Is there any value in posting your work in progress?

The critics

Writing a blog is about drip-feeding your thoughts to anyone who’ll listen in the world and getting immediate feedback on it. Seems to work well. Writing a book is all about the big bang. Landing an entire magnum opus on the reader and expecting them to devour it in one sitting, hopefully emerging full of praise on the other side.

So is there any middle ground? Is it worth getting the opinion of the community on some half-written text before the big release? Does any interim feedback simply serve as self-gratifying validation for the author, rather than gently steering them in the right direction?

I recently wrote a screenplay for an amateur animator friend. It was pretty intense work and included eight songs, all of which I recorded and posted on youtube for her. I sent over the first act and she liked it. Buoyed by this response I carried on with the screenplay and eventually completed it. It had taken about three months but had been a labour of love and a great writing experience.

After sending it over, it took my friend a while to go through it. When we finally caught up, it was a very different conversation. She picked the smallest holes throughout the plot and put up barriers to show why she couldn’t start planning the filming. I guess she didn’t really want to make it in the first place.

So I don’t like a critic, is that the problem? I guess I don’t mind a few general pointers, hints, even criticisms, as long as it’s constructive and not just negative for the sake of it. In my case, I’d written a three act script and eight songs which I was pretty proud of, but I don’t think my friend even listened to them. She just read the words in the script and moved on to where she thought the problems were. I wouldn’t mind, but I’m sure anyone could find just one tiny piece of positive to reflect the obvious effort I’d put in.

Publish as you go

I’ve been thinking about publishing some of my writing for the book on this blog as I go along. Mainly so that I can show a bit of a flavour of where it’s heading, but also to get some feedback on what I’ve done. Following my recent experience, I’m not sure if this is the best idea.

When I wrote the screenplay, I was writing on my own. I showed it to one other person and got their take on it. The other person had some different views to me so we ended in a stalemate – how I wanted to write the story versus how she wanted to animate it. It was my word against hers.

Now I am pitching to a bigger audience, is it a good idea to encourage feedback on work in progress? Does anyone have experience, either positive or negative with this? I am completely open to comments on anything I write, as long as it’s constructive. In fact, I am always hoping to enter into a discussion around everything I do, as long as it helps the learning and improving process.

One issue around reviewing someone else’s work is personal opinion. When I am reading other people’s work I try to be objective about it. I may not like the genre, but if the writing’s good then that’s the feedback to give. If the writing’s bad then I try to say what’s wrong with it and not let the subject matter influence me. This can be tricky but it’s the most important thing about writing – different people like to read different things. There’s a market for everything, and that’s why we do it.

My view is that I want to share as much as I can and encourage all comments and opinion from anyone with an interest. It’s then up to me how much I take on board and adapt my writing accordingly. The only issue is that too much influence from outside could put a strain on the timing of the project, but at least I won’t end up in a one-on-one stalemate like I had with my now defunct screenplay.

As always, I’d really like to hear any comments or thoughts you have on this, and will be happy to discuss them below.

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12 thoughts on “Is there any value in posting your work in progress?

  1. I don’t like having people read anything I’m still writing. I feel like they aren’t given enough to form a real criticism. Sure, they can judge what they’re given, but it’ll always be incomplete.

    • I can agree with that, it can be a hindrance having someone critique something half finished. The flip side to this is making sure you complete what you’re working on – it’s too easy to fall into the trap of trying to achieve absolute perfection and never finishing anything (I’ve been guilty of this in the past). At least if you give it to someone else to read it’s a way of forcing yourself to finalise part or all of what you’re working on.

  2. I personally love to get feedback on a work in progress. I’ve been printing out chapters as I finish them and asking my coworkers to read and give me their thoughts. Aside from giving me a general opinion, I also ask how they feel about the characters and what they think is going to happen. It lets me know if any of the surprises I have planned are too out of the blue or too predictable.

    I also agree with what you said about adding some positive comments to reflect the hard work you put in. Whenever I critique someone’s work, I like to keep the balance between positive and negative. Regardless of the problems I find, I let the author know if there are any particular phrases or images I really enjoyed, or if there’s a scene that makes me fall in love with a character. Not everyone does this, but I think it’s most helpful.

    • Thanks for your thoughts on this topic. It sounds like you’ve got a great supporting set of co-workers [or maybe they’re just all bored at work and will read anything…!!! :o) ]. I’d certainly like to have that kind of network, and maybe if I actively invested it in I could have. Do you think you get a balanced view from the group? Do you ever feel that they are holding back their real feelings to spare giving you bad news, or is it usually an open and frank conversation? It sounds like the way you give and receive feedback is much more advanced than where I am at the moment and that maybe I need to develop this as I work through my project. Thanks again.

      • Haha it could very well be they are bored. I’d definitely say feedback is balanced, and they’re willing to be open about their opinions. A lot of them have known me for a couple years, and they know my feelings don’t need to be spared when it comes to my work. I honestly didn’t think to share my work with them until I left my notebook open on a counter one day and a couple coworkers decided to read a few pages.

