Don’t be Afraid to Talk

As an MFA in Creative Writing student, the thing I grapple with the most when it comes to my writing is sharing my ideas with other people, whether it’s friends, family, or strangers on the internet. I never know whether I’ve talked too much or scared them off, if I’m rambling or not making sense, or if they’re simply listening to humor me. And unfortunately for me, I’ve found that the best way that I work through my ideas and drafts is by actively telling someone else about it: describing the characters and plot in (what may be) excruciating detail, trying to work through plot holes and hanging plot threads, and hoping I’m crafting a cohesive story.

The most widely accepted opinion among writers is that you shouldn’t talk to friends and family about your ideas or your writing because they’re less likely to give you honest advice. That makes sense because they’re personally involved with you, and they’re afraid to hurt your feelings by being brutally frank with their criticism. But, at least in my experience, that’s been far from the case. So, I have some advice of my own.

Find a small group of people, maybe five to ten people, preferably somewhat close friends, who share the love for writing. Being in an MFA program can help with meeting people who can fulfill this role, but even a good friend who’s known you for years and has come to expect your late-night text strings can work out. The most important thing to remember is that you want a sounding board, not an echo chamber. Be open and willing to both give and receive constructive criticism, because the more effort and enthusiasm you put into offering feedback, the more you’re likely to receive feedback of the same level.

It’s important to remember that just because something sounds good in your head doesn’t mean it makes sense out loud. This is why my sounding-board committee is useful. They’re the ones who won’t be afraid to ask questions about plot holes, ask for more details, or even propose focusing on what I might have thought was a throwaway subplot. My eyes alone won’t catch all the typos, plot holes, missed details, and stereotypes in my work And if they tell me that there may be too many problems with my story at the moment it moves forward, I don’t get discouraged or upset because this group is trustworthy. You’re doing a favor for your friends just as they’re doing a favor for you.

Also, being a writer means growing thick skin because there will always be someone who will bash your work. There will always be rejection letters. There will always be critics. Having honest friends who expect honesty from you helps you get used to not always hearing what you want to hear.

This sounding-board committee is really a professional and social network, a following or even a fan base, as you work on building a writing career. Enthusiasm is infectious. If you’re excited, your friends are excited—and vice versa.