I’ve been #WRITINGLIKECRAZY for a couple of weeks and I have to tell you, I am excited about what I am working on. The project is getting to the place where it is sprouting little green leaves all by itself. And Eddie Levert said in that famous song, “I wanna scream! I wanna shout! And tell the world about it…” But I have learned to check this impulse. Be careful who you show your early work to.
Negative or complicated feedback is probably the best way to get a nasty case of writer’s block. Sure, we all need to get input from someone who doesn’t live inside our heads, but the question is when to seek that input and from whom.
This is not a post about how to avoid the “haters.” (I would actually be in favor of a petition to remove that word from the lexicon.) I know that you have better sense than to give your manuscript to someone who isn’t a friend, or someone whom you don’t respect. What you may do, however, is show the work to soon or hand it to someone who doesn’t know how to read an early draft.
I once asked my friend, Nichelle Tramble, to read a draft and she agreed, but before I sent it, she asked: What do you need? Cheerleading, encouragement, detailed critique? Where are you at with this? This was the perfect question and I took a long time to answer. Make sure you ask yourself this question.
Often times emerging writers will say to me, “Kick my butt. Don’t go easy on me.” I usually interpret this to me “I’m scared. I hope it’s good. I want to make it better.” (Just for the record, as a teacher, I am not in the butt-kicking business.) Usually if someone has paid to take a class, they want some detailed critique and I am happy to provide that.
But if I am in an early draft stage, I don’t want any detailed critique. I want encouragement to help me maintain the momentum to make it to the finish line. You have to understand that there are going to be some people in your life– people who LOVE you– who just don’t know how to be cheerleaders. They do not own pompoms, only red pens. And these red-penners will ask to see your manuscript, but you have to tell them no. These people think they are showing how useful they are by telling you what wrong with your piece. This is what they think you need and they want to help. Bless their sweet hearts. Lie if you have to, but do not let these (otherwise wonderful) people anywhere NEAR your manuscript. You can give it to them when it’s done and they can use their red pens to help you clean it up before you send it to an editor or agent.
You know who your cheerleaders are. They tend to be happy go lucky types who encourage you in all kinds of random crazy stuff your heart decides it needs to do. This would be the friend who encouraged you to take that ridiculous trip to Paris. It will be the same person who told you that dating that drummer would be an experience and you should go for it. That time you were crying after you colored your hair red? She was the one who told you about the time she accidently colored her and it turned out magenta. She’s your girl. Give her the manuscript. She’ll read it on her e-reader while she’s on her way to Vegas.
My person like this is my good friend, Allison. I will ofted read the day’s work to her aloud, stumbling over typos and rearranging funky sentences as I go. When I talk to her, I can hear her clapping her hands on the other end, even if she’s driving. “Cooter Brown! I haven’t heard anybody say that in years!” Or, “Poor Roy. He’s just trying to get his constitution together.” My favorite encouragement is, “Hurry up and finish. I want to know what happens!” (See that picture on the left?That’s Allison and me in Chicago in 2008. I had just won a grant from the USA Foundation. You can see her bright spirit in her smile. Her bright spirit and a lot of fine champagne!) At this stage in the project, she’s the one I need.
There’s plenty of time for redpenners later.