You can learn a lot by showing your writing to someone else. You might learn something about yourself, or about the other person. Ideally, you will learn some things that inspire you keep going with your writing.
Chose something short to share with someone else. No more than a page or two. If you give them a whole big sheaf of pages, they’ll be overwhelmed and whatever they tell you might not be helpful. Choose some writing that you think is pretty good, but not perfect. That makes it easier to hear another person’s ideas about it.
Often the question we most want answered is, “Is this any good?” A conversation about your writing that starts with that question is hard to get off the ground, however. Even when it does, the exchange can turn out to be unsatisfying. So it’s best to get that question answered and out of the way before you are tempted to ask anyone else.
–Is it any good?
–Of course it is. You wouldn’t have gone to all the trouble of writing it if it weren’t.
–Can I make it better?
–Well, maybe. That depends on what you are trying to accomplish.
Remember that most of the time when you ask someone to read your writing, they won’t know what to say about it. How are you supposed to talk about writing, anyway? A lot of misunderstandings start when someone has no idea what to say but they say something because they are supposed to. You can make a conversation about your writing smoother if you give the other person ideas for what to tell you.
Since you’ve already established that the writing is good, let the other person know why you think so. Maybe you will tell them, “I like the part about the pig best.” Or, “It was important for me to write about my grandfather.” You might tell them you are pleased with the way some of the words repeat, or that you wanted to include smells and colors. If you tell them what you like, they will understand your writing better.
Tell the person what you are trying to accomplish. When someone reads this, do you want them to feel scared, laugh, or get a picture in their mind? Are you trying to make the reader understand something better—you, for instance, or something out in the world? You can ask the person who reads your work if they reacted the way you hoped they would. If they react differently, you can ask them to tell you what made them react the way they did.
You can also have the person ask you some questions. Three questions. That’s usually a good number. You can decide later whether to include the answers to the questions in the next version of the writing. The questions themselves will show you what your writing made the person think about.
Later, when you and your writing are alone again, you can think about what this person told you. Maybe you will use some of their ideas as you decide what to add and what to change.
If you are the person reading someone else’s writing, here are some ideas for you.