There are all sorts of resources available for writers who want them: workshops, classes, beta readers, bars, books, peers, and people who just love to have you bounce ideas off them. They all have their virtues. Yet for some of us, it’s very hard to show what you’re working on to another person until you’re done and ready to send it off to be accepted, rejected, edited, published… Yes, I’m one of those people.
Not entirely. I discovered early-ish in my writing career, when I was making the leap from Regency romances to Science Fiction, that a writing workshop could be a really, really, really useful thing. I have been part of a number of them over the years. I went to the Clarion Writers Workshop when it was still in East Lansing, Michigan, and it was a life-changing experience. But when it comes to the other stuff it’s harder–it’s really hard–for me to let go and accept another person into my process. When I talk to writers who make full use of all those resources, I start to feel a little defensive. What’s wrong with me that I don’t have beta readers? There are a number of people who have offered and would, I’m sure, have a terrific effect on the work. and yet I have this weird reluctance, almost a skin-crawling aversion to the idea.
What’s up with that?
Okay, it’s not just me. I have a friend who confided that he feels the same way (although I suspect his wife is his beta reader as much as anyone is). And some of it may be that we’re both kind of old school: when I started writing the process, as I understood it, was: you sit down and write something; you edit it; you send it to an editor who (one hopes) buys it; the editor edits it and returns the edits to you*, you make the changes that make sense to you, and the wheels of publication grind slowly onward. There was, when I started writing, no intermediary “send ms. to beta-readers” stage.
So some of it is simply generational. But there are people my age and older who take advantage of such stages, to the betterment of the work. And I want my work to be better! Really. So why the reluctance?
I think it’s specific to my personal history. I have a couple of would-be writers among my family and friends. Over the years I’ve seen some of those persons come to believe, via a sort of psychic alchemy, that anything I am writing is, somehow, theirs as well. That left me with a peculiarly defensive **mine** reflex: don’t try to get too close. This is my stuff. No, you may not suggest changes. No, I’m sorry if you don’t like science fiction; that’s what I’m writing. No, no, no.
The reluctance is personally specific in a another, different, way. One of the tenets inculcated in me with my oatmeal was: you don’t put your dirty laundry out where strangers can see it. I know: in this age of internet oversharing this is positively quaint, although I think it’s an idea whose time may have come around again on the guitar. I realized only as I was writing this post that part of my reluctance to share my work until it’s done is my sense that it’s still in the dirty-linen stage and ought not be shared lest unspecified dire things happen.
And at the bottom of all this is my fear that I’m not strong enough to protect my child (read: work) and if someone makes a completely wrong-headed suggestion I’ll comply simply because I’m too polite to actually disagree (what if my beta-reader later sees the book in print and realizes I didn’t decide with the completely out-of-left-field idea he pitched? O! the soap opera of it). This, I realize, is just nuts: I have protected both my prose and my flesh-and-blood kids from all manner of things. And yet I fear that I’ll let anyone talk me into anything.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because I’m in a knockdown drag-out fight with the current WIP. It might be useful to talk it out with someone. Yet every time anyone offers to brainstorm plot with me, or read what I’ve got so far, or be similarly useful…well, I clench up.
I’ve decided I’m overthinking. I’m not going to judge myself for asking for help; I’m also not going to judge myself for not asking for help. My process may change, but at the moment is it what it is.
And that goes for your process too, whatever it is.
* some writers will weep at the mention of the good old days when editors had time to edit, but it’s a skill still practiced out there by some few, excellent editorial souls.