Who do you share your poems/fiction/nonfiction with?

After reading this post, I thought it would be an interesting question to pose here.

While in grad school and then for several years after, I had a small group of friends who read my poems and offered feedback. And I did the same for them. We’d find the best places to publish, and commiserate when rejected (which seemed more often than not in the early days).

But now, my college friends have published more extensively that me, with books and grants and paid reading gigs under their belts. I went a different path by starting a family and temporarily stepping away from poetry.

Who reads my work now? You do. When I post a new poem, it’s hot off the computer screen. My husband, while supportive, could care less. He’s happy that I’m happy to write and blog, but that’s the extent of his interest. (Love ya, babe!) But who reads your work before you send it off to be published? Do you have a group or a trusted friend who will tell you, “eh…I think you should take a second look at this.” If you’re in a writing group, do you worry about your vision being rewritten by someone else?

Who reads your work?


writingblind said…
No one. I'm too embarrassed to show anyone. How sad.
Cate said…
My husband and my mother are both my first readers. They give me that vote of confidence that an idea is compelling, the characters interesting, etc. Then, after I have done all of the revision that I am capable of, I have one of my writer friends look at the piece, to help me tweak it. He is a gentle soul who offers kind criticism (oxymoron?). I'm too thin skinned to show things to anyone else--I get defensive. Gotta save the defensiveness for the rejections that inevitably roll in!
Anonymous said…
January: Try PFFA. It's a hard-ball, no-frills workshop - not for the faint-hearted, nor for the defensive. Sign up and read around a while before posting. My name is Student over there. Cheers.

January said…
WB: I understand that impulse about not being any good, but you're wrong. You poems are terrific, and your writing is so crisp and clear.

Cate: I'm jealous that you have such a trusted network. We should all be so lucky.

Vlaw: Thanks for the link to PFFA. I'll definitely check it out.
Anonymous said…
I have a writer's group that I meet with every other week. We're all fiction writers, loosely connected as friends, bonded by our work. It's one of the best groups of people I've ever worked with--extremely supportive, yet unflinching in their criticism. No one is mean--not by any stretch--but we don't let one another get away with sloppy writing or working under our potential. The other bonus is that each person comes to the piece from a distinct perspective. I know one member is great for detail edits, another is a stickler for voice, etc. I'm really, really lucky to have them.

People ask all the time why I need criticism from others--and isn't the writer the best judge of a story, anyway? I always say NO WAY! if your intention is for your work to be read and enjoyed by others, you need to know if you're communicating effectively to your audience. If my writing group doesn't understand something, I change it. And I thank them for giving me the perspective needed to see the complication in that piece. Sure, there are times when I don't agree with their point, or I don't want to change something, and that's my perogative. But 98% of the time, I end up changing the scene/chapter/whatever because I'll eventually realize they're right.

It also really helps to build confidence, believe it or not--because you learn to see your work from an objective place, realizing that rejections aren't about YOU, it's about the work. Which can be revised.

paris parfait said…
Uh, that would be me! I don't want anyone else to see it, before an editor takes a look. But everyone works in different ways - some people prefer other people reading their work and offering advice, constructive criticism, etc. I RARELY show anyone my work before it's published.
Emily said…
I share with no one. I took some workshop classes in college (just under ten years ago...) Since then I've yet to find any sort of writing community. I share work with the kids I teach as a way to model writing but that's pretty much it.
mareymercy said…
I spent years trying to re-form a group I met with in my 20's that was just wonderful - but I have never been able to get another group going that has the same vibe to it. After years of being convinced I MUST workshop every poem before I can consider it "finished," I'm attempting to just go it alone. Listen to my own inner voice about when something's good/bad, done/incomplete. I never in my life thought I would work this way, because I was educated under the workshop model - but it's been tremendously freeing.

