Unless you happen to be Emily Dickinson — are you Emily Dickinson? — you’re writing with a specific end in mind: to be read. Sure, most folks also want to be paid (I sure do), but even to get paid you have to be read. At some point someone is going to have to pick up your pages, or bring them up on a screen, and drag their eyes across them. It’s inevitable and, as it happens, desirable.
As I’ve said a few times lately, I’ve had some issues while writing India-1. It’s a book entirely out of my genre and, accordingly, out of my comfort zone. I had lots of problems outlining it and the conversion of that outline into prose has sometimes been extremely painful. Most days I’ve looked at what I’ve written, sometimes seconds after I’ve written it, and said, “This is crap. This is worse than crap. This is utter garbage.”
Everything that I write gets read by someone. I have two extremely trusted readers who get copies of everything as soon as I’m done with it, sans any kind of revision. I don’t claim to have all the secrets of writing, but I choose to pretend while I work that I will never have a chance to revise, and therefore everything I write must be as perfect as I can make it the first time. Knowing this about myself, I’m absolutely comfortable giving my first drafts to others to read. And on a regular basis I also give out incomplete work to get opinions on projects in progress.
A couple of people I know have questioned this. They recoil at the thought of letting anyone read their first-draft work. They are boggled in the mind when they hear that I’ve given unfinished work to others for review. To them, writing is revision, and while I certainly understand the place for revision, I believe that the author is the one who’s least likely to make good decisions about what must or should be revised. To know where a piece of fiction needs tucks, or whether that fiction needs any tucks at all, that work must be read.
And, really, what are these people afraid of? Eventually whatever they write is going to be read by someone, unless their ultimate aim is to spend months slaving over a manuscript only to stick it in a drawer somewhere. I suppose there are writers like that, but that’s a wholly alien concept to me and I’m not qualified to discuss it. I’m all about the overwhelming majority of writers, all of whom want to get eyes on their prose, and plenty of them.
As it happens, I’m very glad that I decided to let those pages of India-1 be read, because I found out from the reader that the work was not offensive to the sensibilities of someone coming to the writing cold. I honestly expected to hear from them that, yes, my writing on this project blew chunks and that the file should be immediately deleted, gone over with a security program to scatter the remaining electrons and never be spoken of again. They weren’t completely blown away by what I’d written, but they were engaged with the story and wanted to see the rest of it when I was done.
If I had jealously held on to my work and let it be seen by no one, I may never have chosen to continue working on the project. I would have continued to labor under the misapprehension that I was writing something no one would ever want to read. As it is, I’m still not totally thrilled by the process of creating this thing — yesterday in particular really sucked, let me tell you — but at least now I know I’m not wasting my time. India-1 may need the steady hand of revision when I’m done, perhaps much more so than other novels I’ve written, but it’s not trash.
So that’s the value of being read. Don’t be afraid of it. And for God’s sake, don’t hide your writing like it’s a hoard of precious gems. The sooner you can get your words in front of someone, the better, because only then will you know if the writing does what it’s supposed to do: entertain.