Do you struggle to find motivation to write at times? Have you ever started a novel and then felt as if it was getting to be too much to handle and indefinitely set it aside? Have you ever been about to put a sentence down, realized your mom or your wife was going to read it, and held down the delete key? If you have, you may want to hear me out. I’ll explain why letting others read your work while it’s in progress can lead to a whole slew of problems.
Is It Really A Big Deal?
Yes! There are two relatively simple reasons you should not let anyone read your work until you’re finished.
Reason 1: Motivation.
There’s hardly a more important reason to do anything when it comes to writing. After all, no matter how talented you are, you kind of have to write to be a writer. So, how will not letting people read your work motivate you? I’m glad you asked! It keeps you from cheating—chemically speaking.
When we do something satisfying, neurons in the brain release dopamine, which feels good. So far, so good. But our brains also release dopamine when we tell someone that we want to do something satisfying. Good news, right? Not exactly. The problem is that like any other chemical or drug, we build up a tolerance to neurotransmitters like dopamine. So going around and telling all your friends about the amazing story you’re working on feels good, but it will make working on your amazing story feel less rewarding.
If you’re still not convinced, consider this. For some, writing scratches a very specific type of itch. It’s the itch that kicks up from time to time and makes you wonder if you’re wasting your life, if you did anything today that will benefit you in the future. So you scratch the itch. Throw some words down on paper, have a good time, and walk away feeling satisfied and accomplished (because your brain is shooting you up with dopamine). Unfortunately, many of us have figured out there’s another way to scratch the itch: Talking about our work! Maybe it doesn’t scratch it as well, but it’s a good enough substitute to keep many writers away from the keyboard.
Reason 2: Avoiding doubt.
Unless you’re Cormac McCarthy, you probably doubt yourself throughout the creative process. Heck even he probably started to wonder if he could really get away with using one comma for every twenty pages (I just skipped the comma after “heck” and already feel self-conscious). If you’re anything like me, there are several voices rambling in your head while you write. One wears glasses; he’s the guy saying your writing isn’t meaningful enough. Another has a grizzled beard (even if you’re a woman, this voice has a beard) and wants more intercourse and more vulgarity! Then there’s the guy with bags under his eyes just trying to write while the other voices shout advice at him. Except, maybe you told your mom she could read your next chapter.
That’s one more voice in the room. This one is a sweet lady that bakes a mean cookie, but she makes all kind of motherly mouth noises when the story gets near a sensitive subject. Maybe you told your significant other as well.
This voice chimes in whenever you go to describe a person of the opposite gender. “Is that what you wish I looked like?”
People want to read your book because it’s in your unique voice. If you let other voices chime in, you’re letting your own voice get watered down. Think of it like trying on clothes. If you knew your girlfriend was going to be standing inside the changing room with you, you might not grab a particular pair of pants or shirt. But if she’s waiting outside the changing room, or better yet, at home, suddenly you feel braver. You can try on the man-tights and realize you actually look marvelous in them.
Writing is no different. Find your voice in the comfort of solitude where you can freely experiment. Once you’ve found it and ideally finished your work, then you can finally let others see what you’ve created. Besides, wouldn’t you rather they read you at your best instead of seeing the crud that comes out of your head the first time around?
It’s easier said than done, I know. But trust me! I’m from the Internet! Seriously though, I’ve seen it first-hand and spoken to countless other writers since I began writing. The vast majority find the same result. Keep your writing to yourself, and your writing will write itself.