoid opening ourselves to the potential of plagiarism of our ideas or lines before we have an official copyright
  • avoid posting less-than-perfect work that will remain in Google forever, etc.

Think It Through…

For each of those “why we might want to” goals, there’s a potential downside.

Some of us struggle to find critique partners or beta readers, so we might search for a critiquing forum where we can receive feedback. That solution might work great for us—many writers find lifelong friends that way—but it might also leave us open to harsh criticism from those who don’t know our genre or care about our feelings.

We might want to stir up interest in our upcoming story by sharing excerpts while we draft. But what if the characters or storyline changes? Or what if readers get impatient for their chance to read the story?

Some of us like the cheerleading aspect of sharing our word count, lines, and new plot and character ideas with a drafting group. But what if someone in that group calls our idea stupid or accuses us of copying one of their stories?

Can We Survive or Minimize the Downsides?

The drafting process can be a vulnerable time for many writers. We might not be sure what story we want to tell until we finish the draft, so we might be less strong in our ability to fight off derailing suggestions or negative comments while writing.

If we lose our connection to the characters or our joy in the story, we might not even be able to finish our draft and have to set the story aside. (For a famous example of how some authors need isolation to maintain their connection to the story and characters, look no further than Stephenie Meyer’s abandonment of Twilight‘s related story, Midnight Sun, after the in-progress opening chapters leaked online.)

Only we can know what the potential upsides and downsides are for our situation, so the right choice for others might not work for us. Maybe we have a strong sense of our story, even while drafting, and we won’t be deterred by negative comments. Or maybe we’re willing to take more risks.

But even if we want some of those potential upsides, we can try to minimize the downsides. For example, if we need to post in semi-public areas for feedback, we can search for forums that encourage constructive criticism or that focus on our genre.

If we want the cheerleading aspect, we could post only in smaller, vetted groups, such as among our writing buddies or our author Facebook group. Or if we enjoy sharing our story excitement with others, we could look for a middle ground of sharing aspects we’ve already drafted and keeping quiet about story elements that are still in progress.

Because of my writing-by-the-seat-of-my-pants process, I keep my work secret during the drafting process, as I don’t want outside suggestions contaminating my idea until I have a strong grasp of the story. I want to listen to my characters—not others’ conceptions of them. Plus, I don’t want to risk losing my joy for the idea before the draft is complete.

To that end, I share word counts and high-level story premises but not details. For Facebook games and the like, when I participate, I share lines from a complete drafted-but-not-edited WIP. When I get stuck on a story problem, I turn only to my close writing buddies for help.

Some might not want to share even that much. Others might enjoy a wider audience for their drafting process or want feedback as they go to fix issues right away. There’s no wrong answer.

How much do we want to share? That will likely depend on what we get out of sharing. Only we can decide if those benefits are worth the risks of the potential problems.

Before we find ourselves sharing more than we intended, or before we share something without thinking through the possible consequences, it’s good to think about where our comfort level lies. We don’t want to feel forced to give up on a story just because sharing made us lose our connection. *smile*

Have you shared your work in progress before? What did you want to get out of sharing? Did it work? Were there downsides to sharing your work? Can you think of other pros or cons to sharing from our WIP?

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19 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Dwane Knott August 23, 2016 at 6:36 am

I have a WIP. I did post a chapter for comments and received both good and bad reviews. Interesting experience. But not sure I will repeat it until I get thru the first edit.

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Jami Gold August 23, 2016 at 7:48 am

Hi Dwane,

Great point! Sometimes figuring out what works for us might take a bit of trial and error. 🙂 I’ve tweaked my stance over the years (as I’ve built up writing buddies I trust), so we can always change our mind later as far as how to handle future sharing.

So maybe the moral of the story is to not share anything that we’re really going to regret later. 😉 Thanks for the comment!

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Serena Yung August 23, 2016 at 7:39 am

Oh, sorry, I misunderstood. I thought you meant sharing my entire book in progress, haha. I like the Facebook tagging games, but only my FB friends can see those posts. As for wordcounts, I stopped doing that (except for Nanowrimo), but I do tell some close friends if I finish writing a book. Occasionally I might mention some plot or character things to some close friends. On writing forums, I might use my characters and plots as examples when answering writing questions (e.g. Do you have a character who you love as a character but hate as a person? How are they like?), but I keep my characters and stories all anonymous.

