I’ve heard it said before, but I wanted to be the one saying it this time. When you are writing something, write it for yourself first. You are both your first audience and your biggest critic. Try to slip into the role of audience and leave that critic behind. Let others decide if your work is good enough with reviews and their critique. Someone is going to enjoy it.
That of course brings us to another point. Don’t choose a primary reader who is your family, excluding spouses. Spouses should be able to read anything you’ve written and maybe they’ll raise an eyebrow or give you a funny look, but they’ve been married to you how long and they don’t know that you’re a weirdo yet?
Your primary, first reader should be someone you know well and someone you trust and someone who you think will enjoy the subject matter. My primary reader isn’t my spouse, but she knows the kind of things I write and has no real interest in the subject matter. That’s fine! My primary reader is a long term friend who has similar interests in my particular genre and as an added bonus, he has a Major in English and catches ninety percent or so of stupid grammatical mistakes and will let me know when a sentence is wonky. (With the exception of this blog; i klame al thee dum mistaks)
It’s of particular importance to not share snippets of things while you’re writing. Comments on how a particular story is progressing will completely change the outcome of your story. Really. Imagine you show your mom a story that you’re rather proud of and her first comment is, “Well, did you have to make them this?” ‘This‘ of course, filling in for the thing I did make them and felt bad about making them even though that’s what the point of the story was. So, work on your novel, your short story, your poem or your novella, but don’t share it with the world until it’s done.
Avoid asking your family to read it. I’m serious. You’ll regret it. When your sister tells you that she read through your novel and wants to rewrite every line to be passive voice and you tell her no, passive voice is terrible and she doesn’t believe you and THEN brings up the fact that she really hated having to read through it when you’re in a shouting match… phew… Look, if you get nothing else out of this, please get this. Absolutely no sibling alpha readers. Absolutely no parental alpha readers. On the off chance that you have kids, probably not a good idea to let them read it first.
Once you have had your alpha reader comb over it and you’ve made changes and possibly written a version two, now is the time to get an editor, unless you’re confident in your ability to stay in tense. I’m not really going to talk about this because Eileen Troemel has already written a fantastic article about it here.
Now, I know what you’re saying, since I somehow always seem to know. “But Morgan!” you say, “My grammar is perfect and nouthing is rong!” (hmm, I already did this joke…) Look, if nothing is actually wrong, then let some other readers try it out. There are plenty of reading groups on Facebook that will comment on things, but I would hope you already knew a few other close friends who would do you a favor by reading your prose and giving more feedback than “It’s fine.” I’ve written quite a few short stories that some of my close acquaintances at work would read and rave about the tale. That doesn’t help when what you really want is someone to say “Yeah, it was good, but your plot derails here when you remember that the door they came in was described as a thin screen door and the bad guy is trying to pump green vapors into the room…”
If you have someone like this who will point out glaring plot issues, please remain friends with them. Make them dinner, send them home with fresh cookies and know that they are the ones who are incredibly valuable to your writing. Please try to be that person when reviewing someone else’s prose. It will help that person to not embarrass themselves when they get their first work up on whatever site they use… *cough* Amazon *cough*.
Ultimately the story should be something that you’ll enjoy reading. If it’s well written and engaging, other people out there will find you and enjoy what you’ve written. Sometimes it’s just a matter of getting novel finished…