And of course, my answer is…it depends.
I’m working on the first draft for my WIP and know, very firmly, that no eyes but mine shall see the actual words. I’ve finally realized that I have so much to figure out & understand about this story, that the draft is truly exploratory only. I chose this path, also, on my last book–the middle-grade mystery. That was the first draft I wrote via Book in a Week, the system I heard about from April Kihlstrom, and I was able to dive right into the second draft, with a lot more structure and a more active hero, and pass those chapters onto my critique group. At this point on my writing path, I’m just more aware of how rough these early stages truly are, and I have more confidence in my ability to do some of my own work with this mud clay I’m trying to shape.
For years, though, in my earlier writing and critiquing days, I did submit first-draft chapters to my critique group. There are days when I really miss doing things that way. And I think, depending on the writer, there are definite pluses to this kind of sharing.
- You are not writing in a vacuum.
When you are writing a first draft, it’s just you and the computer. While this can help you keep a flow going, it can also leave you with plenty of doubts and worries about the progress you’re making. Okay, the computer isn’t going to tell you that your plot line (what plot line?) is weak or that you’re wrong about how a circus tent smells. But neither is that computer going to reach out and give you a pat on the back, tell you that a character is getting interesting, or hand you some dark chocolate for getting all the way to Chapter 10. The support of a critique group can be just the encouragement a writer needs to…keep writing.
- You have a “soft” deadline.
A meeting every two weeks can be a great motivator. Sure, if a group’s critique schedule is too strongly enforced, that schedule can translate into nothing but pressure, which–if you’re like me–is about the greatest shut-down device ever invented. In a good group, though, a meeting on the calendar can be a reminder that you’re in this group because you want to write. Because you want to get some pages out. Two chapters a month for a year adds up to 24 chapters. Sounds like a first draft to me.
- You may get some fodder for that learning curve.
In a first draft, you think while you write. Well, there’s nothing to say that a few other people thinking about that writing has to be a bad thing. Yes, your critiquers must remember (and they will, because you’ll remind them!) that this is a FIRST draft. They need NOT to be marking commas or rewriting your description of the Cannes Film Festival that they just happened to visit last month. They can, however, talk to you about that hero you’re developing and make suggestions about his or her strengths and flaws. They can point out the places where you’ve written tension to make them crawl out of their skins and the places where…you haven’t. You can look at this comparison with pieces of your own work and start to grow a skill.
Obviously, when you’re writing and when you’re critiquing, you need to make the decision about what stage is right for you to share your work. You need to recognize whether a critique will frighten you off from your own story, stalling you out, or whether it will help you give weight and value to that story, providing a supportive audience that is not the black hole of your CPU. You need to be very careful about going back and revising too much from this early feedback, rather than using it to propel you forward.
However, I hear a lot of authors saying, however, never to show a first draft, never to get it critiqued.
And I say, well…never say “never.” Sometimes, it’s more than a little okay to say “yes.”