I definitely don’t share whole chapters or anything with anyone, not even my best friends, lol. Mostly because I want people to see my work at its highest quality.

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Jami Gold August 23, 2016 at 7:57 am

Hi Serena,

Oh yes, posting our book on our blog or WattPad, chapter by chapter, is yet another angle that some are comfortable with and many others are not.

Those are great examples! As you point out, we can sometimes change the privacy levels of our sharing, or we might choose to give details when appropriate.

I’m looking into Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs) and freaking out a little about how “unfinished” those should be. LOL! Thanks for the comment!

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Serena Yung August 24, 2016 at 3:23 am

Oh speaking of ARCs, I saw that one of my favorite gay romance authors is willing to give out ARCs to anybody who wants them (we just have to comment on the Facebook post on their author page to ask for a copy.) I briefly considered this, but decided against it because I want to read their books at my own time, and…(this might sound strange) I want to keep a distance from the author, so I don’t become overly positive in my reviews because I’ve begun to see them more as a friend than as an author, lol.

But perhaps this is an unnecessary worry, because I already love their work so much that I have literally read and reviewed every single book they published so far. (The author currently has 14 books out, one of which is a collection of short stories. All of these works are rather short, though, only 200 pages or so.)

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Mary Kate August 23, 2016 at 10:08 am

With the very first novel I wrote, I shared each chapter with my writing group, mostly because I was brand-new and thought I had no idea what I was doing and wanted writer friends to share things with. They gave helpful feedback, but then I was constantly revising chapters without ever having finished the first draft, or even the first half of the draft, which in retrospect is why it took me AGES to finish that first manuscript. (I need to revise it some more, actually, so I’m still not done.)

Now I wait until an entire first draft is done before sharing anything from it for critique. Sometimes I don’t even share until the second draft is done! There have been times I’ve been tempted to share preemptively–especially when I get excited about it and see other people asking for “first chapter swaps” on Twitter, etc.–but then I remind myself what Stephen King said; with the first draft you should “write with the door closed.” It’s only after that draft is done that you should open the door and let in other people and their opinions.

Of course, this is just what works for me. Maybe others feel differently!

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Jami Gold August 23, 2016 at 4:53 pm

Hi Mary Kate,

I did the same thing when I first started! 🙂 As a newbie full of self-doubt, I thought the chapter-by-chapter feedback was what I wanted/needed. (In truth, it drove me crazy. LOL!)

Like you, when I’m excited, I’m always tempted to share sooner, but I’ve decided that it’s best for me to wait for that completed draft first. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

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Cobalt-Blue August 23, 2016 at 11:38 am

Sometimes I test out ideas for works in progress through my tabletop roleplaying group. If there’s a plot hole, those guys will go right for it.

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Jami Gold August 23, 2016 at 4:54 pm

Hi Cobalt-Blue,

Oh, that sounds like a great type of group to have as a sounding board! RPGs can give us a great feel for storytelling. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

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Mike August 23, 2016 at 12:04 pm

The views of others is invaluable. The whole point of writing is to communicate, and if your wip isn’t clear to your critique group, which is composed of folks who are not only writers, but insatiable readers, then you have work to do.

Yes, sometimes they make comments I think miss the point, but I ALWAYS consider them.

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Jami Gold August 23, 2016 at 5:01 pm

Hi Mike,

Absolutely! I generally have 1-3 beta readers, 1-3 accuracy readers, and 3 editors–so I definitely get feedback. LOL! When I first started writing, I tried the chapter-by-chapter feedback method, but that didn’t work for me, so now I finish the discovery phase of the first draft before getting feedback.

I know others who thrive on a near-collaborative feedback method by getting brainstorming advice throughout their drafting process. (I also know some who lost their joy in their story after sharing with others beyond their close writing friends. 🙁 ) The point is finding what works for us. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Sophie August 23, 2016 at 1:51 pm

I do share my work with a friend of mine, who writes in the same genre and so has the same fun as I do (and she kinda keeps me straight on occasions)…but other than that, I’m never sure what to share (that might be because I’ve never really stretched outside my fandom and so don’t know how else to engage with the writing community outside of fanfics). Probably because I’m still figuring things out and what’s okay and what’s not okay.