I'm also tired of the contest and publishing game at the moment - sending out my stuff, waiting six months for word, then possibly getting word if a poem will publish or not, then waiting another year for the poem to maybe come out, unless for some reason the magazines folds, or they push the issue back into oblivion, etc. I recently decided to just post whatever I choose on my blog (with or without critique from others), self-publish my own book and offer it on my site, and welcome the feedback I get from other bloggers. (And I must say, it's been joining the blogging world that has helped me re-evaluate my writing process.)

Granted, this is just where I am now, and in a few years time I may be of a totally different mindset, but getting away from my attachment to workshopping and getting published by others has been liberating!
January said…
Great comments everyone! Everybody's work style is so unique--thank you so much for sharing.

Erin: You're lucky to have a community to tap into when needed (and I'm lucky to have you in my corner)!

Twitches: Coming from a workshopping background, I know EXACTLY how you feel. And like you, my writing has been greatly improved by blogging--which starts out as a solitary process and turns into a group collaborative.
Writer Bug said…
I have a writers' group that I love. We met randomly through signs around town, and 3 years later, a lot of us are still around! They're all good readers who are kind, but honest. My husband also reads my stuff sometimes, but it makes him nervous to comment on it (so cute!). And, right now, I'm in an MFA program, so I'm workshopping with 1 professor right now and then with groups of students in a few months...

I definitely need outside perspective on my work! And other people do push me to be better than what I thought was my best.
Star said…
I'm way too embarrassed to share with anyone I see on a daily basis. I don't want to read the body language if they choose to read it in front of me and I don't want them to feel they need to say they like it if they don't.

I'm a real newbie and always hope that kindness will prevail when someone leaves a comment on my blog. They aren't the publishing type of poems anyway, just expression therapy as I continue to seek my place in the world.

My hat is off to all of you who are brave enough to seek out constructive criticism (of course, you all probably have some clue what you're doing in the first place!)

Thanks for all you share with us, January.
I've found, through years of teaching, that generally husbands and good friends are not good critics. They either love it, or indifferent to it.

Find another good group of writers whose opinions and ideas you trust. If their comments are sincere, use those you feel work, and throw the rest away.

A good workshop is helpful, but ultimately, it comes down to you.
PS Twitches, I know how you feel, too. I feel exactly the same way. I decided to just get all my stuff together in one place, so I put it on a blog. I have a chapbook I still may send out...or maybe not. I've really enjoyed these Poetry Thursday things, and i've loved getting to know so many great writers "out there" by their blogs.

Do you know--is the stuff you put on your blog considered already published? Can you then still send those to a publisher? or what?

Great posts, everyone!
Anonymous said…
There's no one in my life at the moment who I share my stuff with. Workshopping when I was at school was often frustrating, but knowing I had to share something and getting other people's perspective pushed my work a lot. Just before I moved I found out that my next door neighbor was a poet, and I really liked what he wrote. We got together for coffee to talk about our work and critique it.

I have considered trying for an MFA to have that feedback again, but I find myself unusually resistant to taught creativity. I also find myself very suspicious that it almost seems you *have* to have an MFA to get yourself published nowadays. I read all the bios in addition to the poetry:-) Many of the great works in literature were written by people who never even did higher ed..My gosh how'd they do it without academia over their shoulder?;-)

I would love to find/form another group. There are writers in my life, but not many poets.

As for poetry published on blogs, depending on the publication it may be considered already published and hence unacceptable to them. It depends on the publisher.
Ceebie said…
If it's magazine writing, my dad, my mom, my brother.

