• Does It Take a Village to Raise a Book?

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 17 comments

    TL;DR version: Should you share your work, or even your ideas, before the writing is done? Or should you keep it to yourself until “The End” so that you don’t risk losing psychological steam? Share your thoughts and approaches in the comments below!


    Last weekend I had a workshop with my writing group in which we discussed the new opening to the book I’m working on. This was the first time the gang had seen anything from this WIP. I was hella nervous.

    But their feedback was warming and encouraging, and their comments were helpful. Better yet, two of the guys alerted me to a flaw in my prologue that I would never have spotted on my own, and which would have been harder and harder to fix the deeper I got into the book.

    Such feedback is a major reason why it can be useful to have beta readers, or even beta idea-bouncers-off-of.

    But there can be a dark side to sharing your work, or even your idea, before it’s fully cooked.

    Some writers say that the more they talk about a project before they start working on it, the less inclined they are to actually work on it. Others believe that feedback from readers, especially if it comes too early in the process, can negatively alter your approach.

    Our pal E. last week put it very well, and more succinctly, in a comment on our blog: “If you describe it out loud, you tell the story and have less of a psychological need to write it,” she writes. “Plus, then you might have too many cooks spoiling the broth.”

    As for the benefits of sharing, she writes, “You can get feedback, encouragement, and be held accountable to finish if you spill your story to trusted parties.”

    So what do you all think: Share your work before it’s done, or let nobody see it until you’ve finished your final draft? Or let nobody see it before it’s even published?! (Except for the necessary ones: agents, editors, etc.)

    E. presents the choice this way: “Keep your mouth shut and surprise the world, or it takes a village to raise a book?”

    As for me, I think this might be one of those writer-by-writer situations. As so often is the case, what works for one writer may not work for another. This could even be a WIP-by-WIP kinda thing: Sharing my work is usually helpful, but there have been times when I’ve talked myself out of an idea by talking to others about the idea too early.

    If you do share your ideas and/or the work-in-progress, don’t forget the key element that E. mentions: “trusted parties.”

    Both E. and I will be eager to hear from you in the comments below. Let us know your thoughts and approaches!


    WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is copy editor and fiction editor at the Texas Observer and has written for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2016 writing project that you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coachingprivate instruction and writer’s block counseling services. Join our mailing list and get a FREE writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer.”

    0 0 votes
    Article Rating
    Notify of

    Newest Most Voted
    Inline Feedbacks
    View all comments
    david lemke

    Since I’m in two groups currently and have hosted groups, I see first hand how complicated this question is with many pieces. The first piece is yourself. There’s lots of important questions here: Are you a loner or do you connect well? How well do you take criticism and advice? How experienced are you? How well do you know your craft and do you know that you know it? How critical is feedback to your motivation? How well do you “read” advice and the people giving it? On the other side of the coin is the group you’re in: What… Read more »

    David Duhr

    Hey Dave. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. You’re so right about groups, particularly critique groups composed of people who don’t know each other and where members can dip in and out at will. We’ve written extensively about this, so I won’t bore anyone by rehashing. But that’s why I think E.’s comment about making sure you trust the people with whom you share your writing is so essential. You raise a lot of good questions, my friend. But what are your answers? Do you tend to share your work during the writing process? I might assume so,… Read more »

    Marie Hammerling

    I like feedback. How do people react to the plot? Do they love it or hate it? I wont’ hesitate either to ask experts in a field about a topic so that I can be accurate.

    David Duhr

    Thanks for sharing, Marie. And good tip on not being afraid to ask experts for some advice.

    Marie Elgin

    I’m with Justine–I thrive on the criticism and feedback and I do my best not to let it derail me if someone doesn’t like something. But I DO NOT discuss an idea before I have pages to show. People learn my idea by reading its execution, and never by hearing me talk about it. I think e is right, that its best to keep our ideas to ourselves so we don’t lose psychological steam. But after those ideas lead to words on the page, let your “trusted Parties” see them! Because it does take a village, much more often than… Read more »

    David Duhr

    Hi Marie. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

    I love what you say at the end about the solitary writer. There are few writers who haven’t benefited from the input and feedback from *somebody* on the path from idea to pub day. But we can have the romantic fantasy too, can’t we? The act itself is solitary, even if you’re in a crowded coffee shop or whatever. It’s just you and your notebook against the world!

    Until you need feedback…

    Marie Elgin

    Who says you can’t have it all? Though some days, when I’m sitting alone in that coffee shop with my notebook, all I want is any excuse to talk to someone instead…

    Marie Elgin

    Sorry I meant David.

    Glynis Jolly

    I lose interest in the project when I talk about it so, for me, it must remain a secret until I have a good working draft. After that point, I want only a couple of my closest writing buddies to read it and, of course, get it a little critiquing. It isn’t until the third draft that I want any beta readers.

    David Duhr

    That’s pretty much my approach too, Glynis. I’ll talk about an idea only occasionally, and only then with my closest confidants. Usually I keep it to myself until I do some writing. And I can count on one hand the number of people I share it with after that.

    Joe C

    I’ve been working with David for some time on my book. I first met him in Austin at a coffeehouse, Once Over, on South 1st. At the time, I had been showing my work to many before that. Many were not so nurturing, in fact I had been discouraged to continue it. I think it’s important to understand what are you looking for when you show your work to someone. I believed in my work, I just wanted someone else to agree with me. I knew with David he was the best one, since he could give me good advice,… Read more »

    David Duhr

    I’m glad too, pal o’ mine. I’ll be very curious to see the end result of what you first showed me so long ago. And hey, nothing wrong with taking a few years to get it right. Too many books suffer from a rush to publication. Besides, you’re not just mapping out one book; you’re mapping out a whole world, and a whole series. It’ll be worth the wait.

    Kara I.

    For me it’s a day-by-day or sometimes moment-to-moment thing. Since my current WIP is intensely personal, it can be very tiring to share. At those times it sort of acts like a slow leak in a car tire: I won’t get very far down the road if I keep letting air out. At other times, though, I feel energized when I read aloud or allow others to read a new chapter. Their feedback helps me see my writing in a new way, learn what should stay and what should go, or maybe leads to adding in a new part of… Read more »

    David Duhr

    Thanks for sharing, Kara. My new project is intensely personal, too! It’s so weird, isn’t it, when you know that other people are reading something so important to you? I’ve never before cared about a project the way I do this one, so sending some of it to my handful of readers gave me an anxiety I can’t remember ever feeling before. But the feedback I got filled me with new energy, and I’ve written almost daily since then. I hope you’ve experienced the same.

    David Duhr

    Here’s a good comment left by a writer on a different page of our site in response to this question: I found this week’s question especially relevant (please see below), here’s why. I’m taking James Patterson’s “Master Class.com” course and there is a public post section. It’s a great course, and I’m getting a lot of value out of it. However, my ideas are well my ideas, and sharing in the digital public is not so wise I feel. I do have a “master mind editing” group of friends and those I respect I share with, but it’s one on… Read more »

    Meryl J.B.

    I don’t sing until the fat lady does. Which is a dumb way of saying that until I write at least a full first draft, and usually not before I write what I consider a final draft, nobody hears about or sees what I write.

    The End

    Would love your thoughts, please comment.x