Definitely a thought-provoking post, Jami!

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Jami Gold August 23, 2016 at 5:19 pm

Hi Sophie,

I understand–I appreciate my writing buddies so much! 🙂

The point is that you’re thinking this through. What I hope to help writers avoid is a situation where they’ve lost their connection to their story because they started sharing too early (before they had a strong grasp of their story) or because they shared too widely before the draft was complete, etc.

For example, I know of a writer who shared some of their work on a cheerleading-style group (i.e., not just close writing friends), and an author on the group accused them of copying their idea (when the only similarity was the setting/situation). *sigh* Even though the poster hadn’t done anything wrong, the accusation and confrontation destroyed their love for the idea. So when sharing outside our trusted/vetted friends, we want to be extra careful.

I hope this post helps us all think through what level of sharing we’re comfortable with. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Clare O'Beara August 25, 2016 at 5:11 am

Absolutely not. I share some details with my husband, that’s all.
In the past I’ve been pleased to be able to help writers with science or nature details. I don’t need to know much of the story.

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Karen McFarland August 27, 2016 at 1:03 pm

Not sharing. There’s too much work to do and I don’t want to leave a bad impression. What would that say about me or my work? I know our writing is subjective, but I would think a writer would like to put their best foot forward instead of rushing a partial product out there only for it not to be a good representative of the best that it could be. 🙂

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Nirupam Banerjee September 24, 2016 at 10:30 am

The greatest/biggest/highest example of sharing your WIP is perhaps what we might call “Nina Amir’s BLOGGING-TO-BOOK” concept. She has even written a Book on it and launched it in the famous Amazon.com. So the concept is widely propagated already.

* * *

But the other concept, like a Corollary of a statement by the famous Chess Legend GARY KASPAROV. Gary said something in a YouTube video that logically TRANSLATES into this narration of mine:

# DON’T BLOG ! (Like the Westerners!!)
# DON’T DISCUSS YOUR IDEAS ON THE WEB !

Because there is someone somewhere in the planet always lurking to “tap” your New Info into a new direction and then that person (or Company) will BEAT you, OVERTAKE you, and OUTSHINE you!!

* * *

I believe Russian Kasparov’s concept is important for especially the Authors. It can’t be dismissed right away. While Blogging-to-Book is a good approach if one (really) needs constant stimulus in writing, the writers who can self-control and can follow a relatively introvert/non-sharing/private life at their Manuscript will have their ‘austerity’ likely rewarded in the long run.

In the Blogging-to-Book approach, you need TWEAKING finally (before launching the Book). And unless that tweaking brings in a significant change, there is no good chance of the Book becoming a ‘more success’ the the $0.00 BLOG!

So Kasparov’s approach is then the better one!!

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Jami Gold September 24, 2016 at 11:25 am

Hi Nirupam,

I agree that there are risks to sharing your work online. As you alluded to, people can steal our ideas, and maybe they’ll be able to present our ideas even better than we could, overtaking and outshining us.

But at the same time, offering our ideas online for free also associates our name with the idea. We’re the ones building the platform and the trust.

I know far more authors who successfully blogged-to-book than had their ideas stolen. But you’re right that we wouldn’t want to give everything away and just use “tweaks” to make the book worth it.

For example, the duo behind the Emotion Thesaurus book started by blogging their “thesaurus entries.” When they finally released the material in book form, they added dozens more entries and general writing advice to round off the information, and they were very successful with that release. Since then, they’ve written several more Thesaurus books, from settings to character traits, and each time they followed the same pattern: blog about half the content (enough to establish their expertise and authority) and then release those entries in book form with additional unique material. They’re the experts; they’re the authors people trust, so no one can outshine them.

Will that approach work for everyone? No. It will depend on the content (fiction vs. non-fiction, etc.), the platform of the originator vs the person tapping for inspiration, the earned trust or authority of each party, etc.

So I don’t disagree with you about the risks, but I just wanted to point out why the decision isn’t as cut-and-dried as being able to definitively state that one approach is “better” than the other one for every set of circumstances. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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