If it's poetry...no one. It's too personal! I'd rather have strangers read them and comment!
Deirdre said…
I'm so lucky to belong to a writing group that meets monthly. Other than that my writing is shared with this blogging community I've come to cherish and on occasion my boyfriend. I began blogging as an exercise in getting past the fear of showing my work. There have been a few horrendous experiences in the past that almost shut me down and still raise their heads in vulnerable moments. I haven't submitted anything yet, but the thought is just beginning to form in a tiny, hidden part of my brain.
Catherine said…
I have a great writing group that meets monthly. After I did a couple of poetry courses, I asked a few people that I thought I would "click" with if they were interested in forming a group. we have been together for about seven years and we have published a book of poetry together. I don't often feel that it makes the poem "not my own" to get feedback. Their feedback mostly identifies where I have been too wordy - redundant words - or from time to time, if they say "huh? I don't get it" then I have to rethink what I was trying to say, and how to make it clearer without being too obvious.
The poem does have to be yours, not someone else's, but after all you know all about your poem - what you are trying to say. It is very difficult sometimes to judge for yourself whether your meaning is actually in the poem or is still inside your head.
claireylove said…
Sounds like when it comes to writing, at least, we have similar relationships with our husbands and 'first rights' relationship with our blogging audience.

What was that about peas in a pod? :-)
January said…
I fell asleep last night with laptop in lap before I could post responses. :)

Star--you are not alone. There seems to be a lot of us relatively new to blogging (and poetry). This Internet poetry community seems to be a very kind one, so I doubt you'll get comments you don't wont on your blog. Just make that clear in your discussion threads.

Pepek: Yes, I, too, have had so much fun posting on my blog that I haven't sent out as many poems to publishers. I am curious about the value of self publishing, however. The writer controls the inventory, gets more of the profits, but works harder to sell books. Or at least, that's my take. If others have different experiences, please share.

Also, from what I've read on other blogs, I think posting on a blog is considered publishing in the strictist sense. But, most journals or reviews don't really consider personal blogs in the same category as journals (print or online). So I guess it does come down to the submission guidelines. If a journal requested no simultaneous submissions but I have poems from my blog, I would probably send them in without telling the publication and see what happens.
January said…
Part II

Pepek: Also, if a publication pressed me on the subject I would come clean about publishing poems on the blog. But I would give that info out on a need-to-know basis.

That's just my opinion.

Bug: I like what you said about outside people pushing you to be better. That's the value of having a trusted friend giving feedback.

Jeanne: In my humble opinion, an MFA is an expensive method for feedback. But when I was in classes, I really enjoyed having the time to focus solely on my work. And I did have a strong community of friends that motivated me long after the program ended.

As for MFA programs, the proliferation of them has been both wonderful and detrimental to poetry at the same time. You're right, poets who never took a creative writing class have written some of the best poetry. It's a myth that you have to have a degree to be a poet. (I'd much rather see MFAs teach students how to use their degree once out of college. How can you make a living being a poet? Teach THAT!)
mareymercy said…
On the MFA subject - if you're a certain kind of writer, you can flourish in the academic environment. Unfortunately, I'm not that kind of writer. I published a quote this morning on my blog that I think sums it up for me.

On self-publishing: I've been against it for years, because "anyone can self-publish a book." (my husband has been calling me a snob for years, too). The thing is, I don't care anymore. I'm not above anyone else. Your comments about the work involved are true - and I'm going to do very little of that! Just a linky on my blog, and if before I die three people buy my book, I'll be happy. :)
Dani In NC said…
My main reason for writing is to ward off senile dementia :-). I've never taken a class, belonged to a group, or participated in a workshop. My work goes on my blog and that's it. The people in my daily life aren't the creative sort, so they wouldn't understand why I spend time writing something that's not directly related to earning a paycheck.
Jim Brock said…
Came to this a little late.

First, is my wife. Since I "seduced" her with my poetry, I know she'll keep me honest. I'm lucky in that she's a writer and not a poet, and so we don't get too tight with it. Still, she does know a good deal about contemporary poetry (Eavan Boland and Mark Doty are her favs), and so I do trust her judgement.

Otherwise, I occasionally share work at local open mics, and but I more or less rely on trying to satsify my self. He's a pretty severe guy, really.

And yes, I'm one of those awful M.F.A.s. I had a very good experience where I went, and I think I was especially fortunate because I was so young. Most of all that has washed off (this is 22 years later!), and I'm working my way through, as I think I would be one way or the other.

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