There comes a time in every writer's life when they must do the unthinkable: allow someone else to read their writing. It happens to the best of us. Unless you are writing in a private diary, which you then plan to burn in a cleansing bonfire before burying the remains deep in the secret heart of the woods, you will eventually have to share your writing with someone. A story or an essay isn't complete until it has a reader. But sharing your writing for the very first time can be an intimidating prospect. This poem/screenplay/blog post has been your baby for weeks or months or years, and you don't want to shove it into the cruel outside world all on its own. So here are a few tips for how to share your writing for the very first time, no matter what you've written.
Of course, the first step is to write something you feel a little bit proud of (or, failing that, something you're not too horrifically embarrassed by). It doesn't need to be perfect or polished or finished or even especially original. It just has to be done enough that you feel comfortable (if nervous) letting someone have a peek:
You can start with strangers
If the thought of anyone you know reading your writing is giving you heart palpitations, it is also perfectly acceptable to share with strangers. Just make sure that those strangers are interested in reading your writing and responding in a respectful manner. You could check out an online writers' workshop, or one of the many online writing communities. Or if you have a completely finished piece, you could submit your work to a writing competition or a publication—certain competitions will even offer you feedback on your work, win or lose.
You can start with people who already love you
Alternatively, if you're more comfortable giving your writing to your close friends, family, or significant other, you can most certainly do that. If your sister, uncle, or best friend from summer camp is generally kind and supportive towards you, chances are high that they'll be beyond thrilled to read anything you've written.
Be clear about your expectations
If you would like feedback, let your reader know that you would like feedback. If you only want feedback on a certain aspect of your piece, tell them that as well. If you do not want feedback, it is perfectly acceptable to say, "I'm not looking for feedback just yet!" or even "It's been hard for me to share my writing, so I'm looking for a little support!" Unless you have chosen to share your writing with an especially petty and vindictive individual, most people will be happy to given you feedback and/or encouragement as directed.
Be open about your experience level
If this is the first thing you have ever written and you are extremely nervous about sharing it, you can absolutely say that. If you're an accomplished writer trying a new genre for the first time, you can say that, too, before handing your sweet baby manuscript off to a friend to read. Giving yourself permission to be a beginner, or giving your first draft permission to be a little bit rocky, is an essential step on the road to being a hardened, lifelong writer.
...but try not to give too many excuses
It can be tempting to heap on the disclaimers when you're sharing a piece that means a lot to you. You might want to add that "it's very rough," or "it's total garbage," or even, "it's terrible and I'm terrible and dear God I'm so sorry for wasting your time." But don't sell yourself short! Don't set your poor innocent manuscript up for failure! Let your reader form their own opinion before you try to trash yourself.
Don’t overwhelm your readers with backstory
It can also be tempting to offer a lot of explanations for what you've written. If you have a fiction piece, you might want to inundate your first-time readers with backstory on who's who and why you wrote it and how magic operates in the kingdom of Fangorphia—but try to bite your tongue and let your writing speak for itself. You won't be there to explain the story to every reader, after all.
Stay open to helpful feedback
If you're looking for feedback on your writing, try to stay open to notes that you may not love. Someone might be confused about your plot, or dislike your favorite character, or find your font choice challenging. That doesn't mean that your writing is bad or that you have failed, it means that you have an opportunity to make your piece sleeker and stronger and all around better.
...but prepare yourself for unhelpful feedback
Of course, some feedback is going to be... less helpful. If someone tells you, "Well, I would have written it THIS way," that is not helpful to you. They are not writing this thing, you are writing this thing. Practice nodding politely and then secretly discarding their opinions in private.
You don’t have to share everything at once
Sometimes you're just not ready to share everything. It's entirely reasonable to choose a favorite excerpt to share with a few select readers while you continue working on the rest of your piece. Don't rush yourself to share a full manuscript if what you really want to share is that killer first chapter.
Just do it!
At a certain point, you can't keep obsessing and finessing over the same piece of writing. Make up your mind to get it out there, even if "it" is just one page and "out there" is just forcing your best friend to read it while you hide in the other room eating pretzels. No one else is ever going to force you to start sharing what you've written! It's all you! You can do it! Just hold your nose and send that short story to your camp counselor/writing contest/long distance pen pal, and you'll feel better for having taken that scary next step.