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Guest Post with Rachel Griffin: On Sharing Early Work With Critique Partners

Hello, Writer’s Block Party readers! Today we’re delighted to feature a guest post by Rachel Griffin. Look forward to the occasional guest contributor appearing on our blog from now on!

 

Last Thursday I was buried in revision notes when my calendar chimed with a reminder.

It said my housekeeper would be arriving in one hour.

In an absolute panic, I shoved back from my desk and spent the next sixty minutes frantically cleaning my house. I made the bed, folded the towels, emptied the dishwasher, wiped down the kitchen counters, and hand-washed the dirty pots and pans from the night before.

Because I can’t let the housekeeper know how messy the house gets.

Obviously.

I used to approach my writing this way too, never sharing early drafts or chapters with my critique partners. This is how I was sure it would go: I’d share my rough work, and my critique partners would be appalled as they read, all their previous suspicions that I was a Terrible Writer now confirmed, and they would avoid me for the next ninety days until finally sending me an impersonal DM notifying me that our CP relationship was to be terminated, effective immediately.

I obviously couldn’t let that happen, so I would revise and revise and revise until my manuscript was polished enough to send out. I would revise through self-doubt and insecurity and having no idea which direction was the right direction for the story.

I would revise even though I wasn’t sure if I was making things better, or just different.

I would revise when what I actually needed was feedback.

So with my current work-in-progress, I tried something different. I decided to share an early draft with a few trusted CPs.

(Actually, what really happened was that I was in the middle of a revision trying to get the book ready for CP eyes when I became totally lost and had no idea where to take the plot and was sure I’d ruined everything and so I sent off the half-revised manuscript in a moment of total desperation because of course I did.)

But I digress.

I was nervous the entire time my CPs read. I was sure they’d never want to read for me again, or have me read for them, and I’d be exiled into the land of Writers Who Were Dumped by their CPs. (Because here’s the thing about CPs: if you have good ones, you will develop an immense amount of respect and admiration for them as writers. You will love their words. And you’ll want them to love yours, too.)

But none of that happened. Instead, here are 5 things that did happen by sharing my early, half-revised, meandering WIP.

  1. My understanding of the story deepened: by hearing other people’s interpretations of such an early draft, it helped me narrow in on the heart of the manuscript and what I was actually trying to tell. My next revision was much easier, because even though it was big, I knew exactly what I wanted to accomplish.

  2. I had people to brainstorm with: I need to talk things out, in my life and in my writing. But when you haven’t shared your work with anyone, it’s much harder to brainstorm. It was fantastic having people to bounce ideas off of once they knew the story.

  3. My enthusiasm for the project sky-rocketed: When you receive feedback from people you trust that you’re on to something, and they can see what you’re trying to do, it’s magic. MAGIC. My enthusiasm soared as their feedback came in, and I could not wait to start revisions. (This doesn’t mean I only received cheerleading from my CPs—far from it. Once I compiled the feedback from the three people I sent it to, my edit letter was THIRTEEN PAGES. Single-spaced.)

  4. The manuscript changed in incredible ways: by sharing an early draft, I told my CPs I was open to any and all feedback. I wasn’t wedded to the story yet, so I was willing to start over from the ground-up if that’s what was needed. And the feedback I received was amazing. It helped shape the story and mold it into the book I was trying to write. And it confirmed for me the things I already suspected needed changing. I think I could have gotten the book to where it is today, but if I’d stuck it out on my own, it would have taken me way more drafts and several false-starts.

  5. My confidence went up: This relates to point three, but it’s hard to draft or revise when you’re sure your WIP is a heaping trash fire of a project. But confidence in your work spurs you to keep going, and sharing my early draft gave me a jump-start into my next revision.

I know sharing your early work is scary. I KNOW. But it can also be exhilarating. If you have CPs you trust—and I mean trust (I wouldn’t suggest sharing early drafts with someone you don’t already have a relationship with, because sharing early work is incredibly vulnerable, and you want to know the person you’re sharing with will treat it with care)—think about asking a few CPs to read your early draft, especially if you’re feeling stuck. You can always start with a few chapters only to make sure it’s a good fit, and you may be surprised by how helpful it is!

Do you share your early drafts? Let us know in the comments below!

 

Rachel Griffin graduated from Seattle University with a bachelor of science in diagnostic ultrasound, but could never outrun her love for words. She wrote her first novel in the evenings and weekends while working full-time, and eventually traded in her ultrasound transducer for a keyboard. Writing full-time has been an absolute dream come true. She lives with her very supportive husband and schnoodle outside of Seattle, where she reads, hikes, and drinks a lot of tea. She’s also a flutist and avid macaroni-and-cheese connoisseur. She sits on the board of Seattle Arts and Lectures, a non-profit organization dedicated to championing the literary arts, because words matter. Rachel is represented by Melissa Sarver White of Folio Literary Management. Find her on Twitter at @TimesNewRachel. 

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