I recently attended two productive and gratifying writing events: one a week-long workshop, the other a three-day retreat. These events were, at once, similar yet very different from one another. On my long drive home from North Carolina, I contemplated those differences, as well as the impacts of these two events on my writing habits and my current project.
The major difference in those two events was the respective instructor/teacher’s philosophy about sharing our writing, which could be a current work-in-progress (WIP) such as a short story or novel, or something produced that day for a writing exercise.

Sharing Shutdown

The instructor for the first event is resolute in his opinion that sharing can often shut writers down. We too easily step into the comparison trap and the “I’m not good enough” chatter begins in our heads. It can leave us feeling exposed and raw if we don’t get what we want or expect from it. So he presented each exercise for our own contemplation and response in the privacy, comfort, and shelter of our own minds and notebooks. The time between workshop sessions was spent independently working on our own manuscripts. As a group, the attendees seemed pleased with this approach and everyone was massively productive during the week. We learned a great deal about one another’s projects, but no one read their work aloud or handed off printed pages to other attendees. We left satisfied with what we had accomplished on our respective writing projects.

Sharing As Validation

At the second event, we rounded out every session with each person reading her written response to that session’s exercise. Additionally, each day ended with a shared evening meal, followed by the chance to read a piece of our work aloud. Reading aloud was never required, but the opportunity was there for everyone who wanted to take it. By the end of the four days, nearly all of us had shared words we had written, either in a writing exercise or from our WIP. On the last night, I shared a scene from my novel that I had been avoiding writing for . . . well, let’s just say, a long time. I knew it was going to tax my writing skills and be emotionally draining, too. But I had started it at the earlier workshop, and I got exactly the reaction I hoped for from the small audience that night. It still needed work, but now I knew I was heading in the right direction.

First-Time Trembles

I’ve been writing and attending events like these long enough that I see value in both approaches and am comfortable either way. But they can be intimidating for any writer who has never had a chance to share their work. I recall my trembling hands, holding my short story manuscript the first time I read aloud to a group. I wasn’t sure the words would come. I also remember participating in my first critique group, wondering if I had “what it takes” to be a writer.

Unpredictable Outcomes

I’ve observed how individuals respond differently to the feedback they’re given–some becoming defensive and angry, some accepting it, as uplifting, with an open heart and an intention to improve. And I’ve seen how that feedback can be delivered with vitriol or with love, kindness, and honorable intent. I have listened to writers share their opinions on a manuscript when the author never requested advice in the first place. I have seen writers who–given the chance, but not required to read aloud–felt shamed into reading, obligated to share with the group or else be the only one “too chicken” or embarrassed to show their work. I’ve heard about an author who shared a piece of writing in confidence with fellow authors and found out later they had discussed it, without permission, outside the original, and supposedly trusted, circle of sharing. I know authors who have wilted and stopped writing completely after they were courageous enough to open themselves up to judgment from other writers. I know writers who have grown and improved at their craft, their passion, because they shared their WIPs among a trusted and supportive group of kindred spirits. Knowing if and when to share your work and with whom is an important decision that only you can make for yourself. What has your experience been with sharing your work? Are you eager or uncomfortable doing it? Do you see benefits or disadvantages? Do you and/or your critique group have a set of rules or guidelines you follow when sharing your work and reading or hearing the work of others? I’d love to hear your opinion and experiences in the comments below.

Gina Edwards is a retreat leader, a certified creativity coach, and a book editor. She is also a writer, so she’s intimately familiar with the challenges and elation that come with being one.

She supports all writers—published and aspiring—who want to write as an act of courageous and necessary self-expression.

Walking the writer’s path hand-in-hand with her clients and students, she helps them establish a writing practice and define a creative life on their own terms.


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