I hesitate when sending my critique group a first draft. With my first book, I met with a critique group every week. I was actually writing the book between meetings. The original first draft length was an epic 350 page novel that I finished in exactly one year. I wouldn’t have completed it that fast if not for my weekly duty to submit something, and for that I am grateful.
However, I was then confronted with the task of facing those people—post sober awakening. It was like the fog I’d been in had cleared and suddenly I noticed the people around me and became deeply suspicious they might want to kill me. Plus, the shame! THEY HAD SEEN ME NAKED! It occurred to me all those fellow writers saw ME in the raw. ME, I tell you. Of course, I realize now it was my bad writing and not me in a morbid state of undress, but at the time the actual difference was blurred. I quit that group.
I’m currently in a group that has seen and critiqued the aforementioned novel at least twice. I felt it was time to move on to other projects—for their sanity. You know what that means? Yes. THEY WILL SEE ME NAKED! They will see all the errors: plot, character, scene setting, description, syntax, and overall bad writing. But two things have changed since my first critique group: 1. I’m a better writer than I was three years ago, and 2. I’m five less pounds than before—just kidding; I wish I wasn’t, though.
So I sent off forty pages of my new WIP and tried not to hide in a dark corner in a fetal position. And a little Chip MacGregor therapy never hurt, either. This is what he has to say about “exposing” ones first draft.
handing around a bad first draft is EXACTLY the point of a crit group. Let them see what you’re doing and offer some direction for your writing. You may not agree with all of it, but the point is that you’re getting another set of eyes to review your work.
Having a critique group can help you move forward. Besides, having writing friends gives you somebody to share your success and failure with. When those rejections come in, they’ll pat you on the back and tell you that, yes, you’re a fine writer, you just need to stick with it. Maybe they’ll go buy you a Guinness. (Another reason to like critique groups.)
In terms of making things more productive, I encourage groups to WRITE their comments. It’s too easy to weasel out of a tough criticism when we’re all sitting around the living room, drinking tea and commenting on Daphne’s stupid prairie romance. (“Um…I don’t know…but since this is set in the 1830’s, maybe you shouldn’t have your heroine eaten by intergallactic space aliens.”) Instead, ask people to write their criticisms onto the page, then you can talk through them, and hand them to the author, before giving her (a) a kleenex to wipe her eyes, and (b) the number of a good suicide prevention counselor.
Fifth and last, don’t think about trying to make it perfect. Seeking perfection in writing is what freezes people up and keeps them from writing (or from participating in an honest crit group). Look for progress, not perfection. You ain’t going to make it perfect. So try to make it “better than last week.”
His first sentence and last paragraph resonates with me the most, because I do freeze up when I begin thinking about what others will think.
What are your thoughts on exposing yourself your first draft writing?