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?Pin It