So, how do you know when you’re a real writer? This is one of the toughest questions for any writer to answer. Some say it’s when you first get published. Others say it’s when you’re actually paid for your work. But the only true way to know if you’ve earned the right to call yourself a “writer” is by doing something that almost every writer overlooks.
Owning up to it.
And to own your identity as a writer—a real writer—you’ve got to show someone your writing.
Need more proof? Here are five fantastic reasons to show someone your work and how it can totally change your writing life:
No. 1 – Facing your fear makes you stronger
Why is it so tough to show someone your work? Because it’s scary. It’s like walking a tightrope or speaking in front of an audience or maybe even holding a spider. Whatever it feels like to you, I guarantee you’re not the first writer to hesitate showing his or her work.
But as we all know, showing your work is the only way to get notes and feedback on what you’ve done. (It’s also the only way to sell something, so we’ve all got to get used to it).
Once you let go of your writing, you can take a step back and with the help of friends or colleagues get a sense of what’s working and what isn’t. You don’t want to suffer the alternative — letting your fear overcome you to the point of stalling your growth as a writer.
The good news is that the more you show others your writing, the less scary it gets. “When you avoid something that scares you, you tend to experience a sense of failure. Every time you avoid a feared object or situation, your anxiety gains strength while you lose some,” says Noam Shpancer in a 2010 article for Psychology Today. As a professional writing coach, I can tell you that this is more than true in the case of writers and artists, who are so emotionally tied to their work.
Every time we avoid showing someone our writing, that critical voice inside us pipes up, “See? I told you it’s not good enough.” But by facing our fears, we take back our power and in the process become better writers.
No. 2 – Showing your work tells you who your audience is… and isn’t
When I finished my first book, I gave it to ten people.
Then, I waited. All I heard was the sound of crickets. Finally, one person finished the book and loved it, but the other nine? Eh, not so much. Most of them never got back to me.
At the time, I was devastated, but then I gained more experience with being a writer and with finding good readers. I realized that I had made a huge blunder. I picked people who weren’t interested in the kind of writing I was doing. It was a rookie mistake, but one that I had to make to learn how important it is to carefully research your audience.
If I had asked more in-depth questions about my readers’ interests, I wouldn’t have wasted my time the unhelpful feedback. Professional writers build networks of people who like the kinds of topics they write about, and they rely on those networks to find good first readers.
So, before you send your screenplay for the pilot episode of a gritty gangster drama to your best friend who only reads country western romance novels, check to see if you know someone who might be a better fit.
No. 3 — You gain confidence
Humans are social creatures.
Another person’s opinion of our abilities, whether good or ill, can heavily influence our own belief in those abilities. According to an article on self-confidence and career in Fast Company, “A psychology study from Ohio State University found evidence that an individual’s career path is influenced by their own levels of self-confidence and, to some degree, the amount of social validation they receive along the way.”
So, when you screw up the courage to show someone your writing and he or she not only likes it but loves it, that validation can go a long way toward strengthening your potential to create future works of brilliance.
Learn how to receive compliments on your work graciously and take them to heart. Knowing where you shine is just as important as knowing where you need improvement.
No. 4 — You get better with rejection
No writer likes rejection, no one.
The thickest-skinned, crustiest old battle-worn writer among us all still gets that inner quiver, even if it’s ever-so-slight, when faced with scathing criticism. But rejection is part of the process, and to be the best writer you can be, it’s most helpful to see rejection as a teacher, rather than an enemy. The more you show your work to other people, the better you’ll get at differentiating between uneducated opinion and objective feedback.
You’ll also get better at shifting into neutral when faced with any type of criticism and at strategizing how to improve the writing the next time around.
Rejection might not be pleasant, but it doesn’t have to sting every time. Use each rejection as an opportunity to practice gaining perspective.
No. 5 — Get support and get rid of your stress
Years ago, when I started asking around to see if anyone would read my writing, I found out that two of my closest friends were writers, and I didn’t even know it. They hadn’t shown anyone their work either. But once I opened the door, we all started sharing our writing, and each of us became stronger.
“The support offered by a caring friend can provide a buffer against the effects of stress. In a study of over 100 people, researchers found that people who completed a stressful task experienced a faster recovery when they were reminded of people with whom they had strong relationships,” according to an article from the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality & Healing.
Our writing friendships not only give us the support we need to keep going, but they decrease the stress we feel whenever we experience a low period in our writing. Every time you show someone your work, you give yourself greater opportunity to forge one of these precious relationships.
The time to do this is now—no procrastinating! Sit down and make a list of at least three people to who you can show your writing and then start contacting them. Pick up the phone, send that email, get it done.
As scary as it might be, at the end of the day you’ll be proud of yourself for doing it. And your writing career will thank you!