When you’ve completed a piece of writing, what do you do with it? Do you tell yourself something unfriendly about your skills or your poem/story/essay/novel/article? Do you let it languish in a mute folder in your computer or filing cabinet? Does your cat sleep on it? Do you revise it repeatedly until you’ve thoroughly exhausted the impulse that called this piece of writing into existence in the first place? Do you zip it right off as a submission for publication?
Whatever your post-production practice may be for your writing, I want to propose that you build in one, small step that could change everything: Share it with someone who cares.
Having an audience of one has been one of the most transformative practices of my writing life. Why? Because there is an alchemy in being witnessed. It completes the energetic circuit. It gives our impulse to share a specific place to land. It gives us a sense of context as a writer whose words are heard, appreciated, understood. In my experience, there is nothing more valuable than this intimate, singular transmission.
How you choose this audience of one matters. The most important quality in any reader is that they care about you and your writing. It’s also very helpful if they are a passionate reader of the genre you are writing in. If you’re sending a poem, for example, make sure the recipient loves poetry. This may mean that you have different readers for different types of work.
Over the years, Sebastian, Pamela, Carolyn, Allegra, Dale, Tom, Chloe and Nancy have all been readers and friends who have helped me understand what I’m doing, how it lands, and what it means in the context of what I am called to bring forward in words. I don’t know who I’d be without these kind mirrors reflecting back my tentative light.
In fact, it is largely thanks to Nancy telling me that she was ready to read my next book that I just signed a contract to produce it. Nancy’s desire to hear what I have to say about the writing life will be a centrifugal force that keeps me at my desk writing for the next six months.
Invite your audience of one to tell you specifically what he or she connects with, what interests her, what moves him, what she’s curious about. Even when a reader is not a writer — and does not bring any specific literary interpretation to the conversation, she’ll know if your writing connected with her or not. And this kind of feedback is invaluable.
Once you and your reader have made this exquisite exchange, let it fill you up a little. Let this fullness inform what you do next in your writing, revising or publishing process. Maybe you want to bring this piece to your writing group or post it on your blog or let it settle a bit or start revising immediately or put it in a sunny spot for the cat’s next nap.
There is no wrong or right here. There is just you, your writing, your reader, and the magnificent completion of having written and been heard.
Thank you for this article of praise for first readers, Sage. I have benefited from sharing my work with others. (I am very grateful for the readers of my blog.) As you advice, I choose my reader carefully–matching the story with the reader’s interest. Recently, I had the privileged of doing an author reading for my friends and neighbours on my small island home. I will be riding on the support I received for a while. Writing can be a lonely game, but sharing it with an interested reader is one of the rewards.
Leanne, it sounds like you both choose and serve your audience well. Brava! So happy to hear about it!