If the creative process has gone well, you should now be ready to share your work in the final stage: SHOWING. The moment of truth!
As you work, writing and rewriting, there’s a constant internal pressure to share what you’re doing with others. Especially these days, now that our lives are enhanced / blighted (delete as appropriate) by social networking and ubiquitous narcissism. Of course, you want people to like your work. You’ve spent so long working on it, why wouldn’t you want to share it? You want (and need) approval, encouragement, and validation. But they might hate it, or laugh at it. At you.
You show someone your story and ask for feedback, but then baulk when they tell you what they think. It isn’t realistic to expect everyone to like everything you write, but that doesn’t stop you trying. If you’ve detached appropriately from the work, showing is a little easier, but this stage of the process is still fraught with anxiety. Will they love it, hate it, or worse – not care. Indifference is the ultimate buzzkill.
This anxiety may push you into showing your work before either it or you are ready. You show it to the wrong people at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons. It becomes more about showing off and trying to impress, than a genuine desire to improve your work or make a connection.
Showing your work and getting feedback is scary because there’s so much at stake. At this stage of the process the fear is called Shy Mind anxiety and it can really twist you out of shape. Shy Mind can make you aggressive, complacent, timid, cavalier, glib, rude, arrogant, delusional… Because you’re not thinking clearly, you make wild assumptions about the marketplace, and give editors, producers or publishers way too much power over your own peace of mind. If you try to second guess what you think other people might be looking for, you can end up butchering your work and your ideas.
One way to deal with this anxiety is to avoid showing altogether. You claim that you write just for yourself, convinced you don’t really care what anyone else thinks. But isn’t writing about communication? Isn’t storytelling about making a connection? Don’t you want to move people, make them feel the emotions you’ve had reading great books or watching great films?
There’s nothing for it. You can’t hide in your cave forever. You’re going to have to come out and face the world. You need a plan.
To Show or Not to Show
The way to deal with Shy Mind anxiety is with ‘appropriate performing’. If you find yourself indulging in compulsive or impulsive showing – stop. Compulsive showing is usually a sign that your ego is getting too big for its boots and could do with a slap. It’ll probably get one too. This desperate listen-to-me-because-I’m-important kind of showing never really works, unless you’ve managed to surround yourself with yes-men and women.
To make sure you’re showing for the right reasons, think about why you want to share this particular piece of work. Will you show the whole thing or just part of it? Does it need more work before showing? Most importantly, think about what you want to get from showing the work.
When you show your work, and to whom, depends on what you want to get out of it. And this depends on what stage the work is at. Is it an early draft for which you need feedback? Is it nearly finished and you just need to double check if it works? Is it finished and looking for a sale? Or do you just want approval?
Be honest. Most of us, most of the time, are probably looking for a pat on the back, a big tick in the margin, and a heartfelt “Well done!” or “Good job!”. And perhaps a gold star. It’s great when someone likes your work, but I’m a little wary of accepting that kind of brainless congratulation. It’s fine once the work is finished and out in the world, but if you’re looking for constructive feedback it’s no use at all. How will you improve your writing if all you get is gormless grins and vacant nods? I suppose it depends on who is doing the grinning and nodding.
If someone likes something you’ve written perhaps it’s a good idea to ask them why. If they can’t tell you, their opinion probably isn’t worth anything.
When you’re ready for feedback, again you need to choose your audience carefully. Does the person concerned have the relevant experience? It’s no good asking your mates for feedback, unless they also happen to be successful writers, editors or producers. Equally, don’t ask your family for notes. They’re not capable of objectivity, even if they think they are.
Get several different opinions. Everyone will have their own take on your story and you need to learn how to tell when feedback is worth listening to, and when to throw it out. You need to understand your work and yourself, and the person giving you feedback. An editor will give feedback in a different way to an entry level reader, or a professional critique service, or another writer. They’re all looking for different things from the work.
And remember: when your work is rejected, and it will be, don’t take it personally. Every writer fails. Every writer is rejected. It’s not a reflection on you. The story may need more work. It might be the biggest pile of tripe ever set down on paper. The person rejecting your work might be right. They might not.
“When a writer receives praise or blame, when he arouses sympathy or is ridiculed, when he is loved or rejected, it is not on the strength of his thoughts and dreams as a whole, but only of that infinitesimal part which has been able to make its way through the narrow channel of language and the equally narrow channel of the reader’s understanding.” – Hermann Hesse.
Don’t take it personally.
You are bigger than one story. There is more to you than writing. (I hope there’s more to you than writing – you’ll be a poor writer if there isn’t.) No matter what happens throughout this process, no matter how many people love, hate or ignore your writing, it is imperative that you keep writing.
The only guarantee in this business is that if you stop, you fail.
Since this is the last in the series, inspired by the book Fearless Creating, I’ll leave the final word to Eric Maisel:
“Will you create? The question is an open one and can be answered only through action. If you have taken that action, congratulations! You know as well as I do that not creating is a dead loss; and that creating is one of the few genuine answers to the question ‘How can a life be meaningfully spent?’”
Image: White Peacock