  3. It’s always worth getting feedback on a work in progress, especially since the longer you work on it, the harder it is to detach yourself from it. Who you want to give it to is personal preference. If you have friends you can trust to be honest and not just stroke your ego then give it to them, but others swear by letting total strangers critique their work. Just bear in mind that if you go trawling around for random people to get feedback from, it is usually a case of give and take, so yo have to be prepared to give feedback on other people’s work in return.
    Once you do have feedback, bear in mind that you have the ultimate say. Someone may say ‘I don’t like this bit’, but if you have specific reasons for writing it like that, don’t change it. It’s your book after all.

    • Thanks for that – your comment pretty much sums up how I’m feeling! I’m more than willing to engage with other writers and give feedback in exchange for comments on my work (I wrote something along those lines in a previous post: https://haroldhuscin.wordpress.com/2013/08/13/an-introduction-to-the-world-of-indie-publishing/) but with such a big world, where do you start?! How do you get the right people to critique your work in the first place? I think the online route is probably the best for me – with such a tight deadline, anyone offline will just hold me back (online people are so much more responsive!!). I think the jury’s still out for me on this, but as I write more and more, I’m sure I’ll be tempted to post bits for the world to read.

      • Came over here from the Twitter conversation with Rayne Hall. I agree with Erica that you’re going to have people expecting you to critique their work as well, and then you run into that tricky field that Rayne was talking about. Some people get really offended if you don’t love everything about their work (even though they tell you to be honest). Then once they’re offended, they might start acting out in response to your work. It’s a mess. I’m fortunate (and it sounds like your other commenter Amanda is as well) in that I have a couple of beta readers who aren’t writers. They’re just readers. In my opinion, they are better than writers. Granted, writers are readers too, but there are more readers out there than writers… or at least there used to be 🙂

        Anyway, I have a couple of caveats about publishing on your blog. One doesn’t seem to be a worry to you if you’re strictly self-publishing, but if you’re looking traditional, you should know that putting it on your blog is considered “previously published” for many publishers, so they lose First Rights. The second thing is that you run the risk of getting too much feedback and running into that stalemate again. The proverbial too many cooks in the kitchen. And again, people are funny if you don’t take every single word of advice they have to offer.

        Anyway, an interesting post. Good luck to you.

        Paul Dail

  4. In my writing life, I share my WIP with a lot of people — but each in a different stage. I used to have a friend reading my dailies; she was very in tune with my overall story so would basically proofread it or point out anything glaringly wrong/weird. She’s not reading my dailies this time around because I’m holding them a bit close to the chest, this being the third book with lots of surprises.

    I also have my chapter-reader (Erica!), who gets each chapter after it’s complete. I do the same for her. When we’re just doing rough drafts, we comment in general (and proofread of course), but when we’re doing real drafts, we share the document through GoogleDocs and comment the crud out of it. Erica is a fellow indie writer so we both look at each other’s works with a kind of professional pov.

    Then I have coworkers, friends and family members who get to read full drafts of the WIP so they get the full experience. Those, I pester with questions about how the characters interacted, if there were any weak parts in the plotting/pacing/character development etc. Some of these friends are fantasy readers (my genre), some are not. Some are analytical types, some just give me ‘oh I liked that guy, oh I didn’t really get what she was after’ kinds of feedback. I’ve found it valuable to have that kind of variety in my betas, because they all focus on different things.

    In the end, I try to balance the feedback with how I want the story to go. But I have to remember that half (or sometimes 90%) of the story is in my head, and I just project it onto the page because I know it — but the reader can’t see it. If the reader points to something that confuses them, it’s probably because you think you wrote the underpinnings in there, but they’re only in your mind.

    Sad to hear about your animation idea. You can write songs?! I’m terrible at that. But sometimes a joint project just doesn’t work out. Erica and I are considering something sometime, but we’ve collaborated so much recently that I think it would work alright; we communicate well. That sounds like a problem you and your animator were having.

    • Hi H.!
      Thanks for your comment on this – again, really useful. From what you’ve said and what’s been written above, it sounds like setting up a trusted network of people to run different stages of the book through is the way to go. I guess this can only happen through trial and error – who is willing to do this, who will respond quickly enough, who is honest enough to tell you what they really think in a constructive way. I don’t think this is something I’ll set up for this project, certainly not through my network of friends, but may be worth exploring through the blog. All the people who’ve engaged on here have been likeminded writers who I’m sure would give the kind of feedback they’d like themselves. Maybe I’ll explore developing a network of early readers and copy editors in the next project I do.
      As for the next project (or maybe the one after that!), I would like to explore collaborative writing further. I think that last project with the animator suffered because of timing. In the three months between starting and finishing, her circumstances had changed and I don’t think she could afford to put the effort in at that point. It’s wasn’t wasted time though – I think it may get resurrected in the future and it was really good writing experience. As for the songs, that was a really fun part. I found myself singing them on the way to work, working out new bits and lyrics in the car. It made a real refreshing change to the writing process. I think I might try to write a West End musical one of these days…!!!!

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